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Last Sunday, 5 Lent

We heard God’s promise to Ezekiel that God would: “ open your graves and bring you up from your graves….I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”  [Ezek 37.12b;14;13] 

The gospel reading from John foreshadows the Resurrection with the Raising of Lazarus from the dead, which so enrages the High Priest and Temple priests that they determine death is the only way to stop Jesus [the equivalent event in the Synoptics is Jesus overturning the tables of Money Launderers in the Temple]

This Sunday, PALM SUNDAY [Today we hear TWO Gospels: Palm Sunday & the Passion [Good Friday]

Today we follow Jesus on a journey that will change the world forever.  He has repeatedly told his followers that he must go to Jerusalem where he will undergo great suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and rise again.  Thus his entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of his journey.

As he rides through the streets on a donkey, the crowds spread garments and tree branches before Jesus with shouts of praise.  His arrival puts the city in turmoil as the people question who this prophet from Nazareth really is.

Matthew wants us to recognize this event as the fulfillment of historical prophecy by citing Zechariah 9.9 (Mt 21.5).  This is a royal procession, and Jesus is the king who comes in humility—not to conquer, but to bring peace.  However, the “Hosanna” shouts of joy and hope quickly turn to: “Crucify him!”

In the Letter to the Philippians we see that Jesus was fulfilling the Divine intent that his death would manifest the glory of GodJesus has made God known to us by taking on our humanity.  Thus God will exalt Jesus so that: all the world will acknowledge him as Lord.


Matthew’s Passion begins with Judas Iscariot making arrangements with the chief priests to betray Jesus.  As Jesus shares the Passover meal and institutes the Eucharist as a foreshadowing of the final giving of his body and blood, he announces that one of then will betray him.  Later, Jesus predicts that in fulfillment of Scripture they will all desert him.  When Peter vigorously protests, Jesus tells Peter that he will betray him three times before morning comes [26.31-35].  As Jesus prays in the garden at Gethsemane, he takes Peter, James, and John with him (the same disciples present at the Transfiguration).  Judas then appears with an armed crowd to arrest Jesus.  A disciple draws a sword, but Jesus rebukes him and, just as he was tempted in the wilderness, renounces power and violence.

Jesus is taken before Caiaphas the High Priest where Jesus is falsely convicted of blasphemy.  In answer to the question of: whether he is the Messiah, Jesus replies: “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven(v. 64).

Jesus is taken before the Roman Governor, Pilate, who is “greatly amazed” that Jesus does not defend himself.  Pilate does not want to become involved in the political maneuverings of the religious authorities, so he weakly concedes to the crowd’s demands to release another prisoner, Barabbas.  Pilate then hands Jesus over to be beaten and crucified, while publicly “washing his hands” to disassociate himself from the outcome.

As Jesus is led to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene is compelled to carry the cross for the brutally flogged and mutilated Jesus.  As was customary, the charge for which the condemned was found guilt was included, ironically reading:  “(This is) Jesus, King of the Jews.”

As darkness descends over the land, Jesus cries out with the words from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(22.46)  Although this seems to be a cry of isolation and despair, Psalm 22 ends with faith in God’s deliverance. (Ps 22.22-31)

Jesus’ death is accompanied by apocalyptic disturbances that lead a terrified Gentile Centurion and others with him to confess, “Truly, this man was God’s Son!”(27.54)  

Although the disciples had deserted him, the women did not and remained faithful observers throughout.  Later, Joseph of Arimathea receives permission from Pilate to take the body of Jesus and prepare it for burial in his own new tomb.  A stone seals the entrance to the tomb, while the women Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” remain to keep watch.

Matthew shows that the life and death of Jesus have taken place in fulfillment of the Scriptures and in accordance with God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  Throughout his ministry, and especially at his Passion, the life of Jesus has reflected the Psalm for today:  “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, you are my God.” (Ps 31.14)

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, wrote: “At the beginning of Holy Week, we stand with Jesus before the gates of a city.  We know that once we have entered we shall be swept up in events we cannot control and that will bring us to the very edge of what we can bear, as we walk with him to Calvary and the tomb. …The gates are open.  Let us with Jesus prepare to go through, to walk with him to his cross and resurrection.”

Meditations and Considerations:  What are the implications and meanings for you in these passages

1)      The Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Palms (Mt. 21.1-11) describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey with shouts of “Hosanna.”  Imagine what it might have been like to be a part of that crowd.  What was the significance of this event for the followers of Jesus?

a)      What do you think the significance of this event was to Jesus?

b)      What does the “entry into Jerusalem” mean for you today when we traditionally wave our own green palm branches?

2)      What persons or events in our world today receive similar “red carpet” treatment?

a)      What do these choices tell us about the values of our culture?

b)      How would we receive Jesus if he were to come among us today?

3)      Have you ever felt times of isolation and despair?  Have you ever “cried out” or felt that God had forsaken you?

a)      How have you dealt with those times?

4)      In Mt. 27.54, why do you think the Roman Centurion declared that Jesus was truly the Son of God?

a)      What compels you to profess that Jesus is the “Messiah” [the “anointed” Son of God?]

5)      Palm Sunday encompasses a wide range of emotions as we move from shouts of “Hosanna” at Jesus enters Jerusalem to the “Crucify him” as he stands before Pilate.  As you read the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury above, what do the contrasts between the “Palms” and the “Passion” reveal to us about our life in Christ?

a)      How does this phrase: “we shall be swept up in events we cannot control and that will bring us to the very edge of what we can bear” feel like during our current events with the Coronavirus Pandemic?

b)      How can walking with Jesus help us to walk this road?

c)      How are we to prepare ourselves to begin the journey of Holy Week with Christ?  

For the Biblical Scholars, a more in-depth task:

1.  When Jesus replies: “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64).  To what Old Testament prophecy is he referring?

  • If Jesus is responding to a Charge of Blasphemy what does his answer imply and what does his answer really mean?

2.  What is the irony of the crowds demanding to release another prisoner named, “Barabbas.”  What does the name “Bar-abbas” actually mean?

3.  Why is it “ironic” that the Charge on the Cross read: “(This is) Jesus, King of the Jews.”

  • What does INRI stand for?

4.  Why would the religious authorities request “guards be placed at the tomb to insure that the followers of Jesus do not steal the body and claim that Jesus had been resurrected as he had foretold?”[Mt. 27.64]

If you get stuck, email me for further hints!

And remember,

"Prayer" can lead us to a place of redemption....redemption in the awareness of God's presence above us, alongside us, and in us.  For God is with us!