Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

For those who use the lectionary, the dual focus of this Sunday offers more Scripture than almost any other Sunday in the Church Year.  Since I come from and am firmly rooted in the Reformed Tradition I tend to think a sermon is a pretty important thing, yet this is one Sunday when I might be willing to allow Scripture to speak for itself without interpretation.

Unlike other parts of the Gospels, the passion narrative, especially in its longer version, reads as a single unit and can very easily be adapted as dramatic reading or presentation.  If so, a sermon might actually detract rather than add to the service.  After all, who needs to interpret a well-produced movie or play?

Liturgy of the Palms Readings:

PSALM 118:1-2, 19-29
118:1 This verse is repeated in Psalm 118:29.
118:2 This sounds like a liturgical direction.
118:19 What, and where, are the gate of righteousness?
118:20 What, and where is the gate of the LORD?
118:22 Why does this sound so familiar?
118:23 What is the LORD’s doing?
118:24 What day has the LORD made?
118:25 What sort of success is the psalmist praying for?
118:26 Who comes in the name of the LORD? The choice of this “Liturgy of the Palms” Psalm (say that three times) is obviously dictated by Matthew, as the “Liturgy of the Palms” Gospel Reading quotes Psalm 118:9. I think it can be argued that whenever the new Testament quotes a verse or two from a Psalm that the entire Psalm is drawn into the interpretation, as in an oral Jewish culture when most of the audience would likely have known the Psalm and thought of it even if only one verse were quoted.  We experience the same when someone today quotes a line from a familiar poem, song or document. We instinctively recall the entire text.  Yet few Christians know the Psalms like Christians once did, or Jews once did.  Incorporating this reading not only serves to ground the passion in its Jewish context but adds an interpretive introduction to the Matthew 21:1-11 reading and suggests that we might read Matthew 21:1-11 as Christian Midrash on Psalm 118.
118:27 What, and where, are the horns of the altar?
118:27 Here is a refrain that echoes Psalm 118:1.

MATTHEW 21:1-11
21:1 I wonder which two disciples Jesus sent.
21:2 Must we have both a donkey and a colt?
21:5 What prophet is quoted and why does it appear that the author of Matthew does not understand Hebrew poetry?
21:7 How did Jesus sit on two animals at the same time?
21:8 Are we sure the large crowd cut palm branches? Will you be using eco-palms this Sunday?
21:9 Where have we (and those in the crowd) heard this before? Why shout this?
21:10 Is this not the question we seek to answer?
21:11 Is this a satisfactory answer to the above question?

Liturgy of the Passion Readings:

ISAIAH 50:4-9a
50:4 I usually think of the teacher’s role being to educate, not “sustaining the weary with a word.”  I think of that as more of a preacher’s or shepherd’s role. Are the best teachers also the best learners?
50:5 What does it mean for God to open our ear and why is ear singular?
50:6-9 Do these verses justify this passage being chosen for this Sunday? How might these verses have influenced the Gospel accounts of the Passion?

PSALM 31:9-16
31:9-13 I can imagine hearing these words from the lips of Jesus as he was being crucified, or at any time during his passion.  This Psalm reads like the thoughts and feelings of the dejected, rejected, and defeated.
31:14-16 The Psalm, in the end, expresses prayerful trust. 

2:5 What mind was in Christ Jesus?
2:6 How does this verse both confirm and challenge our understanding of the Trinity?
2:6-8 These verses recall the passion.
2:9-11 These verses recall the resurrection.
2:10 What do bended knees symbolize or represent?
2:11 “Jesus Christ is Lord” is one of the earliest if not the earliest Christian Confession.  From this basic affirmation, how did we get to the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, not to mention the Westminster Confession?  There is something to be said for simplicity, but simplicity, rather than precision, leaves room for multiple interpretations and levels of meaning.  I can live with that. Can you?

MATTHEW 26:14-27:66
The longer reading, Matthew 26:14-27:66, is powerful if presented as a dramatic reading and can perhaps move and inform worshipers more than even the best sermon on this text.  If you have not yet already read my comments in the Preface, please do so now.  Rather than commenting on this Gospel Reading I will comment below on the abbreviated alternate.

MATTHEW 27:11-54
27:11-14 Why would Jesus not answer these charges? What amazed Pilot?
27:15-23 It it mere coincidence that both prisoners were named Jesus?  What does the name “Barabbas” mean?
27:18 What do you make of this “jealousy”?
27:19 Here is yet one more example of a truth telling woman.
27:24 This hand washing is perhaps what Pilate is most remembered for.
27:25 How shall we deal with this verse without being anti-Semitic?  Who is “us” and “our children”?
27:27-31 How did Mel Gibson deal with this? What is the danger of focusing on these verses?
27:32 We all have our own particular cross to carry, and if a Roman soldier asks you to carry a cross one mile, offer to carry it two. What ever happened to Simon of Cyrene?
27:34 Why would Jesus not drink?
27:38-44 Was there anyone who did not deride, mock, or otherwise taunt Jesus? Note that in Matthew both bandits taunt Jesus.
27:45 What is the significance that the darkness began at noon and lasted three hours?
27:46 Was Jesus quoting something?  What does he quote?
27:51 What is the symbolism of the torn curtain? What rocks split?
27:52 What Saints?
27:54 Truth is here spoken not by the disciples, not by a woman, not by any of the Jews, but by Roman soldiers. What lesson might we learn from this? 

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

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