Engaging the Word: Readings for 3/20/16 (Palm Sunday)

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By Barbara Klugh

The Liturgy of the Palms: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. The Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 45:21-25; Psalm 29; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:29-40. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

Palm SundayOn Palm Sunday, we begin the drama of Holy Week. At Grace we are continuing our practice of the past few years, and will celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The liturgy of the Passion will be observed on Good Friday. Consequently, our readings differ somewhat from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) schedule.

The Liturgy of the Palms

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29: Our first psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving for victory. It was sung by the community in procession as they approached the Temple.  The psalm sung by crowd at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem echoes some of this psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The Liturgy of the Word

Prophet Isaiah, 15th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Isaiah, 15th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 45:21-25: In this week’s reading, picture a court scene. God is making the case that idols cannot offer salvation. The way to salvation is through God. “There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me.”

God issues a summons to all the nations and expects them to bow down. We will hear God’s call reiterated in the great hymn to Christ from Philippians that we have been using as our Acclamation of Faith through Lent, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”  God’s salvation is offered universally, to all nations: every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess allegiance to God’s name. In the church, the summons to praise God is reordered into a summons to praise our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 29: This psalm praises the great glory, power, strength, supremacy, and, especially, the thundering voice of the Lord in the storm. Many scholars think that this is a psalm adapted from a Canaanite psalm to Baal, the storm god. Others, such as J.C. McCann, Jr., quoted in Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) think that it may be kind of anti-Baal polemic, “that the opening call to praise is addressed to ‘the deposed gods of the Canaanite pantheon.’” In other words, the psalm uses Canaanite imagery to show the supremacy of the one true God.

Kneeling in prayer c. 1450. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Kneeling in prayer c. 1450. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Philippians 2:5-11: This week’s reading will be familiar to the people of Grace, as it is our Lenten Acclamation of Faith, which is based on an early Christian hymn.

In our reading, Jesus moves from humiliation to exaltation. Paul urges the Philippians (and us) to follow Christ’s ultimate example of humility. It is because Jesus gave up all that was his—his divine authority, his equality with God, his very life!—that God raised him from the dead and has given him the highest place of all. The hymn proclaims, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Entry into Jerusalem by Pedro Orrente, c. 1620. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Entry into Jerusalem by Pedro Orrente, c. 1620. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 19:29-40: Our Gospel reading this week is Luke’s account of Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus tells two disciples to go and get a colt that has never been ridden, symbolizing the sacred nature of the procession. When they bring the colt to Jesus they threw their cloaks over it. Others spread their cloaks and leafy branches (which were from palm trees, according to John’s Gospel). They shouted,

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, And glory in the highest heaven!”

Jesus understood the symbolism of what he was doing. When a king went to war he rode a horse; when he came in peace, he rode on a donkey.  Jesus’ action was referring to Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” According to Borg and Crossan’s The Last Week, at the same time Pontius Pilate entered Jerusalem from the west with imperial cavalry and soldiers. They note, “Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.”

When some of the Pharisees asked Jesus to order his disciples to stop the commotion—they might have been envious of the attention Jesus was receiving or perhaps they were fearful that the Roman authorities would react violently—Jesus replied in a quotation from Habakkuk, “I tell you, if these [people] were silent, the stones would shout out.”

We enter Holy Week as a community on Palm Sunday, entering in joy and celebration of Jesus as the Messiah. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and among us as we journey together through this most Holy Week of the church year.

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