Monday, March 10, 2008

Palm Sunday Preaching vs. reading the passion Matt 21:1-11, 26:1-27:66

Over the last two years the church I serve hasn't had a full on sermon on Palm Sunday and there won't be one this weekend either. Instead, for the last 2 years, there's been a small preface that precedes the reading of the passion. This year Isaiah's words about as servant who gave himself freely (Isaiah 50:4-9) will serve as our preface. We'll move straight into the reading from there.

This year's passion comes from Matthew. Augsburg/Fortress publishes a nifty Passion According to Matthew as well as congregational readings of the passion from Mark and Luke.
It might be too late to order them for this year; but the power of such a reading is to great to ignore.

Palm Sunday is one of the great moments to recognize and even emphasize the dialectic nature of our faith. We are at, the same time, the saints redeemed by Christ and the sinners who crucified him. This isn't a half and half kind of proposition. We are, as Luther put it simultaneously sinners and saints.

What happens on Palm Sunday is no simple juxtaposition of some joy with some suffering. There is real tension in each of us. We both cheer for Jesus arrival, waving palms and shouting hosanna, and cry out for his blood if we read the passion. There's not a half of me who cheers and a half who cries out "Let him be crucified." The whole me cheers, and the whole me cries out for the blood of the innocent.

In a reading of the passion we hear ourselves in the place of Peter promising to go to the end with Jesus and denying him 3 times in the same night. In the passion we see most clearly who we are. We want to meet Jesus, because in meeting him we have new life; and we dread the day when we do meet Jesus, because we must die to sin and to ourselves in order to live. Cheering with Palms in hand and reading the passion gives us the full opportunity to do both.


david said...

It has been my experience as a parishioner that when there is no intentional move or transition from the excitement of Palm Sunday to the drama of Christ's passion, the meaning of it all gets lost.

Before attending seminary that is exactly was has been happening in my congregation. We have a parade of children waving palms followed by a homily covering Christ's entry into Jerusalem, but then it stops.

Next came offering, prayers, and communion followed by the reading of the Passion. No transition, no explanation, just reading.

Thankfully I have had professors who teach preaching in context, and making transitions from one setting to another in such a way that the congregation journeys together. Next year it will be my turn to lead Palm/Passion Sunday worship in just such a manner.

Thanks for the post and reminding us of what it means to be saint and sinner, and the tension that goes with it.

LawAndGospel said...

I know this is a late post but in a congregation where the reading has been done for years, it has become historicized, and people focus on who will be Jesus this year. And there is no transitioning as David has said. I preached a homily in my teaching parish after the procession and the Fortress reading. And my goal was to tie things together, as David has said. Whether my effort is worthy is for people to judge. But you are absolutely head on with the tension of simul justus peccator.