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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott


The readings for Sunday, April 1, 2012:


First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Gospel: Mark 14:1--15:47

Gospel (Alt.): Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]


Palm Sunday has become a busy Sunday. Somewhere in the past twenty years, we've gone from hearing just the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem to hearing the whole Passion story--on Palm Sunday many Christians leave the church with Jesus dead and buried. It's downright disconcerting to those of us who return to church for the rest of Holy Week--we hear the same stories on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It makes for a long, Sunday Gospel reading--and reinforces one of the paradoxes of the Passion story: how can people shout acclaim for Jesus in one day, and within the week demand his Crucifixion? Maybe it's good to hear the whole sad story in one long sitting, good to be reminded of the fickleness of the crowd.

It's one of the central questions of Christian life: how can we celebrate Palm Sunday, knowing the goriness of Good Friday to come? How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouth?

I find myself still in an Ash Wednesday frame of mind. Perhaps you do too. It's been a tough year for many of us. We’ve suffered job loss or house loss. If we’ve kept our jobs, we’ve said goodbye to colleagues. In any year, some of us lose loved ones in any number of ways. Because we are mammals that think and know, we are always aware that there will be horrors yet to come. We live in a culture that seems to prefer crucifixion to redemption.

Palm Sunday offers us some serious reminders. If we put our faith in the world, we're doomed. If we get our glory from the acclaim of the secular world, we'll find ourselves rejected sooner, rather than later.

Palm Sunday also reminds us of the cyclical nature of the world we live in. The palms we wave this morning traditionally would be burned to make the ashes that will be smudged on our foreheads in 10 months for Ash Wednesday. The baby that brings joy at Christmas will suffer the most horrible death--and then rise from the dead. The sadnesses we suffer will be mitigated by tomorrow's joy. Tomorrow's joy will lead to future sadness. That's the truth of the broken world we live in. Depending on where we are in the cycle, we may find that knowledge either a comfort or fear inducing.

It's at times like these where the scriptures offer comforts that the world cannot. Look at the message from Isaiah: "The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. . . . For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near" (Isaiah 50, first part of verse 4, verse 7, and first part of verse 8).

God promises resurrection. We don't just hope for resurrection. God promises resurrection.

God calls us to live like the redeemed people that we are. Turn your face to the light. Turn away from the dark. Commit to redemption. Commit to new life. With a peaceful mind, wait for the resurrection that God has promised to you.

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