Reading Ramblings – March 29, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm Sunday – March 29, 2015

Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or John 12:20-43

Context: The final Sunday in Lent begins Passion Week, the final week of Jesus’ ministry. The week runs the spectrum of emotions from the giddiness of Palm Sunday’s entry to Jerusalem, to the trauma of Maunday Thursday and Good Friday, concluding with the joy of Easter Sunday. My goal every Passion Week is to take each day in turn, focusing on the emotions and themes of that day, rather than leaping ahead to what is coming. The joy of Easter is best experienced only after the sorrow of Good Friday.

Zechariah 9:9-12 – Zechariah’s time of ministry is after the Babylonian exile, as Jews have already begun returning to Judea to rebuild Jerusalem. Chapter 9 prophecies first the rise of a great Greek conqueror (vs.1-8 are general prophecy, while v.13 specifies the nationality of this conqueror, understood to be Alexander the Great). Verse 9 prophecies the arrival of a new king of God’s people, something they have not had for close to 80 years. This king will arrive in an unusual fashion, very different from the mighty war horses of other conquerors and kings. He is identified by his humility rather than his pride. Rather than being a warlord he will bring an end to warfare. He will preach peace, and establish a rule that encompasses creation itself. It is this prophecy Jesus likely has in mind when He decides how to enter Jerusalem for the last time.

Psalm 118:19-29 – The selected reading is the second portion of the psalm. It seems to have been used as a psalm of thanksgiving that involves a speaker and the congregation. The speaker requests entrance and is told who may enter through the gates. The speaker then gives thanks (v.21), and verses 22-27 are the response of the congregation. They proclaim the unlikely source of salvation (a rejected stone that turns out to be the cornerstone – the most important stone in the whole building). Verse 28 has the individual speaking again, giving thanks as they did in v.21. The congregation responds in verse 29 with an exhortation to praise God.

Philippians 2:5-11 – Paul began his exhortation to unity in 2:1-2, and now encourages the Philippians in this regard using Jesus as an example. Jesus is an example of humility in that He emptied himself of the glory that was due him as the Son of God. He took on our form, and took on the form of the most humble of people. Nor was this enough – He was further willing to be crucified. This flawless obedience even to death will result in his exaltation. Whereas He came in humility and meekness and lowliness, He will one day return in glory to receive the honor and obedience that are rightly his.

Mark 14:1-15:47 – It is traditional on Palm Sunday to read the entire Passion narrative, to set the context for the week of worship that will follow. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus enters Jerusalem back in chapter 10. Our reading this morning picks up on Tuesday or Wednesday, and continues through to his crucifixion and burial. Because we don’t get the entry into Jerusalem with the reading, we miss out a little on the span of emotions and images that Mark conveys in his terse way.  Through it all we see Jesus as the humble king described in Zechariah, submitting himself as Paul describes to the Philippians, ultimately to death.

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