Reading Ramblings – March 20, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday in Lent (Palm Sunday) – March 20, 2016

Texts: Deuteronomy 32:36-39; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:1-23:56

Context: Every Sunday is an Easter celebration. Palm Sunday has traditionally combined the visual elements of Easter – flowers – with the palms associated with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As such Palm Sunday was known in Latin as pascha floridum, the Spanish variation of which is the basis for the state name Florida. In German it was Blumensonntag or Blumentag. It is one of the oldest celebrations and observations in the Christian liturgical calendar.

Deuteronomy 32:36-39 – The excerpt this morning comes from the song that Moses caused the Israelites to memorize and recite shortly before his death. It prophetically summarizes the future unfaithfulness of God’s people, yet his insistence on not abandoning them. They are and will be unfaithful, but God cannot and will not be unfaithful. Verse 36 reminds us of Jesus and how He emptied himself of his power and glory to come among us. Of course he’s not guilty of the idolatry of v.37-38! Verse 39 is the verse of great power and hope in this passage. What we fear most is nothing compared to the power of God the Father. Death cannot hide us from our heavenly Father’s love! Death cannot separate us from his presence! Satan has no binding power over us, for when God acts there is no force or being capable of opposing him! What a beautiful premonition and prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus we celebrate each Sunday, but also our individual hope as well. Though we die, we yet shall live! As He is risen, so we will rise! Hallelujah!

Psalm 31:9-16 – The alternate psalm option for this Sunday would have been Psalm 118:19-29, but I decided it was a bit too Easter-y. Psalm 31, and the section we read specifically, seems appropriate for the Savior who rides into Jerusalem unarmed and humbly. In the midst of the shouts of acclamations, we know what is to come as does Jesus, and these verses seem to capture what his frame of mind might have been. It seems to embody the spirit of Jesus that night in the Garden of Gethsemane as He weeps and prays while his disciples sleep. But it also pairs well with the assurances in the reading from Moses’ song. Where else can we place our trust but in God? And God does not forsake us!

Philippians 2:5-11 – If you haven’t already picked up on it, there is a theme of humility, of emptying, of helplessness in the readings. In our lack, when all of our resources are exhausted and we appear our most vulnerable, God remains. When all have deserted us, God does not. God saw fit to empty himself in his Son, so that in his deepest humiliation and suffering, all creation might be reconciled to God the Father.

It is this mind that Christians are actually to seek. This isn’t a last resort mentality, the final refuge or consolation of the defeated! We are actually to emulate the meekness and mildness of our Savior. This is not natural – it is only possible because of Christ, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God that we can seek to have this mindset. We receive the good gifts of God not in our moments of pride and accomplishment and triumph, but in our moments of weakness, as we acknowledge that our moments of greatest strength are still a pale reflection of who we are being made into, and the crown and life that we have received in Christ. This is not a call to self-abasement or degradation, but to a humility in the midst of whatever our accomplishments might be.

Luke 22:1–23:56 – There are shorter alternatives to this long reading, but I like the tradition of reading the entirety of the Passion narrative through on Palm Sunday. It provides us with an oversight of Holy Week. We are led through the joyful arrival to the last supper and the betrayal of Maunday Thursday, to the trials of early Good Friday morning leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death Good Friday evening. We teeter on the edge of Easter Sunday, hovering in the indeterminancy of Holy Saturday. It is finished, but it is not over. We are left with the grief of the women who mourn for their rabbi and cannot honor him the way they wish to until Sunday morning.

We have facts. Acclamation. Betrayal. Arrest. Trial. Abuse. Crucifixion. Death. Burial. There remain more facts that have yet to be revealed, yet to be experienced, the facts of Sunday morning and the weeks beyond. But for now, we must sit with the facts as they have been given to us. The temptation is always to leap to Easter. For those with short attention spans, the awkwardness of Good Friday and Holy Week in general are frustrating, like waiting for a web page to load on our computer. We are impatient. Yes, yes, suffering and betrayal and weeping and death. Let’s get to the good stuff, though!

The good stuff, however, is also the suffering and death. Without these things there would be no Easter morning to celebrate. It is in the death of Jesus that our sin is killed. He bears my suffering and my sin to the cross and holds it to him firmly so the nails pierce it through as well. He clutches it in a death grip into the tomb so that my sinfulness is buried as well.

As I ministered in the jail this week, a man I’ve met there repeatedly talked about how he doesn’t like the idea of Jesus dying for him, doesn’t like the idea that God would require that sort of sacrifice. I agreed. I don’t like it either. It’s offensive. It’s disturbing. I don’t want to believe that such a thing is necessary, that my sin is not so serious nor my future so at risk. But I’m fooling myself. The wages of sin are death, but the death is not mine, it is Christ’s. The penalty of the Law can’t simply be ignored or discarded, it must be fulfilled if I am to be truly free. And only the Son of God can fulfill that penalty of the Law fully – not just for me but for every other person that has or will ever live. He is the final and ultimate and perfect sacrifice that puts to an end the need for any other sacrifice, and sets us free to live in joyful gratitude and freedom.

But I must sit with his death. I must keep watch at the tomb. My life has been bought with a price, and that price is the innocent blood of the Son of God.

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