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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Palm Sunday, Introduction to the Passion Gospel 04/01/2012

Back on the First Sunday in Lent we heard the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, every year that’s the story we hear on that Sunday.  Mark’s version of this that we heard on that day is pretty brief, not as much detail as Matthew and Luke give us, but with or without detail you get the idea; Jesus is tempted, but overcomes the temptation and with that, Satan, the tempter, is put in his place…for the moment.

I mentioned last week that the “Have mercy on me O God, according to your loving kindness,” of Psalm 51 is one theme that kind of book ends the season of Lent; temptation is another such theme because Palm Sunday, observed today at the end of Lent, may have represented the greatest temptation of all for Jesus.  Here he is, riding into Jerusalem like a king following a great military victory, the crowds cheering, shouting Hosanna, Lord, Save Us, and waving their palm branches.  It was the first century equivalent of a ticker tape victory parade.  The people had been waiting for someone, someone to get them out from under the thumb of the Roman Empire.  They were tired of taxation without representation, they were tired of soldiers occupying their streets, they were just tired; and they thought Jesus could be the answer.

So for him, it had to be tempting.  He had power.  He knew how to work a crowd.  He could get people to rally behind him and fight the authorities.  Jesus could get these people what they wanted and then he could bask in the glory of it all.  The temptation had to be great.  But it was really just a different version of the kind of temptation he had faced back in the wilderness, the temptation to use his power for the wrong reasons.  The “this worldly” thing to do would have been to rally his people and to fight for himself and for them.  The temptation had to be great; but…that wasn’t the path set out for him.

So today the story and the mood shift rather dramatically as we move into the Passion reading.  Mark was the first one to put this story into narrative form.  The stories were out there being told orally and hinted at in the letters of Paul.  Some of the interpretation of what it all meant was out there as well, quite notably in the Philippians passage that was read earlier.  There we hear of Jesus emptying himself of the power that those Palm Sunday crowds thought he should use against the Romans.

Using whatever sources he had, Mark makes this story of Jesus’ final days the central feature of his gospel.  It’s Mark who sets the pattern of the gospel as a passion story with a long introduction.  It’s funny though, because it’s a story we know very well, but unlike the Christmas story for example, we don’t really look forward to hearing this one.  As well as we know it and as well as we know the final outcome, it’s upsetting; in strange ways this reading bothers us.  Like the Palm Sunday crowd, we want Jesus to flex his divine muscles and avoid the death we know is coming.  We like the Easter ending, but we just as soon skip all this.

Our problem, which is the problem that has existed since the beginning, is that it doesn’t make sense.  The glory, laud and honor of Palm Sunday does make sense and that’s why we just as soon stay there and then come back next Sunday to the joy of Easter.  Then we wouldn’t have to deal with the messiness of Thursday and Friday, the absence of Saturday.  That might make things cleaner, but it wouldn’t make them better.

Let us now hear the Passion according to St. Mark.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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