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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Passion Introduction 04/09/2017

Today we enter into the central mystery of our faith, the Passion of our Lord.  In each of the gospels it is the longest part, taking up two full chapters.  You could in fact say that the Passion story is the defining characteristic of a gospel.  You’ve perhaps heard of other gospels that have been found like the gospel of Thomas, or Mary or Judas, there are others as well.  Reports about them can be rather sensationalistic, trying as they do to make you think these other documents are going change everything we previously thought about Jesus and Christianity.

Sometimes the conspiracy theorists want you to think that the church suppressed all these other gospels in order to spin the story in a particular way but that’s really just more sensationalism.  There are a number of reasons that these others haven’t become part of the official canon, but a big reason is because they don’t have a Passion story.  They’re more collections of things Jesus is reported to have said, some of them things consistent with what Jesus says in the accepted gospels so it’s not to say that there aren’t things of interest in them.  But if all we had were sayings of Jesus, he would just be another wise teacher, worth paying attention to perhaps, but not the Savior of the World.  It was only in light of the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus and the interpretation of Old Testament scripture around those events that Jesus closest followers began to recognize him as the Messiah, the Lord.

Today we’ll hear Matthew’s version of the Passion story and while it is long I do think it’s good to hear the whole thing read in one sitting at least once during Holy Week.  In a slightly different way we’ll do the same thing with John’s Passion story in the darkness of Friday night at the Tenebrae service. 

That’s all good, but the trouble with the way we do things these days though is that the Palm Sunday part of the story, Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem kind of gets short changed.  We mark it at the beginning of today’s service, the choir sings an anthem, the gospel is read, the palms are blessed, we sing All Glory, Laud and Honor, but then the tone and the mood abruptly shifts.  Apart from taking home a palm, Palm Sunday pretty much fades into the background. 

What is described in the Palm Sunday gospel is no less than a royal entrance.  This was how ancient cities received a royal ruler with branches and garments spread on the road with cries of “Hosanna!”  meaning “Help us, save us,” as the ruler in effect takes possession of the city.  The question that comes up is about Jesus’ own attitude toward all this.  Did it happen against his will?  He had quite consistently resisted royal titles.  Was it really a much quieter entry, just him and a few followers, an event that wasn’t re-described and re-emphasized as a royal entry until after Easter?

One can’t know for sure, but it seems quite probable, in fact likely, that Jesus made this entrance deliberately, modeling it on the quote from the prophet Zechariah about the king arriving humble and riding on a donkey.  The next verse, which isn’t quoted in Matthew, says “He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations.”

It seems realistic that his Jerusalem entry is another step in Jesus assuming the role of Messiah.  He wanted to make what would be seen as a royal entrance but not on the terms that others expected, instead on his terms, as the Prince of Peace.  By making such an entrance, however he understood it, he also would have known how it would have looked threatening to the religious and political leaders.  He had to know that this was a pivotal moment and that he was headed into a situation that would likely turn ugly; and it did and that’s the rest of the story.  So let us now turn to the Passion of our Lord, according to St. Matthew.      

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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