St. Philip Lutheran Church
28 March 2021 + Palm/Passion Sunday
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
“I don’t even know what time means anymore,” admits one pastor in a recent essay for the Christian Century magazine. It’s not just the fact that she’s writing a reflection for a Holy Week issue in the midst of Advent to meet an editorial deadline that feels out of sync. “But,” she goes on, “the chronological confusion is all the more intense because in many ways, it feels as if Lent 2020 never ended — as if Easter never came.”
The word passion means “suffering.” In a year of pandemic, rising death tolls, racial injustice and protests, deepening political division, and isolation and loneliness, the passion half of our liturgy this day feels poignantly appropriate.
It feels like we never quite left last year’s Lent in a year marked by despair and darkness.
As one biblical scholar observes of Mark’s passion, it begins on a gloomy note, and the darkness will only intensify until Jesus breathes his last. (Raymond Brown, 22)
Each passion narrative in the four gospels tells the same story but in four unique ways. Mark’s version is the shortest, and also the oldest, being written down closer to the events it describes than the others. Maybe that makes it more authentic, more able to match the tone and feel of what it was like to live through those days and hours.
Mark’s passion portrays a stark abandonment of Jesus — from Judas’s betrayal to Peter’s denial to even the criminals crucified alongside Jesus who revile him — until finally it seems that even God has abandoned Jesus as he cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Mark portrays a Jesus who is utterly abandoned and alone — and where is the good news in that?
And yet, I think that such a portrayal is also honest — and relatable. As Lutherans, we confess a theology of the cross — a theology that shows us where Jesus is and where God is — not far removed from our suffering world, but right in the midst of it.
In the garden. On the cross. In the hospital room. In the nursing home. In our isolation and in our grief. There is Jesus — and there is the power of God who can bring life out of death.
The ending of Mark‘s passion includes one final detail. The women who were at the cross now see where the body of Jesus has been laid. It’s a small detail, but one that is open-ended, that suggests there is more to the story, that something else is yet to happen.
Palm/Passion Sunday is the beginning of the “emotional rollercoaster of Holy Week,” as one friend of mine recently put it. The week that begins with passion, anguish, and suffering, but doesn’t end there.
This week, let yourself experience the fullness of that story all over again.
THE PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST: Mark 14:1—15:47
Hymn: Jesus, I Will Ponder Now (ELW 345, stanzas 1-2)
Reading — Part 1
Hymn: Go to Dark Gethsemane (ELW 347, st. 1)
Reading — Part 2
Hymn: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (ELW 351, st. 1)
Reading — Part 3
Hymn: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (ELW 351, st. 3)
Reading — Part 4
Hymn: Were You There (ELW 353, st. 1)
Reading — Part 5
Hymn: Were You There (ELW 353, st. 3)
Reading — Part 6
Hymn: Jesus, I Will Ponder Now (ELW 345, stanzas 3-4)