Lectionary blog for March 20, 2016
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
Text: Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16;
Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:39-23:49
Martin Rinkart was a pastor in Eilenburg, Germany, during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Because of its protective walls, the city became a safe place for war refugees. But because of overcrowding, the city suffered from epidemic and famine.
At the beginning of 1637, there were four ministers in town. But one left to find a healthier place to live, and Rinkart conducted the funerals of the other two. The only pastor left, he conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 people a day – 4,480 in all. In May of 1637, his wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees were being buried in trenches. Yet living in a world dominated by so much trouble, Rinkart wrote a prayer for his children to pray each night:
Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices.
Who from our mother’s arms hath led us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Most of us know it as a hymn, frequently sung at Thanksgiving services. Having learned the story of Rinkart’s life, I am always a little stunned and humbled as I sing it, marveling at such faith and hope in the face of such pain, tragedy, suffering and death.
That is the theme of the Scriptures on Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion – the juxtaposition of tragedy and trust, of service amid suffering, of hope while hurting, of faith in the face of failure, of embracing discipleship even when the only clear path will be death.
In Isaiah we see the suffering servant of God, the teacher, the one who knows how to “sustain the weary with a word.” This is one who has been called to serve and will not be deterred by setbacks, will not be turned back from his calling by abuse and suffering. Though he is physically attacked and verbally assaulted – he maintains a steady course – true to his calling and his God. In the face of all the pain and rejection he is facing, he makes a statement of faith, “I know that I will not be put to shame, the one who vindicates me is near.”
It is revealed in Chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians that he is in Rome, in custody, in jail really, awaiting execution. Yet Paul says, in Philippians 1:18, “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” What? He is soon to die and yet he rejoices? In Chapter 2 he explains that the Christian’s call is to live life in the imitation of Christ, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ” (Philippians 2:5). He then draws upon what is either a hymn or a prayer of the early church to show what that means. The suffering servant of God is willing to let go of all the things the world calls good: power, prestige, privilege and position, in order to be a part of the lowliness, the suffering, the confusion, and ultimately, the death that actually being human entails for all of us. And the servant does this trusting without knowing that God will reward him with a return to glory someday.
Trusting without knowing. Believing without evidence. Hoping without proof. Risking all without the assurance that one’s trust, one’s belief, one’s hope will be fulfilled – that is where we find Jesus today. He rides into Jerusalem with the crowds shouting to the heavens that he is the Messiah, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Yet he knows that they don’t really know what that means. They don’t know what awaits him in the next few days ahead. They don’t know that many of them, indeed most of them, will have a failure of faith and nerve of epic proportions. They don’t know that rather than being a triumph, his entry is the prelude to a tragedy. They don’t know – but he does, and 2,000 years later, so do we.
But sometimes we forget, don’t we? We forget that our call is to take up a cross and follow, not take up a sword and fight. We forget that our calling is more about serving others than it is about feeling good about ourselves. We forget that our calling is to trust God, and God’s love, and God’s ways, even when that trust leads us not only into the shadow of death but into death itself.
When I first entered the ministry, I was a very young man – at 23, probably too young to be doing what I was doing. I thought that God had called me to conquer the world for Christ. It has taken me almost 40 years to truly understand that my calling was to allow God in Christ to conquer my life, my will, and my heart so that I could truly be a suffering servant for God in the world.
Amen and amen.