Passion Sunday / Palm Sunday (3/16/2008)

Truly This Man Was God's Son

Lessons:      Isaiah 50:4-9a      Psalm 31:9-16      Philippians 2:5-11      St. Matthew 21:1-11      St. Matthew 27:11-54

Prayer of the Day:      Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

27.11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him." 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." 22 Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" 23 Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!"

24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." 25 Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."

38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God's Son.' " 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

 St. Matthew 27:11-54, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ.

We are about to embark on the holiest week of the church's liturgical calendar. This coming Sunday was traditionally described as "Palm Sunday," in reference to the palm branches that people waved and spread on the ground when Jesus made his triumphant entrance into the city of Jerusalem for the very last time. These days, we also refer to it as "Passion Sunday," and use it as an opportunity to reflect on the entire last week of Jesus' life.

During the coming week, in churches throughout the world, Christians will sit down with Jesus at the table for his last supper (on Maundy Thursday), will walk with him up the lonely hill to Golgotha (on Good Friday), and will wait for him in vigil (on Holy Saturday) during the dark hours leading up to Easter Sunday. We'll do this in an attempt to appreciate the depth of God's love for us, and the amazing gift of grace that the death and resurrection of Jesus are for the world.

As the week begins, this Sunday, many of us will turn our attention to the 27th chapter of St. Matthew - words that describe the day that Jesus died. There are a number of characters who play a role in this chapter of his story - most prominently the governor Pontius Pilate, but also many others: the chief priests and elders, the prisoner Jesus Barabbas, Pilate's wife, the crowds, the soldiers, Simon of Cyrene, the bandits who were crucified with him, and the passers-by who scoffed at him. But perhaps most importantly, we meet the centurion - the "commander of a hundred soldiers" who was in charge of carrying out the crucifixion of Jesus. We don't know anything else about him. He appears nowhere else in the Bible. What we do know of him is this: as Jesus died, and as the earth shook, he and the men he commanded were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

The governor didn't see it. (Neither did Herod, the King of the Jews - but the governor's wife may have had a hunch...). The chief priests and elders didn't see it. The temple crowds didn't see it. But these soldiers - these rough, hard men of war - these professional warriors who were no strangers to violence -- they were able to see what the others missed: that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God.

Perhaps it was because they made the journey up the hill from Jerusalem with him, and sat vigil at the foot of his cross while he died. Spending that amount of time in the presence of Jesus - in the presence of God - they came to see who he truly was, and may well have been among the first who began to understand what took place on that fateful day.

So we do our best to spend time in the presence of Jesus during Holy Week - hoping that we, like the centurion and his men, might see who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Wherever you are in this coming week, I encourage you to worship on Sunday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As you do, may your hearts be drawn into the story, and may you be touched by the power of God that we honor during Holy Week each year. May it bless you and strengthen you for faith in Jesus name.

David J. Risendal, Pastor (March 11, 2008)

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. Why did the religious officials and political officials not understand who Jesus was?
  2. Why did the centurion and his men see what others were not able to see?
  3. What might the centurion eventually have come to believe about Jesus?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. What glimpses of God have I had in the stories I know about Jesus?
  2. When has God touched me during a service of worship?
  3. What plans to I have to be fully involved in Holy Week worship this year?