Passion Sunday / Palm Sunday (4/5/2009)

Truly This Man Was God's Son

Lessons:     Isaiah 50:4-9a     Psalm 31:9-16     Philippians 2:5-11     St. Mark 14:1-15:47 (or St. Mark 15:1-39 [40-47])     Processional Gospel         St. Mark 11:1-11 (or St. John 12:12-16)

Prayer of the Day:     Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

15:1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" 13 They shouted back, "Crucify him!" 14 Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

[40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.]

St. Mark 15:1-39 [40-47] New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

St. Mark is known for his sparse - almost terse - treatment of the life of Jesus. His accounts are brief. He rarely uses a word or two more than is absolutely necessary. (Some of us, who make our living as preachers, could learn from him.) But where his accounts may lack in detail, they make up for it in focus. Every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence is Christ-centered, Gospel-centered, and faith-centered.

Mark allows himself a few more words, however, when it comes to describing the last week of Jesus' life. It takes six full chapters (out of the 16 that tell of Jesus' 3-year public ministry) to recount the events which begin with Jesus' approach to Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1) and conclude with Mary, Mary and Salome running from the tomb in fear after hearing about the resurrection from an angel (Mark 16:8).

For Mark, this is the most important part of the story, and so he goes on at great length, telling us about the adoring crowds who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. The merchants who run for their lives when Jesus begins to clear out the Temple. The religious leaders who continue plotting against him. The poor widow who puts her two copper coins into the treasury. The disciples who are at his side for the parade, but hiding in the shadows at his crucifixion. The woman who anoints his head with oil. The man who provides a guest room for Jesus and his followers, so they can celebrate Passover. The crowd that arrives with Judas to arrest Jesus. The High Priest. The servant-girl who recognizes Peter. Pilate. Barabbas. The soldiers who crucify Jesus (and divide his clothes). Simon of Cyrene. The two bandits crucified with Jesus. Passers-by and others who mock Jesus as he hangs dying on the cross. The women who look on from a distance. Joseph of Arimathea, who asks for Jesus' body.

It is all there. If you haven't done so lately, you should read Mark 13-16 in one sitting some time this week. As you do, you will no doubt notice (as I recently did) one character who stands out from the crowd. It is the Centurion: a roman soldier who stands facing Jesus in verse 15:39, and who says, as Jesus dies, "Truly this man was God's son!" Others had seen Jesus perform miracles, cast out demons, and teach in ways that stirred the crowds. Others had seen far more of Jesus than this man ever did. But he saw what was most important. He saw in Jesus' suffering and death, that he was nothing less than the very son of God. We never hear of this Centurion again, but one can only imagine the impact this moment had on his life.

Perhaps this unknown Centurion is just the kind of person Mark has in mind as he writes the Gospel: one who will be struck by this story, and who will come to realize that Jesus is no ordinary religious leader who ran up against the Temple insiders. In the chaos and fury of those Good Friday events, this Centurion was able to see the real meaning of the story: that God so loved the world that he gave his only son... In the chaos and busyness of our lives, may we take time to gather at the foot of the cross together this week. And in doing so, may we catch a glimpse of what that Centurion saw: that in his death for us, Jesus proves to be nothing less than the very son of God. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. Why was the Centurion present at Jesus' death?
  2. What must he have been expecting to see?
  3. What caused him to note that there was something extraordinary about Jesus?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. What plans will I make to be more attentive to the story of Holy Week this year?
  2. What do I hope to see as I spend time in worship and in private devotion?
  3. What does it mean for me to profess that Jesus is the son of God?