The Preacher’s Study
Sunday of the Passion, Year B
D. Jay Koyle
Mark 11.1-11 or John 12.12-16
We are the stories we tell. The stories we tell form and transform us. They shape our view of the world and have the potential to spark change in the world itself. We are, or at least we are becoming, the stories we tell.
This insight, this wisdom lies behind our weekly rehearsal of the gospel story through scriptures proclaimed, rites celebrated, feasts and seasons observed. Our “storytelling” has particular potency, however, as the church gathers to mark the days of palms and Passion, Resurrection and New Creation.
This Sunday marks the first step of transition from the Lenten journey to the fifty-day celebration of Easter. Soon the candidates for baptism will voice their renunciation of all the spiritual forces of deceit and wickedness; the powers and systems that corrupt, destroy, and degrade the creatures of God; and all sinful desires that draw them from God’s love.
They will be asked if they turn to Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the world, pledging to trust the grace and love revealed in him; pledging to obey him as Lord, and follow him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The baptized will echo this choice of allegiance in words of reaffirmation.
The entire Passion narrative, announced in all its power and drama, displays the stark choice with which those baptismal questions confront us.
Essentially, two “kingdoms” are on display in the narrative of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection: one personified by the likes of the chief priests and elders and Pilate, the other embodied in Jesus. The disciples’ actions in the events that unfold – particularly as they betray, deny, and abandon Jesus – serve as a reminder of how both dominions make a compelling claim on our lives.
What do these “kingdoms” look like in our world, our generation, our context(s)? How do we find ourselves torn between the two, individually and collectively? How is God at work to liberate us? What alternative vision does the good news proclaimed and embodied in Christ at this climatic moment provide?
In what barren soil might the seeds of God’s purpose and promises actually be taking root and beginning to bloom in our lives? In the world around us?
What would it look like for us to embrace once again our subversive identity as ‘Body of Christ’ and live the radical life of allegiance to God’s Kingdom in our world, our generation, our context(s)?
The preacher would do well to provoke engagement with questions such as these at the threshold of Holy Week.
The liturgies of Holy Week orient us to active citizenship in the everlasting Reign of God, immersing us once again in the story of Jesus, crucified and risen. It is vital to recognize that this story is the story of all who have “put on Christ” through baptism.
Attending to Paul’s words from the Letter to the Church in Philippi can help the preacher bring home this recognition.
Today’s sound bite from the epistle records preacher Paul breaking out in song. As he lifts up the crucified Christ to remind his congregation of who they are and what this means for how they live, he cracks open his hymnal and extols the One who poured out himself for the life of the world, the One whom God has now raised up, the One to whom all peoples will one day sing.
“In a world where people grasp for prestige and privilege,” sings Paul, Christ Jesus emptied himself and became servant.
“In a world where people covet status and association with the right people, Christ Jesus walked and dined and died with outcast and sinner.
“In a world that demonizes distinct demographics, and says we must take up arms to combat killing, Christ Jesus took up a cross to break the cycle of scapegoating and violence.
“In a world where people place ‘their own’ desires first, Christ Jesus sought above all else to desire what God desires.
“In a world where people seek to maneuver political opponents into checkmate out of a cynical attempt to survive or win, Christ Jesus became vulnerable and surrendered his life.
“In a world where people look out for ‘number one’ and compromise their principles to save their skin, Christ Jesus never wavered in his fidelity to God, even when it took him to the shameful gallows.
“Therefore,” sings Paul, “God has exalted him above all else!”
(If it were any other season besides Lent, he’d be launching into a series of Alleluia’s, too!) ;-)
Then, catching his breath, Paul looks at his congregation and announces, “You are rooted and one in Christ already, his Body in the world. So let this same mind be in you.”
Paul knew that the cosmic changes wrought by the cross had very tangible, immediate implications for the way we live. So says he, “Let the same mind be in you.”
It would be wise for preachers to follow Paul’s example in Philippians, naming concrete matters, but then taking on a similar tone of hope and praise even as people are exhorted to take up their cross and follow.
Make sure that, in preaching and any other aspect of the liturgy, you approach the coming week not as a dramatic reenactment, but rather as a ritual opportunity to deepen participation in the paschal mystery.
The vitality of the Christian people is fuelled when they are reminded about “who and whose” they are, and then exhorted to live out of that reality, that story – their story.
Reading of the Passion Gospel
In many congregations it is customary for parts to be assigned for the proclamation of the Passion story. If this option is chosen, it is recommended that the congregation not be delegated the part of the crowd, shouting “Crucify Him!” It is a questionable practice to have Christians ritualize themselves in opposition to Christ when they should be strengthening their identification with Christ and his devotion to God.
Instead, the congregation might take part through a refrain sung at the start of the passage and after Mark 14.31; 14.72; 15.37. Possible refrains include “Now We Remain” (Haas), “Bless the Lord, My Soul (Taize), or a setting of the Kyrie or Trisagion. If your “script” of the Passion Gospel has a part for the congregation to voice the part of the crowd, this part can be assigned to a chorus of readers.
If the Passion Gospel is proclaimed in the manner suggested here, there is no need to provide copies of the passage to members of the congregation.
The proclamation of the Passion Gospel is introduced, “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark.” There is no preliminary greeting or congregational response to this announcement. Likewise, the proclamation ends in silence.
Another resource for proclaiming the Passion Gospel in parts can be found here in the online resource “Becoming the Story We Tell” - https://5062d9ba7ccc362f4859-cd58abbe0e6243265c5a27e702ee6c8b.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/Becoming%20the%20Story%20we%20Tell%20Jan%203%202018.pdf
Walk with Christ the way of the cross,
that you may embrace the outcast and condemned
as your sister or brother.
Walk with Christ the way of the cross,
that from brokenness and despair
God may bring forth hope and new life.
Walk with Christ the way of the cross,
that the cycle of violence and oppression
may be broken in our world.
And may the blessing of the crucified One
who is alive and reigns forever
be with you now and always.
Jay Koyle is past president of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. He is a presbyter ministering as Congregational Development Officer of the Diocese of Algoma (Anglican), and serving as chair of Faith, Worship and Ministry for The Anglican Church of Canada.
Artwork from Chris Gollon’s ‘Stations of the Cross’ (2009). For more information about the collection, or to order cards or reprints: http://www.chrisgollon.com/collections/stations-of-the-cross/