Proclaiming the Word
Preaching Holy Week 2013
My friend, David Lose, and the staff of www.workingpreacher.org, are creating a narrative lectionary, designed to lead congregations through the church year in ways that highlight the broader sweep of the biblical narrative, from creation to consummation. While it is still a work in progress, this year’s texts trace the story of Jesus through the gospel of Luke. Consider weaving the texts of Holy Week into a progressive narrative of clashing kingdoms:
PALM SUNDAY – Luke 19:29-44
As your congregation sings loud Hosannas on Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry, paint a powerful picture of the clash of two kingdoms that is signaled in Luke’s gospel. On the first day of this fateful Passover week, there were two processions heading into the Holy City. We are familiar with the details of Jesus’ journey. He arrives through the eastern gate, riding on a borrowed donkey, proclaiming a kingdom of peace and love that was about to be fully displayed in his coming passion. But at the same time, marching into Jerusalem from the west would be Pontius Pilate with his military brigade. They were coming up from the governor’s quarters in Caesarea in a display of might so as to discourage political uprisings. Jerusalem was a volatile place, especially during sacred celebrations like Passover, and Rome would want to remind the people of Judea who was really in charge. But who is in charge, really? The one who comes with glistening swords and shields or the One welcomed by palm branches and cloaks spread on the road? The pompous governor who rides in on a war horse; or the humble King who rides in on a donkey? The sound of trumpets blasting their battle-cry; or the songs of Hosanna sung by women, children, peasants? If these simple peasants kept quiet, the stones themselves would cry out! Two kingdoms in conflict… but which will prevail come next Sunday?
MAUNDY THURSDAY – Luke 22:1-29
A strong contrast is drawn between those who sided against Jesus (chief priests, scribes, Judas, and Satan) and those who remained loyal to Jesus (Peter, John, and the soon-to-be-scattered disciples). But the primary contrast lies in the way of Jesus versus the ways of the kingdoms of this world. The sacred words of institution spoken over bread and wine remind us that his very body of flesh was about to be broken; and his very human blood was about to be poured out… for our sake and for the sake of the whole world. This kingdom way is difficult for disciples to grasp – immediately they argue over who is to be greatest. Jesus construes greatness as service, not only in his teaching on discipleship, but also in the way he lives among us – as One who serves. Note the kingdom language in verses 28-29. Jesus is conferring on us a kingdom of a very different ilk. As we come to the table on this holy night, let us not only remember his amazing sacrifice for us, but let us also consecrate ourselves to our vocation of servanthood and sacrifice – for the sake of the world.
GOOD FRIDAY – Luke 23:32-47
Today’s text spotlights the crucifixion of Jesus – a horrid scene, but one that Luke clothes with dignity as he reports these events. Jesus is named King of the Jews. But what kind of king dies on a cruel cross, hanging disgracefully between two common criminals? What kind of king exercises authority, not with weapons and power, but with love and forgiveness? What kind of king relinquishes his spirit willingly into the hands of God – for the sake of those who hate him? The death of Jesus presents us with a picture of a radically different kind of king who is inaugurating a radically different kind of kingdom. How do we respond to such love? The thief at his side speaks his prayer – and ours, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” This mutilated Messiah, this suffering Servant, this condemned King will bring this thief, along with all of us, safely home to God. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
EASTER SUNDAY – Luke 24:1-16
While each gospel writer has a unique take on the events of Easter morning, they all agree that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. This is remarkable, considering that the first century was a man’s world. Women were not allowed to bear witness in the courts – their testimony was deemed unreliable – nothing more than “women’s talk.” Luke uses the crass term leiros (a good synonym would be fertilizer) to describe the disciples’ interpretation of this incredible announcement. The NRSV softens the term to “idle tale,” but the reaction of the disciples is much more akin to “a locker room term for sheer and utter nonsense.” The news of Easter is met with perplexity and denseness of understanding – from the women who discover a rolled-away stone and an empty tomb and are “at a loss”, to Peter who runs to the tomb to see it for himself and walks away “amazed,” to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road whose eyes were “arrested (locked up) and kept from recognizing” the risen Christ who had joined them on this long and winding road.
All through Holy Week, we have encountered a very different kind of King, with a very different kind of glory and authority, who is ushering in a very different kind of kingdom. The most dazzling news of the ages is entrusted to “unreliable” narrators. It stuns the faithful and leaves us speechless, scratching our heads in wonder. It confounds both mighty and meek alike. We are, to borrow the words of Willimon, undone by Easter. But our undoing is the beginning of God’s new creation – the power of resurrection life unleashed in our midst, making all things new! The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ! And he shall reign forever and ever! Alleluia! He is risen indeed!
Mike Jackson, D. Min.
Associate Professor of Religion