Psalm 31:9-16 Isaiah 50:4-9a Philippians 2:5-11 Matthew 26:14- 27:66
The Palm Sunday Liturgy and readings seem to me to sum up the whole of our theological understanding of Jesus’ life in a way unlike any other. We begin with the entry into Jerusalem. In many ways it is a sort of return to Bethlehem—we have the proclamation of the Son of David—a King returned! And yet, is this the king we were expecting? Just as the king proclaimed by angels in Bethlehem was the child of peasants who lay in a feeding trough, now this king proclaimed in Jerusalem is riding on a borrowed donkey, announced by the unwashed masses, and, before we know it, he is killed as a common criminal. Jesus’ incarnation is never as we expect it. The long-desired king who would restore Israel to its former glory is instead the suffering servant who by His suffering restores the glory of creation.
Today’s liturgy sends us from exultation to despair, and we ourselves move from being members of the crowd who hails his name to members of the crowd who seek his death. In the passage from Isaiah, it is as though we hear Jesus’ own thoughts—as one who has become “a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors, a dismay to those of my acquaintance.” And yet the speaker will not abandon his trust in God, even as we see the crucified Christ commend his soul into His father’s hands, confident still in God’s power to save.
As we begin Holy Week, we are called to recognize the reality of Christ’s life and death and to recognize that our acknowledgement of this reality must define our Christian faith. It is too easy to be like Peter and to deny that we are followers of Jesus, the living and dying Son of God. We would rather follow Jesus the healer of the sick and teller of parables and ignore the messy unpleasantness of Holy Week. We want to jump straight to Easter and the joy of resurrection, but to do that without recalling Christ’s Passion is to be like Peter and fail to acknowledge the truth of our relationship; we need rather to be as the Centurion and acknowledge that here indeed was an innocent man.
The writer of Philippians sums up Jesus’ nature when he speaks of Jesus as being in the “form of God” and yet emptying himself into a human form which is then humbled to the point of death on a cross. It is Jesus’ very sacrifice in shameful death that causes God to exalt Him over every other name. Again, we see incarnation and suffering linked for our salvation, for which reason every tongue should “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”:
Therefore, God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.