Sparkling Jule and Holy Week
2008-03-12 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Jule Nyhuis for such an extensive, creative and thoughtful blog entry. She provides intelligent reflections on the fickleness of the crowd from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, as well as provides evocative imagery useful for preaching. Please scroll down to read her entry. The hot tub's a bubblin'.
Here's a question: Many of us tend not just to hear about the events of Holy Week. We actually relive them. On Good Friday at three, we are not merely commemorating Jesus' death. We actually, on some level, are re-experiencing that death. What is good and bad about this mentality?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Mt. 21:1-11; Some Kind of Victory March
2008-03-10 by Jule Nyhuis
This entry was submitted by Jule M. Nyhuis, an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She currently serves as Minister to Children and their Families for a United Methodist Church in Tennessee. She has been preaching and teaching the scriptures in the church for nearly 15 years. All biblical citations are New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
This Sunday the gospel text of the lectionary takes us to the first step of the Passion Story. According to this story’s traditional title, Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem. But what sort of victory march is this after all? When I read it, it sounds so much like the Oscar-nominated actor whose name is all the buzz. In the weeks leading up to the big night, everyone wants to catch if even one quick quote from him. The paparazzi swarm. The red carpet awaits. Will he show up in Armani? Which glamorous gal will be on his arm? Finally his limo pulls up. The door opens. “Ooh!” the crowd swoons while flashes pop. His smile dazzles as the entertainment anchors all tug at his elbow. How does he feel about the nomination? How long did he take to get ready for the night? Who will he thank if he wins? It’s all the pre-show hype. Only . . . his name is not called. Again. Home he will go another year with no glittering statue gripped tightly in his hand. The victory eludes his grasp. And he’s left to exit the building empty. Alone; for the crowd’s gaze has turned elsewhere. It’s such a crushing defeat.
Everyone knows they can’t all win and I cannot help but wonder how Jesus might have been feeling about his red-carpet attention. Those of us who know the story, find today’s text so ironic. After all, Jesus (along with us readers) knew the destination of his palm parade; for he knew how fickle the crowd can be. Sometimes I wonder if he was thoroughly frustrated. As the writer of Matthew points out, Jesus gave them all sorts of clues. Some were even as subtle as a fry pan upside their heads. Already there had been three passion predictions (see Mt. 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). His disciples should not have been surprised by the events about to take place because Jesus, like a broken record, had told them the fate that await in Jerusalem. However, the very large crowd that came to spread their cloaks and cut-branches most probably missed that detail. We have to presume that some of these groupies are of the same crowds from earlier encounters. Why else would they add their own acclamations as Jesus came riding down that road on his way into the city? Matthew’s writer puts ancient words of worship (taken from Psalm 118:26) on the lips of this crowd. It is interesting to note that Psalm 118 is one of the Jewish “’Egyptian Hallel’ (‘praise’) psalms, sung before and after the Passover meal” (The HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV. New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers. 1993:908). Might the author have been emphasizing the Jewish ancestry of this crowd who were so obviously steeped in their faith tradition? They knew Son of David language and perhaps believed this donkey and colt rider the fulfillment of ancient hopes for the restoration of David’s dynasty. (Note that the Son of David title in Mt.21:9 is unique to the gospel of Matthew.) When pressed by unknowing Jerusalemites about the nature of who this is, they name Jesus a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee (Mt. 21:11). The unfortunate twist of this crowd is that they soon will cry: “Crucify!” (Mt. 27:22-23). A Roman centurion and a death squad (others are with the centurion and join in the proclamation according to Matthew alone) at the foot of the cross will be the first that week to sincerely profess Jesus the Son of God (Mt. 27:54).
One caution to us all when preaching these texts of Holy Week. We must be careful not to fall into the abyss of anti-Semitic statements. Even if the text tends to wander towards such conclusions, we must keep in mind that the gospel of Matthew was written at a time when Jewish-Christian relations were sorting themselves out. Pressure to define who was part of which group must have been at a high, if not for both groups, then certainly for this newly emerging religion. As preachers of Holy Week, Year A; we must be careful not to lay blame where a potentially over-anxious author might have been seeking to justify a community’s believed “rightness” of their own commitments.
One final word on Matthew’s Palm Sunday story. Here we have Jesus descending from the Mount of Olives. I encourage you to see Zechariah 14:1-9 to know more about the ancient prophecy about the Day of the LORD when the LORD would stand on the Mount of Olives and fight the foes of Jerusalem. “And the LORD will become king over all the earth” Zechariah 14:9 goes. If the author of Matthew indeed seeks to link Jesus’ Jerusalem entry with the prophet’s prediction, then what might we make of this act taking place as Jesus rides not one but two pack animals according to Matthew’s telling of the tale? Further, if you spend some time investigating a map of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, such as the one found in The HarperCollins Study Bible (Map 16), your imagination surrounding Jesus’ entry east from the Mount of Olives into the city of Jerusalem might soar. Did he hang a left at Gethsemane and come down the winding road directly into the Temple’s Golden Gate? (Matthew and others put Jesus in the Temple at the close of his Jerusalem entry.) Was it straight into Solomon’s Portico he went? Was this the same, but reverse, route ancient tradition said the “temple-departing glory of God” took (The HarperCollins Study Bible:1902, note on Mt.24:3)? (Also see Ezekiel 11:23 for more information.) I encourage you to play with the path in your mind’s eye this week and see what insight might come.
At last, I love the way the note on Zechariah 14:4 in The HarperCollins Study Bible puts it: “the divine feet (standing on the Mount of Olives) are sufficient to alter the landscape of Jerusalem” (1426). Wow! From the start, the gospel of Matthew has been intent on emphasizing the clash of kingdoms between that of this world’s and that of God’s. Remember that Matthew’s gospel alone includes the wise seekers heading to Jerusalem in search of the newborn king (Mt. 2:1-12). Matthew alone holds King Herod’s response to such news: he orders all nearby babies two years old and under killed, just in case these wise ones have it right and a new king is about to begin his ascent (Mt. 2:16-18). If we recall Jesus’ first sermon according to the gospel of Matthew: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt. 4:17), then what attention might we pay to the gospel’s explanation in Matthew 21:5 of this branch-cloaked parade? “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Mt. 21:5). It is as if Matthew’s writer seeks to say: “Look! Here is the king over all the earth who comes to alter the terrain of our lives.” For in this humble king, the ways of the world will be turned upside-down and inside-right. He will not descend into the city to exercise the strength of his muscle, but the strength of his heart. His will is turned not towards self-satisfaction, but towards God (Mt. 26:39). Even if he must suffer the humiliation and unspeakable pain of death at others’ cruel hands, he will endure it all in the hope of resurrected life. Indeed the divine feet are sufficient to transform the landscape of the world, even if it will take one altered life at a time until the ways of God’s kingdom at last overtake any other.
Our gospel text is rich with possibilities this week. Happy preaching to you all!
"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-03-06 by David von Schlichten
Guest blogger Teresa Strickland has given us much to soak up here amid the bubbles, and Tom Steagald has also created quite a splash. Please scroll down to their entries.
The Lazarus story seems to beg for what Henry Mitchell calls imaginative elaboration. If we go that route, creatively embellishing the story to help people connect to it, we want to make sure that we remain faithful to the message. When being creative, it is easy to wander into the cave of eisegesis and heresy.
You can go to Share It! and then to “Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics” to read vanThanh Nguyen's exegetical article for this week's gospel.
Below are highlights from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics.
Arun W. Jones reminds us that, more important than whether the raising of Lazarus actually happened, is the meaning of the story. Arun also reveals that love is essential to the story's significance. Love is a salient motif in the story and what gets the Jews to believe in Jesus is that the sign is “performed in a context of a loving community” (p. 46). Jesus loves the people he cares for in the story, and the Jewish mourners are showing love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Further, while we can believe in Jesus without a sign and believe in the sign without believing in Jesus, love is essential for belief in Jesus.
Kristin Saldine brilliantly points out that the story contains two miracles, the second one being that Jesus weeps. She suggests that, while the common criticism is that we are a society that avoids death, we are really a society that avoids mourning. People are expected to get over grieving as soon as possible. However, in our text, Jesus weeps. God saves us and grieves with us.
Saldine also refers to Kushner's When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough. In that book, Kushner writes that, to find meaning in our lives and bring relevance to our faith, we need to: A. accept the reality of pain in our lives; B. we need to learn how to belong to others; and C. if we seek meaning in our lives we will feel compelled to make a difference in the world (p. 47).
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence waxes perspicacious as she focuses on the idea that, while God is the one who does the resurrecting, he calls upon us to do the unbinding. She writes about people who have emerged to life but then have not quite broken free of the bonds of death because no one unbound them. A person recovers but then relapses because no one helps the person with the process of breaking free permanently from old patterns and behaviors. Some of us fixate on grieving the deaths of our loved ones instead of letting them go and letting us go, too. Florence provides several examples such as these. Profound.
Unwrapping, I am
Ever yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-03-04 by Tom Steagald
I have written elsewhere on Lazarus, wondering if he wanted to be raised from the dead. I mean, did anyone ask him how he felt about the matter? I compare his dilema to mine when I was a boy, snug in the covers (read:burial cloths) and not wanting to wake or leave the comfort of the bed, but mother's voice was insistent that I must rise and go to school. Obedience dragged me out of slumber (Praying for Dear Life, NavPress, 2006; pp.17-19)
Likewise, Lazarus' answer to Jesus' summons is obedience, and in its own way as radical (or more) an obedience as the fishermen leaving the nets, the tax collector his booth. He obeys Jesus, which is the first task of (further?) discipleship.
It is an interesting notion...answering the call to life from the midst of (even comfortable) death to stand again against the given-ness of things.
On another, completely different note, the Girardian website mentioned some weeks ago (http://girardianlectionary.net) has an interesting reading of the Greek verb in vs. 33, most usually translated "deeply moved"--that in reality, Jesus feels anger that what should be a miracle executed among disciples and the loved ones of Lazarus (and keeping with the Johannine rendering of the Messianic Secret, i.e., "my time has not yet come") instead becomes a public display that occasions further grief when the word gets out.
I think I may try to enter the text through that portal--Jesus's anger/grief and his "in spite of it" ministry, which is how the Word is still to be enfleshed among us. Something like that.
Lazarus in the Funeral Home
2008-03-04 by David von Schlichten
It is fun to splash around the text in the tub with Teresa, an unmet neighbor of mine. I am in Latrobe, PA, a mere hour east of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where Teresa teaches (I have been on that campus many times and am looking forward to the lectures on Calvin that will be given there in April).
Anyway, I value her "imaginative elaboration" (Henry Mitchell's term) on the Lazarus text.
Sometimes I imagine the Lazarus story happening today. We're at the funeral home, during the viewing. The body lies in the casket, bloodless and embalmed. There is no way that body will live, but Jesus walks in, signs the guest register, takes some flak from the grieving family. He pays his respects. Then he orders, "Lazarus, get up!" and the body sits up.
I invite parishioners to imagine being in such a situation. How would they react?
From there, I would probably return to the text and advance to proclaiming how we are the beloved ones whom God helps. We have life, physical and spiritual, because of Christ. I'd help parishioners to see their Lazarene nature.
Please share your thoughts with Teresa.
Yours in Christ in the Steeler Nation,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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