4/5 Readings: Among the Dead

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Liturgy of the Palms:

Matt. 21:1-11
Ps. 118:1-2, 19-29

Liturgy of the Word:

Isa. 50:4-9a
Ps. 31:9-16
Phil. 2:5-11
Matt. 26:14-27:66 or Matt. 27:11-54

The congregational reading of the Passion makes a deep impression from which the sermon should not detract.  Perhaps the most compelling commentary, to begin, is the silence observed at the moment when “Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last.” What are we to say, what are we to add in the face of such anguish and such horror? Silence is the heart’s approach not only to Jesus’ betrayal and death, but also to the mysterious good accomplished for us, the self-emptying, the abasement on our behalf, accepted in obedience to his Father’s will.

He was greatly distressed, grieved, and agitated. He pleaded to avoid this cup of pain, but, in the end, he accepted it for us, on our behalf, and for our eternal good.  Becoming what we are, he who knew no sin bore the full weight and consequence of sin, its deadly cost.  All pain and every anguish would be his.

There has never been a single dogmatic and binding explanation of the death of Jesus. There are images and metaphors, complementary and sometimes contradictory, but nothing approaching a complete and logical explanation. What use would an explanation be in the face of his bloody cross?

One such metaphor comes in the form of an ancient Christian hymn from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Jesus came down, all the way down among us.

“Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

Without relinquishing his divine power, he willingly entered into the depths of human sorrow and the hour of human death, assuming not merely his own suffering and end on Calvary, but, in some sense, all suffering and all death. Death appeared to swallow him, but, in truth, he swallowed death. In his death, as in his earthly ministry, Jesus was “gathering all things [into himself], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10).  Even more, he descended to the dead and thus left nothing untouched by his redeeming power.

Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, is in our midst, among us, one of us. He has become what we are so that every moment of human life and every moment of human history and every particle of the cosmos itself may be caught up in him. He has assumed it all: your life, my life, all who have lived, all who will live, the heights of heaven, all earthly being, and the depths of hell. He has become what we are on his bloody cross. Why? So that we might become what he is, so that we might become the sons and daughters of God by adoption and grace.

The hymn continues, “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” (Phil. 2:9-11).

He is holding your life right now. Your life is the weight of his body. Your life is the anguish of his pain. Your death is the death of his last breath. He is with you, but not merely alongside you as a fellow sufferer. He is transforming everything into the life and glory of God, making all things new.

Look It Up:  Read Matthew 27:29.

Think About It: Pray privately, on the ground, from the heart.


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