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Palm Sunday: His Suffering

Palm Sunday, April 14

Isa. 50:4-9a
Ps. 31:9-16
Phil. 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

On the Sunday of the Passion, the sermon is to a great extent the long Gospel reading of the events during the final earthly days of Jesus. He shares the Passover before he suffers, imputing to bread and wine the reality of his broken body and his shed blood. He is betrayed with a kiss, taken, mocked, beaten, blindfolded, and humiliated. This is done to the Son of God, the Son of Man. It is an attack on God, and it is every attack ever launched by human beings against another person. This is a cross, a murder, a lynching, a depravity. People stood by and watched; the leaders scoffed (Luke 23:35).

Before offering commentary, a preacher does well to meditate on these words: “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:11-13).

Surely the acquaintances of Jesus and all the women who followed him from Galilee, who stood at distance and watched his suffering, fell into their own sorrow and silence. Jesus too, in the end, fell silent; and we should, Ignatius of Antioch insists in Epistle to the Ephesians, hear the meanings of his silence. The rubrics for the Holy Eucharist direct that a period of silence be kept after the breaking of the bread, a moment recalling the Lord’s broken body. What do you say at the bedside of agony or the place of a skull? How can you hallow such a scene?

God is in heaven and we are on earth. The two would never meet but for the mercy of God, the coming down in signs and wonders available to human sight and contemplation. God has called a people he has never abandoned. God has heard their cries and witnessed their sufferings. God came down here and there until, in the fullness of time, he came all the way to the bottom. In no other way could God grasp all of humanity. God in Christ became flesh, in the form of the very least of these.

The psalmist is a witness to the suffering of Jesus. “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. … I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel” (Ps. 31:9-10, 12).

The death of Jesus is not the natural end of a long and good life. It is a brutal death inflicted by depraved human beings. It is every such death; it is God’s solidarity with people who have been forgotten and thrown away like trash. It is, however, more than solidarity. It is the everlasting life and power of God inserted, like an antidote, to overcome and counteract the venom of Sin.

No explanation will do this story justice. It is God who acts, who comes down, and who saves with such wondrous love.

Look It Up
Read Philippians 2:5-11.

Think About It
No! Feel, know, and see.


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