Monday, March 14, 2016
Each year on Palm Sunday we read the Passion Narrative from one of the three synoptic gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke--each has its own character and feel. We save John's account for Good Friday, and, because it is read every year, that version is the one with which I am most familiar. When it comes to Palm Sunday, therefore, I always discover a few surprises.
This year we read what Luke has to say about the end of Jesus' life. I remembered that Luke's version is the only one that includes the repentant thief, who begs from the cross that Jesus would remember him. I also recalled that Luke portrays Jesus addressing the women of Jerusalem, encouraging them not to weep for him but for themselves. I remembered that Luke tells us that Jesus' earnest prayer produced blood-like drops of sweat. There are lots of other details I had forgotten about this year's account. I didn't remember Jesus' conversation with the disciples about them needing a sword or his words to Peter about Satan sifting wheat. More than anything, however, I had forgotten how chaotic Luke's telling of the story feels.
Take a minute and read it. Feel how disjointed everything is. In some ways, Luke is the opposite of Mark. Mark tells just the facts, but Luke seems to squeeze in every single detail. The dialogue jumps from one topic to another. None of the actions really feels finished. For example, at the Last Supper, Jesus mentions that one of the disciples will betray him, and, like in the other accounts, the disciples question themselves as to who it might be, but we never hear of Judas leaving the scene. The finger is never pointed at him until he appears in the Garden of Gethsemane with the arresting party. When I expect Jesus to have the final "do what you came to do" moment with Judas, he skips over it and starts talking about servant leadership. Again, it really bounces around.
I think the preacher's job on Palm Sunday is to get out of the way and let the lessons and the liturgy tell the story. Luke gives us an especially full, especially chaotic story. Like many churches, we will use a dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative, and I anticipate that that will further bewilder the congregation. I am approaching this week's sermon thinking that I am supposed to note explicitly what we all already feel: that the last 24 hours of Jesus' life were a spectacle of turbulence. We're supposed to feel confused. We're supposed to feel like something is missing--that something is unfinished. Don't try to wrap everything up, Dear Preacher, in a neat little package. Build upon the confusion of Luke's story and let it stand for itself. Instead of diagramming the death of Jesus, allow the emotion of the story to speak for itself. Get out of the way as best you can. Don't give people more than they already have. Instead, draw them deeper into what it already there and trust that they will leave exactly the way they are supposed to leave.