Weekly Introduction to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Palm Sunday)

Before I introduce our two texts for Sunday (the traditional “liturgy of the palms”) let me say a quick word about our choice of texts for this Sunday.  If you have a copy of the RCL (revised common lectionary) you might have noticed that for this Sunday there are two sets of readings.  The first set is for “passion Sunday” and it includes the typical Hebrew
Bible lection (first lesson), the psalm response, the NT lection (second lesson), and the Gospel lection.  The gospel lection covers the passion narrative (the death of Jesus).

The second set of readings contains only two texts and it is for “palm Sunday.”  The readings for the second set are Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 containing the phrase “blessed is
the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (the phrase quoted in the triumphal entry narrative in the gospels) and Luke 19:28-40 which records Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Why are there two sets of readings?  Good question.  When the “common lectionary” was “revised” shortly after Vatican II there was great concern about church attendance during Holy Week.  Many people were going to church on Palm Sunday and waiting until Easter morning to go to church again.  This meant that the passion of Christ never got experienced in worship.  People were experiencing the triumph of Palm Sunday and then the triumph of Easter morning but were not experiencing the suffering of the passion.  Thus the lectionary committee decided to give options for the Sunday preceding Easter–in
other words they decided to offer the passion narrative so those only attending Sunday services would not miss it entirely.

Our tradition is to use the liturgy of the palms for Palm Sunday, and that is what we will do this coming week.  However, the concern of the lectionary committee should is instructive and it highlights how important our Good Friday service is.  As we experience the triumph of Palm Sunday and the beautiful children waiving their palms we must remember how close we are to the end.  Our worship needs the passion narrative.  Our Good Friday service is important in our observance of Holy Week.  The story of Christianity is not triumph to triumph.  Instead it is  triumph (Palm Sunday) to service (Maundy Thursday–John 13) to  suffering and sacrifice (Good Friday) to waiting (Holy Saturday Vigil) to triumph (Easter Resurrection).

Now to the texts for this week…
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Our reading from Psalm 118 contains all the right images to go along with the triumphal entry…here is a sampling…

“Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them…” (vs. 19)

“You  have become my salvation…” (vs. 21)

“The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone…” (vs. 22)

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…” (vs. 26)

“Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar…” (vs. 27)

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good…” (vs. 29)

These images help us remember the mixed emotions that we bring to worship on Palm Sunday.  It is on the one hand very festive and happy as we see our smiling children parading with waiving palms welcoming the kingly Christ.  It on the other hand very disturbing as we sense that death looms on the horizon.  Jesus has not come to Jerusalem to be paraded around and maintain the status quo.

Luke 19:28-40

The triumphal entry is one of a few stories that is mentioned in all four gospels. Interestingly our gospel (Luke) is the only one that DOES NOT mention that branches (Matthew), leafy plants (Mark), or palms (John) was put out before him!  (Do you think we should add it?!)  🙂  Luke does contain, however, something that the rest of the gospels do not.  Luke changes the quote from Psalm 118.  While Matthew and Mark have the crowd shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…” Luke writes, “Blessed is the ‘KING’ who comes in the name of the Lord!”  The chant stirs up the ire of some of the
Pharisees watching the parade and they tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples.  Jesus’ response is “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your hearts, minds, thoughts, prayers, and hymns for worship consider what it means to pronounce Jesus “KING” in a world that recognizes other sovereigns. What does it mean when Jesus says “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”? How do these things contribute to our “sense of death looming on the horizon”?

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