Sermon Seeds: Palm/Passion Sunday
Sixth Sunday in Lent Year C
Liturgy of the Palms
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Liturgy of the Passion
Worship resources for the Sixth Sunday in Lent Year C, Palm/Passion Sunday are at Worship Ways
by Kathryn M. Matthews
Perhaps today should be called “Cloak Sunday” instead of “Palm Sunday,” because Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem has no palms, and no hosannas either, two of the most familiar details of this story in the other three Gospels. It’s kind of hard to imagine Palm Sunday without them.
The cloaks are there, laid out to make his ride easier, as in the other accounts, but instead of palms and hosannas, there’s singing – praises being sung, but not by a fickle crowd that will change its mind in a few days and call for Jesus’ death. Instead, these voices come from Jesus’ own disciples, a whole multitude of them, who have been following him throughout his ministry.
They may run and hide when things get rough in a few days, but they never call for Jesus’ crucifixion.
The support of his followers
These are, after all, people who have seen such great things, who have been so profoundly moved by Jesus’ words and his deeds of power that they can’t help but sing out today, as Jesus enters triumphantly into their holy city, Jerusalem. Jesus, the hope of a people who long for deliverance from the powers that be, the forces that crush them, that hold them down.
Luke says they echo the words of the prophet Zechariah long ago as they proclaim Jesus the king who “comes in the name of the Lord,” and they sing of peace in heaven, as Sharon Ringe notes, here at the end of Jesus’ life, just as the angels in heaven sang of peace on earth at its beginning (Luke, Westminster Bible Companion).
Triumphant joy or ominous peace?
Perhaps it’s difficult for us to connect with what’s happening in this scene, even though we’re familiar with the story. Think of the occasional parade welcoming a championship sports team back to their home city (in Cleveland, this is so occasional that our imaginations are challenged); nowadays this is about the only time we can picture ourselves in a crowd eagerly watching the entry of someone who sparks such celebration.
We’ve all seen old photographs from a time when ticker-tape parades were given in New York City for triumphant heroes of one kind of another. Can you imagine feeling so much hope and joy at the entrance into your city or town of someone who represents not a political, military or sports victory, but the coming of peace?
A story that sounds familiar
As it happens, if you were listening to this story almost two thousand years ago, when it was written, and of course you lived somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean ancient world, you would hear something more. It would sound familiar to you, very much like the ominous entrance into your city of a military conqueror, escorted by his troops.
In their wonderful book, The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan begin their account of Jesus’ last seven days with a colorful description of this procession by the King of Peace into one end of Jerusalem at the same time that the Roman Empire’s representative, Pontius Pilate, full of brute power, enters at the other end.
Picture this: Pilate has arrived to “keep the peace” in the city during the turbulent time of Passover, when the crowds always get a little unruly. He travels with troops and flags and weapons, all the signs of empire, very impressive, of course. And he rides in on a magnificent warhorse, in case the flags and weapons and troops aren’t a sufficiently intimidating display of power.
A warhorse, or a donkey?
On the other hand, Jesus, filled with a different kind of power, makes his entrance riding a humble donkey, surrounded by his somewhat ragged group of followers, and we know that he doesn’t “keep” the same kind of peace Pilate and Rome intend to “impose,” a business-as-usual kind of peace that benefits the empire and the folks on top.
No, Jesus brings instead the peace that surpasses understanding, and much of what is about to unfold in the next few days will be the price he pays to bring it.
Changed lives and raised hopes
His disciples, of course, have seen things that have changed their lives forever and have raised their hopes sky-high. Maybe they still aren’t sure exactly what to hope for, when their leader rides, of all things, a donkey, a humble work animal rather than a grand warhorse. What sort of signal does that send, what sort of statement is Jesus making?
Of course, this particular donkey, like any animal suited for sacred use, has never been ridden, and that should tell them something. Something sacred indeed is happening, right before their eyes. A common donkey may not be the sort of animal one rides to war or in conquest, but this is no triumphant warrior or conquering power coming into the holy city or into our hearts. This is the King of True Peace.
Joyful expectation despite warnings
These disciples are, as usual, clueless. They don’t know what’s about to happen in the next few days; today, they’re just full of joy and expectation. (Evidently, they haven’t been listening any of the times that Jesus said he had to suffer and die but would rise again.) But the Pharisees, like many religious leaders in all times, are worried.
They seem to have better instincts than most folks about these things, and they can sense trouble brewing. They know about Pilate coming in the other gate of the city, and they’re not stupid about what can happen if Rome feels threatened even by a ragtag group of religious enthusiasts. Rome steps on people, brutally, and puts them in their place. So the Pharisees fret: “Teacher,” they say, “tell your followers to hush. They’re going to bring down the heel of Rome on all our throats. Don’t be causing trouble now.”
All creation wants to sing out
Jesus tells them that it’s no use and reminds them – and us – that, despite our best calculations and precautions, all creation longs to participate in the drama of salvation. Even if you could get the disciples to quiet down, he says, the stones would shout out the good news, or, as the wonderful preacher Fred Craddock puts it, just as stars can guide, lions and lambs can rest together, and in a few days, the earth can quake and the sun can go out at the worst moment of all (Luke, Interpretation).
Ironically, these worrywart Pharisees are the ones that now disappear from the story. This is their last appearance, this word of fear their last word, in the Gospel of Luke, before they step off the stage of the drama that is about to unfold.
An emboldened faith
The worst moment is still ahead by several days, and this day is just one of joyful anticipation, at least on the part of the disciples, if not Jesus himself. After the deeds of power they’ve witnessed, why should they fear anything or anyone? Their faith has been emboldened by what they’ve seen, as long as they can forget what they’ve heard: Jesus’ repeated predictions of his suffering and death.
However, their faith has raised their hopes into dreams of something we can’t quite assume we know. Perhaps this entrance of Jesus evokes the kind of joy and relief that we can only imagine, for example, when United Nations troops arrive in a country torn apart by genocide, or when a convoy of trucks carries grain to a starving people. But whatever their hopes, the song these disciples sing comes from deep within them.
Making the decision to follow Jesus past the celebration
This week’s passage kicks off, so to speak, the holiest of weeks for Christians. There is no “off-season” for being a follower of Jesus; it’s an everyday thing, week in and week out, 24/7. Not just Sunday, not just holy days and not just when we’re in church or when we’re praying. Being a Christian is an every-day, every moment, all-of-our-lives journey.
Still. This week is Holy Week, which comes at the end of Lent, a season of conversion, of turning around, of re-orienting our lives toward God just in case we’ve slipped off course. It’s been a time for us, as individuals and as a community, to study and pray and examine our lives, to look inward and to ask ourselves the difficult question of whether we’re ready and willing to follow Jesus not just today, in this glad procession, but all the way to the cross.
The way of the cross
The cross. Everything Jesus has said and done leads up to the cross, all the healing, the teaching, the calling of disciples, the fasting and praying, the driving out of demons and the calming of waters, the multiplying of loaves and the blessing and breaking of bread, the time in the wilderness and the time on the road, the words to his disciples and the arguments with the powerful, all of his life, has come to this, the facing of death on a cross.
This death was the ultimate gift, the “going all the way,” as my friend who is in recovery once told me, that Jesus was willing to go all the way, to pay the ultimate price to show us how much he loves us. I believe that is what the death of Jesus is about: that ultimate gift of love, the gift of a compassionate God who anguished at the death of Jesus, who wept at the death of Jesus, not the ultimate sacrifice required by an angry God, the only sacrifice that would “satisfy” such a God.
Rather, I believe God, who is compassion, God who is love, grieved the death of Jesus so much that God said no to death itself and raised Jesus up again on the third day, and this God will raise us up one day, too.
Mis-reading the Bible
Alas, we Christians, we followers of Jesus, have not done such an excellent job of “getting” this message of compassion and love. Instead, for two thousand years, we’ve often been part of the same kind of brute power systems that stepped on those people of Jerusalem long ago.
For centuries, once we got the upper hand, we participated in a whole array of horrors, from the Inquisition to religious wars, from witch-burnings to the repression of women and the selling of slaves, from colonial empires to the killing of Jews…and we used a misreading of the Bible in every case to justify what we did. And all of this time, every time, the God of compassion and love must have wept.
A misreading of Scripture
Perhaps it is most appropriate, then, here on the edge of Holy Week, to reflect for a moment on the awful history of events set in motion by a misreading of the events of Holy Week that blamed the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. Just as we can carefully read Luke’s account and see that the palms and hosannas that we assume are there, aren’t actually there, a mis-reading of the New Testament distorts the story of Jesus’ death and blames the Jewish people instead of the powers-that-be, the powers that be in every age and every place that wound the heart of God.
A mis-reading of the New Testament ignores the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew, as were the Apostles and his mother and our ancient ancestors in faith, Moses and Abraham and the rest. When I think about the deepest suffering of the world, I think it is something that most powerfully unites us, that ought to help us find common ground, to recognize the humanity of each of our brothers and sisters, while seeing the image of God in them, too.
Prayers that reach the heart of God
One of my favorite writers is Frank McCourt, who told the beautiful story of his young adulthood in his book, ‘Tis. First, I had read Angela’s Ashes, the story of his heartbreakingly difficult childhood growing up in a slum in Limerick, Ireland, when times were tough and his father drank away the family’s food money, and he and his mother and brothers barely survived.
A lot of this suffering was rooted in the terrible injustices and cruelty of the British Empire against the Irish people, about which we learn less in our history books than in the life story of Frank McCourt.
“All prayers reach God’s ears”
As a young man, McCourt was a soldier stationed in Europe not long after World War II. One day he was on laundry assignment, an assignment that took him, of all places, to Dachau, one of the most notorious concentration camps of the Nazis, which was now empty except for where the laundry for nearby military camps was being done. One of the other soldiers, Rappaport, was Jewish and, in great distress, refused to enter the camp.
McCourt went in, and as he looked at the ovens and thought of “what went in there,” he wondered if he should touch them, and whether “it’s proper to say a Catholic prayer in the presence of the Jewish dead. If I were killed by the English would I mind if the likes of Rappaport touched my tombstone and prayed in Hebrew? No, I wouldn’t mind after priests telling us that all prayers that are unselfish and not for ourselves reach God’s ears….I don’t know if it’s proper to say the Our Father touching the door of an oven but it seems harmless enough and it’s what I say hoping the Jewish dead will understand my ignorance” (‘Tis: A Memoir).
Touching the heart of God
Better than any skillful misreading of the Scriptures, Frank McCourt’s clumsy but heartfelt theologizing at the mass graves of innocents surely touches the heart of God. It draws us back again, ironically, to why Jesus died, to be the face of a compassionate God who lets nothing come between us and the love that holds us every day of our lives, not just during Holy Week, not just when we’re in church, not just when we’re praying or feeling particularly holy ourselves.
This week, as we stumble toward Jerusalem, we can rely on God’s grace to carry us every step of the way. On this Palm Sunday, though (with or without palms), in this one moment, we can make a way for Jesus, we can throw our cloaks on the ground and sing our songs of praise, and trust the unknown future to the God who works good in every circumstance and in every holy week of our lives.
The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in 2016 after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.
You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
For further reflection:
Beverly Donofrio, 21st century
“One day can change your life. One day can ruin your life. All life is is three or four big days that change everything.”
Plato, 4th century B.C.E.
“The measure of a man is what he does with power.”
John Steinbeck, 20th century
“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 19th century
“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage, 20th century
“Trust a crowd to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time.”
Wilma Rudolph, 20th century
“I ran and ran and ran every day, and I acquired this sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never give up, no matter what else happened.”
Thomas a Kempis, 15th century
“Great tranquility of heart is his who cares for neither praise nor blame.”
“Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.”
Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century
“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.”
Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes, 20th century
“How come we play war and not peace?”
“Too few role models.”
Samuel Smiles, 19th century
“An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing.”
Norman Cousins, 20th century
“Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.”
Liturgy of the Palms:
Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
O give thanks to God,
for God is good;
God’s steadfast love
Let Israel say,
“God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
Open to me the gates
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to God.
This is the gate
the righteous shall enter
I thank you
that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is God’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day
that God has made;
let us rejoice
and be glad in it.
we beseech you, O God!
O God, we beseech you,
give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of God.
We bless you
from the house of God.
The Sovereign is God,
and God has given us light.
Bind the festal procession
up to the horns
of the altar.
You are my God,
and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God,
I will extol you.
O give thanks to God,
for God is good,
for God’s steadfast love
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Liturgy of the Passion:
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those
who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Be gracious to me, O God,
for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent
and my years
my strength fails
because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn
of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread
to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street
flee from me.
I have passed out of mind
like one who is dead;
I have become
like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O God;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand
of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine
upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Let the same 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 a cross.
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,
to the glory of God the Father.
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said,
“Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
“You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”
He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They kept heaping many other insults on him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”
Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:email@example.com)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ
(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: “Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place” in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about “traditional” colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.
The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.
Before the Reformation’s iconoclasm, and Trent’s code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of “best,” “second best,” and “everyday” — not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the “best” vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got “second best” or “everyday.”