Visit our new site at

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "Talking About the Passion" Edition

Sunday's lessons may be found here.

We may be observing Palm Sunday. We may be observing Passion Sunday. But whatever the focus in our churches this coming week, we will have arrived at the crux, so to speak, of the Christian story; the point at which God's radical identification with humanity takes Jesus to his death.

Our challenge, as preachers, worship planners and worship leaders, may be to move laypeople beyond the perception that Sunday's significance lay beyond the novelty of the palm fronds in their hands. It may be reminding "Easter People" that getting to Easter involves traveling through Holy Week. We may have situations in our congregation that make this part of the Gospel story more meaningful.

What are you thinking, as you plan your way into the coming Sunday? As always, we appreciate your insights and inspirations here.


  1. As we head into this week, I am thinking a lot about Rita Nakashima Brock/Rebecca Parker's book Saving Paradise, and their contention that the passion is something to be mourned, witnessed to, grieved...not something to be celebrated. How to think differently about the whole crucifixion issue *with a congregation* (I'm pretty sure I think differently about it than most people do anyway) in a worship setting has me wondering this year.
    I'm not leading worship at all on this Palm Sunday for the first time in a long time--it's confirmation retreat weekend (the perils of a late Easter!). But I'm "on" for all the holy week services, so I'll be contemplating the stories quite a lot...

    Don't forget to check out for liturgical resources, including a call to worship, a prayer of confession, and some closing responses for Palm Sunday. Maybe they'll spark some ideas!

  2. Hey Teri, Thanks! That'll help.

    We'll always done a palm/passion thing with the result, we realized last year, that the Palm thing itself was actually getting a short shrift. So, less "passion"-ate this year. Some encouragement in that direction on the working preacher podcast.

    For Good Friday, having a noon prayer service for the first time. Loving the language in the Solemn Reproaches. Was thinking of trying to be more earth-day based, though, if anyone has access to good prayers/litanies in that regard, sure would appreciate them.

    And, for Easter, I finally get to re-purpose a sermon. Did not preach too often in my last setting, but I have a pretty good one for Easter, riffing on "go to Galilee" and where is the risen Christ is to be found. Working in the chilean miners (raise your hand if you are NOT mentioning chilean miners in your easter sermon!) even though hubby says that is old news by now.

  3. we sure don't do the mourning/grieving/lamenting thing very willingly, do we?
    not at funerals, not in Holy Week...not in reading through the Psalter...whether the impetus is personal or liturgical -- the response is "refuse and reject." Very strange.

  4. All this feels complicated by a three-day weekend here in Maine (Patriot's Day) and a week of school vacation that is going to do weird things to our attendance on both ends (Palm Sunday and Easter). I am hoping I can effectively do Palm Sunday with a forecast of the Passion.
    We will have a service Thursday night, but not on Friday. I understand it is ill-attended, generally. That makes me sad. I feel negligent if I make no reference to what comes between the Sundays. How can we appreciate the Resurrection without Good Friday? Aargh!!!

  5. Speaking of not doing the mourning and grieving thing very well.....This is my third Easter in the parish. One of the things I "Inherited" was a Walk of the Cross with another church in the neighbourhood. A number of people have come to me and expressed their disappointment with it (more like a party than a meditation. When the neighbouring pastor came to talk to me about it and I expressed my concerns, the whole thing totally fell apart. He just didn't get it at all.... I had already received a package of materials to set up 5 meditation stations in the church, and so we're doing that throughout Easter week. I'm hoping that most everyone will take the time to come and spend some time with them, so my sermon this Sunday will be about the liturgies of Easter week, why we do it and how we do it. Hope it doesn't turn into an infomercial.

  6. We'll basically do Palm Sunday this week, with a little forecast of the Passion. I agree, Songbird, that low turnouts for Holy Week services are frustrating. People want to go from the waving palms to the empty tomb. We will only have a Good Friday service which will begin with foot-washing (we're Mennonite)and then move into tenebrae.

    I don't know what direction the sermon will take yet, but I've posted a sermon from a couple of years ago on my blog. It ties in with the wonderful prayer of confession at Teri's link.(Thanks Teri!)

  7. I'm intrigued and a little troubled by the tone of this conversation toward those who dont attend our Holy Week offerings.

    In my setting at least, people are dealing with plenty of grief and sadness, and in all different ways. I do not see them denying their grief, but trying/struggling to carry it with them as they go about the rest of their lives. The Holy Week offerings that we are creating may or may not be helpful or right for them, but it doesnt mean that they are meaningless, or that people arent making a Holy Week journey in their own way.

    In my case, I was really aware for example, of my attraction to the Solemn Reproaches (which I found for the first time this year) because I know in other years they would not have resonated at all.

    In my pre-pastor life, there are some years when I literally could NOT have walked the darkness of holy week for a variety of reasons, years when I have participated in acts of activism and civil disobedience, years when I have spent good Friday in silent prayer and years when I've intentinally blown the whole thing off.

    Now that I'm a pastor, I consider it my solemn responsibility and charge to hold the sacred space of the week - knowing that some will join in and many will not be able to for a variety of reasons. But I would never say that they are not willing to experience Good Friday -- because I know that many of the folks in my congregation are suffering deeply, whether I see them on Thursday night or not.

    My take on Teri's comment what that we focus less on the triumphal aspect of the cross, and more on the shameful aspect, which I agree with by the way. Rita N-B had a great column I think at Huff Post last year about that.

  8. I want to be clear. I accept that not everyone will come to Holy Week services, and I know from my own life that the reasons are manifold. But does that absolve me of the responsibility to communicate the key story of our faith?

  9. Songbird, I'm going to take that as a rhetorical question-- of course not! And I don't think you're looking for absolution.

    My Holy Week is complicated by the appearance again this year of a cantata (always much beloved by the congregation). But leaves no room for a sermon. And that's ok! Because for the first time ever, we're having Good Friday as well as Maundy Thursday. So, they're going to hear the story (if they come, of course). Another first: Sunrise Service Easter Morning. (What was I thinking???)

  10. We actually have surprisingly good attendance (about 60% of an average Sunday) at both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I guess I'm just trying to think about how I can continue to move us away from triumphalistic substitutionary atonement and think of Good Friday as a tragedy--and we bear witness to the tragedy that living fully in tune with God in the midst of the world/empire is something that gets people killed. I think the power of Good Friday is that we do not allow Jesus to be erased by the empire, we bear witness that this is not the end of Jesus, the end of God, or the end of us.

    But how to move away from something so ingrained in our culture...that I don't know yet.

  11. SB, I feel like it is my obligation to offer a full plate of Holy Week services...I know that some of them won't be well attended, but in my liturgical tradition, it is the high point of the year, and I want to at least model how we might observe it. At some point I may have to cut some of them out, but we'll see how it goes this year--my 2nd Easter here. (and yeah, school vacation here, too--which I hadn't really though of til you mentioned it).

    Palm Sunday is that weird mix of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem juxtaposed with the reading of the passion narrative, done in parts. It's seems jarring at first, but isn't that what that week must have been like for the participants?

    I was considering not preaching after the passion narrative, but I think now that I will, and I think it may be something abut faith and "fickleness"--how fickle were J's followers in that week?

    Tonight we have a children's stations of the cross. And then I guess it will be non-stop sermonizing...although I got Julia Spencer Fleming's new book today for my iPad and all I want to do is lay on the couch and read it!

  12. I'm doing a compromise. I too don't want folks to simply go from triumphant entry to triumphant resurrection, but I'm not going all the way through the passion on Sunday. I have basically broken the service into three sections. We will begin with reading of the triumphal entry and a procession of the palms with our children. The center part of the service ie sermon and Holy Communion (we do every week) will focus on the Last Supper. Following communion, we will read from "After they sang the hymn..." to Jesus' arrest in the garden. The choir will sing Via Dolorosa and we will close the service with the ringing of a bell.

    We will have a Good Friday Services with a narrative of the trip up to Golgotha, crucifixion, death, and burial by the centurion.

    As this is my first Lent/Easter in the pulpit, this all may be a big bust. If so we'll do it differently next year.

  13. Thought you might like an insight into my Easter education courtesy of the USA and peeps! reflection here
    In actual fact, rather than preach, I'm going to write a couple of reflections to share with folks on sunday and have a liturgy of praise and readings.

  14. Palms here, but with a sermonic nod to the shadow that lies over the parade. Then a service on Thursday and on Friday. My opening salvo for this week is here

    I too find that people tend not to attedn HW services. But I am not sure it is to avoid the story. PArt of it may well be that in many mainline Protestant churches we have become (or have always been) Sunday focussed. Certainly there are many congregations that have no tradition of HW services until the last few years.

    However, i think it is important that the story be told somehow. So it is my practice, when not doing the full Passion Sunday thing (which I rarely do), to open the Easter Sunday service with a "How did we get here" piece of storytelling leading into the joyful responses and singing of the resurrection. The story I am using this year (re-purposing from 2008 in fact) is on this blog.

  15. This Sunday we are looking at the Palm reading, and then I am thinking of including 2 of the Holy week readings, the woman anointing Jesus and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
    We do have a Maundy Thursday communion service, and Good Friday service. Here, in Australia, Good Friday is a public holiday; Easter is always a 4 day weekend, and this year it is a 5 day weekend because 25 April is Anzac Day. In New South Wales, Easter is usually the beginning of school holidays, but this year it is the end of the holidays, so I know a number of people will be away.
    I was thinking of preparing a take home resource with readings for each day, but don't think I will fit it in this week.
    PS can't remeber my login, apearldownunder

  16. Sunday, we will move the reading of the Passion from its place at the Gospel to the end of the liturgy. I will preach on MT's story of the triumphal entry. Once we have read the Passion (in parts), we will leave in silence. Not even coffee hour.
    I moved the Passion for a few reasons. One is that we skip so quickly from donkey to cross that I tend to feel verbal whiplash. The other is that I know there will be a lot of people who won't be back until Easter Sunday and I want the Passion to be the last thing they hear.

    We do a service every day in Holy Week with sermons except for Wednesday when we do Tenebrae. We do The Way of the Cross and the Good Friday liturgy twice since many people can't get off work to come at noon. Even Holy Saturday gets its own liturgy albeit a short one. But the Altar Guild loves to start their day of decorating with that sense of Jesus in the tomb and the quiet of the garden before they start creating our own garden.

    I gave up being frustrated by poor attendance a few years ago. Ever since I was a teenager, I have felt the need to do Holy Week. That hasn't changed and, apparently, there are enough other folks who feel the same way so it is worth doing those services. Sure, I'd love to see the church filled but I don't lose sleep if that doesn't happen. So I hum "Love the one you're with" a lot and just keep going. :-)

  17. Juniper, you make a good point. I should not assume that people's failure to attend Holy Week services is a reflection of an unwillingness to deal with the darkness. I'm sure there are some people who, as you suggest, have enough darkness in their own life. My guess is that most people simply have too many other things going on. (Which is frustrating to me.)

    We are doing a family-friendly Good Friday service for the first time this year. It will be a challenge for me create a service that honors the darkness of the narrative yet is still appropriate for children. Suggestions are welcome.

  18. spacious faith - I have done a Children's interactive stations of the cross with the children on good friday before - it's on my fb page, but i'll go post it on my blog - i doubt it will be what you need, but might be a jumping off point.

    We will have the palms and the passion in parts also, so I am very conscious of time - preaching after the passion in parts seems redundant on some level, so I think I'll utilize learning from Denny Weaver's Non-violent Atonement to set the stage for the HW services. I preach again on Maundy Thursday so I'm looking at the linkage factor also.

  19. I am doing a Confirmation/Palm Sunday sermon. Quite a challenge to get all of it in and in a shorter time frame.
    I am so proud of "my kids" and want it to be a special service.
    Oh and it is Thursday night. Sunday is getting closer.

  20. I'm actually preaching on the tension between the palms and the passion. How the reading of the passion, which whipsaws us after all this fun stuff waving the palms around, is a necessary preview of the work ahead of us in prayer and contemplation as we walk with Christ to the cross. I'm using this as a prod, to be frank, to attend the services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, but I also want to address the problem of trying to deal with a very long and confusing service. Based some of it on the meditations we did with our wonderful bishop this past week...good to have a bishop who sits and talks with us about such things instead of just asking us for superfluous stuff.

  21. We'll do palms on Sunday and then both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I like the tension between celebration and sadness/passion that is woven into this week. The crowd moves from one extreme to another, often in a few minutes. So even Palm Sunday isn't all celebration--they are calling out for Jesus to save them, after all. (Hosanna--save us).

    Blessings to all of you this coming week.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.