Palm Sunday

20th March 2016

The Israelites are back in the promised land after their exile. The first reading from the Book of Isaiah is the third of four poems called Suffering Servant songs from this period in their history. In the first two songs there is expressed a expectation that the suffering of the servant of God will come to an end , but here there is a resignation to it and an attitude that it is what has to be. This third song is very lyrical, about being taught regularly by God – schooled – and able to understand the suffering to come. But the people as a whole were not generally accepting messages from prophets – now this one’s poem in the book of Isaiah; indeed, speaking the words from God was often a thankless or even troublesome task that prophets had. Because the relationship of God to his creatures is, from His point of view, always the same, the differences that appear to us arise from our different attitudes and situations. It is this that enables a song along these lines, to apply to other situations that humans experience and even to the man Jesus towards the end of his natural life – an appropriate application made by Christians.

In the second reading as Paul wants to impress on the Philippians the need for humility, it is thought that he quotes to them an earlier hymn that the church used. An expression of Jesus’ incarnation, in which he put aside the glory of God which was his; then as a human being like the rest of us, he exhibited humility in his obedience (to what God wants of humans) not only near to the time of his death but in His life on earth prior to it. And it is this portrayal of God’s attitude to people that led to his exaltation, and now to his rightful praise from all. The great mystery of the incarnation is encapsulated in the phrase “he emptied himself;” it translates the Greek ekenõsen for this emptying, and from this comes the word kenotic which is an adjective for this radical expression of the Incarnation (see more on this); the hymn concludes with the climax of it all proclaiming “that Jesus Christ is LORD.”

The gospel reading is the passion from Luke’s gospel, starting with his account of the last supper. Luke has more of Christ’s meals in his gospel than in the other gospels put together; he is particularly anxious to express the presence of Christ bringing the attitude of God’s love and forgiveness into the human situation, especially through the communal practice of sharing in a meal; so this last meal which Christ heads includes the traditional Jewish practice of blessing and giving thanks to God prior to sharing in the meal. For the account of the passion and death, each of the evangelists, coming from different groups of early Christians and communicating to somewhat different situations, has differences in his account, although there is substantial agreement on all major points.   With this in mind we should become involved with this long reading, each of us in our own situation and together sharing some of the difficulties, expectations and joys that our Church has at the moment.

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