Lectionary Reflection: Holy Thursday

Exodus 12.1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116 1-2, 12 – 19; I Corinthians 11.23 – 26; John 13.1-17, 31b – 35.

One way to think about these readings is to assume that we hear them at a Holy Thursday Eucharist, the first of the three central days of the church year, the first of the two central Eucharists of that year.   In this, as with all Eucharistic celebrations, we are gathered to listen to and proclaim God’s word as well as to thankfully call upon the Spirit to transform us and our gifts into Jesus Christ’s body and blood as unsurpassable nourishment for our journey toward God’s new heaven and earth.   In this light, how do the readings shape what we do here? Continue reading

Palm Sunday Lectionary Reflection (March 24, 2013)

Liturgy of the Palms:

Luke 19:28-40; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Liturgy of the Word:

Isa 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-1; Phil 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

I have a friend whose favorite Sunday is Palm Sunday, who experiences on this threshold of Easter the whole story of salvation rolled into one service. I must confess, on the other hand, that I often feel overwhelmed by Palm Sunday, liturgically and theologically. Perhaps I prefer Sundays with one main point, one obvious emotion: Pentecost, for example. Is Palm Sunday primarily a day of triumph and celebration, of children marching down the aisle waving palm branches, of shouts of praise lest the rocks cry out in our place? Or is it primarily a day of preparation, a somber recognition of the necessity of the coming passion, the gathering storm of the crucifixion, a rehearsal of the entire passion in nuce?

The appointed texts for the day neatly highlight the tension: the Liturgy of the Palms offers the triumphal entry texts, and the Liturgy of the Word pairs texts about suffering (Isaiah) and self-emptying (Philippians) with the full text of the passion narrative, from the Last Supper to the placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb, anticipating the holy days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. So, which is it? Is it Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday?

After reading and reflecting on these texts for several days, and savoring their richness, I am not sure if Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are two different things after all. In the Gospels, the responses to Jesus’ remarkable entry into Jerusalem foreshadow the events to come. In Matthew’s account, the whole city is thrown into turmoil. In Luke, the Pharisees tell Jesus to stop his disciples from shouting lines from Psalm 118 as Jesus enters the city. Also in Luke, as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, still accompanied by crowds and waving palm branches, he weeps over the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The disciples who have shouted Hosannas will very soon betray, deny, and desert Jesus, fleeing in pain and fear.

One more detail from the triumphal entry links Jesus’ entrance into the city with his coming suffering. All four Gospels report that Jesus enters the city riding on a humble creature – a donkey. Matthew and John make sure that we know why Jesus chose this particular mode of transportation: in order to fulfill the words of Zechariah 9. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” In Zechariah 9, as in the Gospels, the king comes to Zion bringing peace. But this peace is bought at great cost, at an unimaginable price: the death of the king, the death of God’s beloved only Son. Jesus’ entry into the city is a triumphal entry, but not at all in the way anyone thought it would be – not the disciples, not the Pharisees, not the crowds of festival pilgrims. If the disciples could have seen what Jesus knew, they might have paused and wept at the gate of the city, too. It’s an ironically, proleptically triumphant entry, a kenotic entry, the moment at which Jesus puts his foot onto the inevitable path of the passion and never turns back.

On Palm Sunday, we can only wave the palms and shout our Hosannas if we remember that it’s also Passion Sunday, if we remember why Jesus has come to Jerusalem. Jesus does not enter the city to be hailed as a king. He enters the city to die.

Hosannas dying on our lips, the resounding thud of the stone rolling across the face of the tomb echoing in the silence, Palm Sunday – Passion Sunday – leaves us waiting, in trembling and hope, for Easter.

Lectionary Reflection: Lent 5

The combination of Old and New Testament readings for this fifth Sunday in Lent at first seems an odd one.  You have Isa 43:16-21, the prophet’s divine oracle about God doing a new thing.  The “former thing” was the Exodus from Egypt (“Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the might waters. . .” )  But now God says “Remember not the former things and consider them not.   See, I am doing a new thing:  in the desert I make a way and in the wasteland, rivers.”  What is this new thing?.  When we turn to the New Testament passage, perhaps hoping that it will offer us a new answer (for the prophet, the new thing was the return from exile.)  But in John 8:1-11 we hear not of a new thing but of a rather old one.  First, there is a  woman caught in adultery.  Then, there are the male religious leaders who want to stone her.  These two passages seem at first to have nothing to do with one another.  And yet on closer inspection that is not quite true.  According to John’s gospel, in this desert of sin and condemnation a new thing does indeed spring forth:  “Woman. . .Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asks.  “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more.” Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Lent 3

Is 55:1-9; Ps 63:1-8; Luke 13:1-9; I Cor 10:1-13

“My ways,” the Lord says, “are not your ways.” Indeed, they are not. Jesus finds himself confronted with horrendous evils, “evils the experience of which,” as Marilyn Adams puts it, “threaten to make us doubt our lives are worth living.” The Romans have slaughtered some Jews, even as they were worshiping the One whose promises, amidst the occupation, are so hard to believe. A tower, without warning and apparently at random, has fallen in Jerusalem, ending suddenly the lives of eighteen women and men who never would have guessed as they went about their lives, work and play, that this day would be their last. Evil – moral and natural – cries out for explanation. And the temptation, then and now, in the face of such suffering is to diagnose, to try to read off tragedy’s inscrutable, relentless face just what exactly it is that God is doing in letting it come to pass. Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Lent 2

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

This week’s Gospel reading presents the memorable scene of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. In Mathew this scene takes place inside the city, between Jesus’ entry and his Passion. In Luke, however, it takes place outside the city, just before Jesus enters. What might Luke be trying to suggest?

Käthe Kollwitz, "Die Klage" (Lament), 1938-1940, Bronze © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005

Gillian Rose reminds us that some of art’s most searing depictions of grief and mourning take place outside city walls: Antigone buries her brother outside the palace gates of Athens, Phocion’s wife gathers the ashes of her husband outside of Megara. In both of these cases, such acts of mourning were forbidden. Antigone’s brother fought on the wrong side of Thebes’ civil war and his body was left for prey, while Phocion was accused of treachery and executed, his remains burned and scattered. Mourning in such settings can be seen as many things: a sign of loyalty to family, fidelity to the gods, or resistance to unjust laws. Regardless, there is a sense that such acts of grief are more than acts of private affection; they restore rights, redeem honor, re-establish order.  In other words, they are public acts. They are acts of justice. They are offered as much for the city as they are for their loved ones. Continue reading

MTS Information Session

Have questions about grad school in Theology and Religious Studies? There’s no need to call a conclave! Attend an online info session!

If you’re considering a master degree in theology or religious studies, consider the Loyola MTS. Join us for a google hangout this coming Wednesday at 7:30 for a chance to hear about what makes our program unique among the variety of graduate degrees in theology that are out there. Get your questions answered and hear from current MTS students.

Click here to join us.


Lectionary Reflection: Lent 1, Luke 4:1-13

Many people are familiar with Goethe’s famous play Faust. As the play unfolds, Doctor Faustus makes a pact with the Devil, who agrees to serve him with knowledge, youth, love, wealth, and magical power. At the end of this pact, however, his soul is to be carried off by Satan. While Faust has been performed on stage in plays and operas, the question still remains: did he repent of his sins or face the devil’s deadline by being condemned? Although many writers and composers portray the latter, some Christian artists feel that this was a struggle in which ultimately the Spirit of God overcame evil. Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Ash Wednesday

Readings: Joel 2.1-2, 12 – 17 (or Isaiah 58.1-12), Psalm 51.1-17; 2 Corinthians 5.20-6.10; Matthew 6.1 – 6, 16 – 21.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.  One meaning of “lent” in Latin is “spring”, but the Church’s Lent turns the usual clichés about spring emerging from the dark of winter on their head: Lent is a time of repentance, beginning with the priest or minister marking us with ashes in the sign of the cross.  Just when we thought we were slowly but happily emerging from dark winter days, a vicious flu season, and even football, we are asked to repent.  In some ways, the timing could not be worse.   Continue reading