St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Friday, March 27, 2015
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The Gospel | Mark 15:1-39 
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Background and general observations
Palm Sunday is also known as “Passion Sunday” and is the first day of Holy Week. This week has long been the most important of all to Christians, from the earliest days of the Christian movement. Hundreds of years later, Christians would begin to celebrate Jesus’ birth, appropriating a pagan celebration of the sun as their date to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. But Holy Week was by then deeply entrenched as the most important week of the Christian year. If at all possible, Christians would travel from far away to Jerusalem, where they would retrace the steps of Jesus during the final days of his earthly ministry. It was in these last days, in this Holy Week, that the message of God in Christ found its most powerful and poignant expression, and prayerful reenactments of Jesus’ last days had a transforming effect on those who devoted themselves in this way to “walking in the way of the cross.”

Has Holy Week lost some of its power for modern day Christians? If so, why do you think that is? Where do the liturgies of Holy Week fit in your prayer and devotional practices as a Christian?

On Palm Sunday, our worship runs the gamut from joy and triumphal acclamation to hostility and condemnation, with deepest emotions of pleading, grief and confusion in between. We begin worship remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with an adoring crowd, and we conclude by recalling his fatal clash with religious authorities and a hostile crowd. How quickly human sentiment and human allegiances can change.

One possibility: engagement with Holy Week invites us to see that each of us is capable of great good and great evil. Denying the truth about our own propensity for evil often results in our projecting our sins and faults onto others. Holy Week could be inviting us to stretch out our arms and accept the whole truth, in ourselves and in each other, while trusting that God will redeem all of it.
Ideas for discussing the application of this lesson to our daily lives
1. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey would specifically recall for Jews in his day a prophecy from Zechariah: “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.” (Zech. 9:9)

The victorious one riding on a donkey indicates that this one is coming in peace, with peaceful intentions. A warrior would come riding on a stallion. It is important to remember that this was a time of emotional tumult in Jerusalem, and Jesus comes into this cauldron of emotions in this lowly fashion.

An important theme of St. Paul’s would become “power in weakness.”

What do you know from your own experience about coming on too strongly and asserting your authority or power in a situation that was contentious or emotional? How did it feel to assert yourself that way? How did it feel inside? Where was the power in that situation? Where was the weakness?
Now, consider a time when you conducted yourself with humility and a quiet, unassuming presence in the midst of a contentious or emotional situation. How did it feel to hold your tongue and sit quietly through a situation that was raising passionate feelings in others? Where was the power in that situation? The weakness?

Where is God in such situations?

But what about asserting power and authority in defense of the weak? Is being a Christian about being a doormat?

2. For some, gazing at the cross can deepen our awareness of our own propensity for ugliness and our complicity in evil. Being reminded of our own sinfulness, many believe, can be healing – we are not constantly blaming others for the wrongs in the world; instead, we are seeing that we are all in this together.

What do you know about such healing power from the cross? What do you know about projecting your own faults onto others, believing that sin is a much greater problem “out there” than “in here”?

3. What might Holy Week have to teach you about your relationships with family and friends?

4. The term “Passion” Sunday comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer.” On Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, we are reliving Jesus’ last week, with special attention to his suffering. However, many prefer to point out that we are willing to suffer only for those things that matter most to us. That is, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are about focusing on Jesus’ deepest passion.

What do you believe Jesus was most passionate about? How did he demonstrate this deepest passion?

What is your deepest passion? How do you show your passion in the way you live your life?

5. Martin Laird (author of Into the Silent Land) has said that silent prayer is the most natural thing a person can do. Our egos can keep us anxious and striving, busy and contentious; but at the deepest level of our being, our true life is at peace with God. Being prayerfully quiet, opening
oneself to God in contemplation, is about letting go of the ego, with all of its striving and questioning, in order to be still with God in that deepest place of peace. Contemplative prayer is about gradually dispelling the illusion that we are separate from God. God is with us and within us always, and remembering that reality can lead to a life of deepest faith and trust – even death cannot separate you from your true life in God.

Consider how walking in the steps of Jesus during Holy Week might deepen your “knowledge” or experience of God, and how this might lead to a deeper sense of trust and free you to live more completely into the life God has given you to live. Consider how Jesus evinced in his last days both deep trust and human distress.

What do you know about simultaneously knowing great pain or upset, along with deep peace or trust?
Winter Covenant Period (2015) 
Fall Covenant Period (2014) 
Epiphany 2, Year B (January 18)
Proper 21, Year A (September 28)  
Epiphany 3, Year B (January 25)
Proper 22, Year A (October 5) 
Epiphany 4, Year B (February 1)  Proper 23, Year A (October 12)
Epiphany 5, Year B (February 8)  Proper 24, Year A (October 19)
Last Epiphany, Year B (February 15)  Proper 25, Year A (October 26)
Lent 1, Year B (February 22) Sunday after All Saints, Year A(November 2)
 Lent 2, Year B (March 1) Proper 27, Year A (November 9)
 Lent 3, Year B (March 8) Proper 28, Year A (November 16)
 Lent 4, Year B (March 15) Last Pentecost, Year A (November 22)
 Lent 5, Year B (March 22) Advent I, Year B (November 30)
 Palm Sunday (March 29) Advent II, Year B (December 7)
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