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The Passion

April 5, 2022
Walking the Palm Sunday Road into Jerusalem’s Old City (DCR 2020)

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13)

The week between Palm Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a week that changed the world. It is called Holy Week, or the Passion–and passionate and dramatic it was.[1]  Sunday’s scripture texts take us down the Palm Sunday road from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, to the Last Supper, to Gethsemane, to the betrayal by Judas, to the arrest and condemnation of Jesus, to the crucifixion, and to the tomb.  And it all happened in the space of a couple miles.

The Passion, as recounted in the Bible, is a story that is told every year during Holy Week in churches across Christendom.  But villagers in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau, Germany put on a Passion play with a cast of hundreds that runs for several months every ten years.  

According to local legend, Oberammergau had remained untouched by the bubonic plague during the first half of the 17th century until September 25, 1633, when a man brought the plague back to his home in Oberammergau after working in a nearby village. During the next month, 81 villagers died–half of Oberammergau’s population. The remaining townspeople vowed on October 28, 1633 to perform a play depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ, if God spared them from the plague. It is said that no one died after the vow was made, and the villagers kept their promise by first performing the play in 1634. The Passion play was performed in Oberammergau every year from 1634 to 1680 and every 10 years since 1680 with a few exceptions.[2]  

It is a riveting story. The Sunday before the resurrection the Passover crowd hailed Jesus as a king when he rode into Jerusalem. They were promised a king, and correctly assumed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, because they had heard of the wondrous things he had done.  And now here he was, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as foretold by the prophet Zechariah: “See your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt” (John 12:15; Zechariah 9:9)!  One biblical scholar suggests that waving palm branches was meant as a symbol of swords waving in victory over their oppressors. 

John records that as they waved the palm branches the people exclaimed “hosanna”: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13).  The exclamation of “hosanna” came naturally to this crowd.  It is derived from an Aramaic exclamation of praise, shouted during major Jewish religious festivals, including Passover.  Roughly translated, it means, “Save us.”  It was originally an appeal to be delivered from bondage, and came to be used to express joy upon the anticipated deliverance.  

The people expected Jesus to deliver them from Roman rule.  They expected a warrior, a conqueror. That’s why they were waving their palm branch “swords.” As noted in Sunday’s Old Testament text their hope of deliverance was grounded in the Torah.  Moses sang, “The Lord will vindicate his people and relent concerning his servants” (Deuteronomy 32:36). 

But instead of attacking the Romans, Jesus attacked the Jewish religious leaders, and the people turned against him in the blink of an eye.  A week later, Pilate wanted “to release Jesus . . . but they[the people] kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’” (Luke 23:20).  Jesus went from being welcomed as a rock star to being maligned as a pariah in just a few days.  

Celebrity in the world’s eyes is short-lived.  Paul teaches us to take the long view– to have “the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  . . . humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).  

What does “having the same mindset as Jesus” require of us? Surely we, who are but a speck of dust in God’s great creation, are not to be compared to God.  But we can do our best to emulate Jesus—to follow his example.  He lowered himself to come to earth as a human being.  Jesus said that he came to serve rather than be served. With the help of the Holy Spirit living within us we can serve others. We can minister to others. We can help heal. We can encourage. We can feed the hungry, and give water to the thirsty.   As ordinary people we can repent of the sinful pride in our hearts and reflect on and adopt the attitude and actions of Jesus.

Next Sunday come to the festival honoring Jesus and stay for the Passion.  Participate in the parade.  Wave the palm branches and sing hosanna.  But make no mistake–Jesus did not come to free us from worldly oppression, but to save us from ourselves—to save us from our sin so that we can spend eternity with him. That is reason to rejoice—and to follow Jesus’ example of serving, helping, ministering, healing, feeding, and encouraging others. 

Prayer: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.  You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118: 26-29).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Palm Sunday are Deuteronomy 32:36-39; Psalm 118:19-29 or Psalm  31:9-16 
Philippians 2:5-11;John 12:12-19 (Palm Sunday Procession) Luke 22:1-23:56 or Luke 23:1-56 or John 12:20-43.

[2] The pandemic of 2020 was one of those exceptions; the play was postponed from 2020 to 2022; it is scheduled to run from May 14, 2022 to October 2, 2022; Bob and I will be attending the play in May. 

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