The Gospel: Matthew (21:1-11)
When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Old Testament: Isaiah (50:4-9a)
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
The Response: Psalm (31:9-16)
9 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; *
my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and my belly.
10 For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing; *
my strength fails me because of affliction,
and my bones are consumed.
11 I have become a reproach to all my enemies
and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.
12 I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; *
I am as useless as a broken pot.
13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;
fear is all around; *
they put their heads together against me;
they plot to take my life.
14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. *
I have said, “You are my God.
15 My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.”
The Epistle: Philippians (2:5-11)
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Gospel: Matthew (27:11-66)
Narrator The Passion of Our Lord
Jesus Christ According to Matthew 27:11-66.
Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him,
Pilate “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus “You say so.”
Narrator But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him,
Pilate “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?”
Narrator But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them,
Pilate “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
Narrator For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him,
Pilate’s Wife “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”
Narrator Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them,
Pilate “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”
Narrator And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them,
Pilate “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
Narrator All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”
Pilate “Why, what evil has he done?”
Narrator But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying,
Pilate “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”
Narrator Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying,
Soldiers “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Narrator They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.
And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying,
Scribes and Elders “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’”
Narrator The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice,
Jesus “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
Narrator that is,
Jesus “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Narrator When some of the bystanders heard it, they said,
Bystanders “This man is calling for Elijah.”
Narrator At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said,
Bystanders “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”
Narrator Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.
(Pause for silence)
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said,
Soldiers “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Narrator Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said,
Chief Priests “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”
Pilate “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”
Narrator So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
To put it simply, St. Matthew tends to exaggerate. At the beginning of this year, for example, we listened as he told us that, when Herod heard the message of the magi, “he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him”; even if we take their visit to be an actual historical event, there is no evidence, either in contemporary histories or even in the other gospels that anybody else in Jerusalem knew anything about it. In the next chapter, the evangelist claims that “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to” John the Baptist; while John apparently was influential in his time, chances seem good that only a small fraction of the population would have gone out to see and hear him.
Today, in Matthew’s version of the so-called “Palm Sunday story,” he pictures huge crowds coming out to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem and asserts that “the whole city was in turmoil.” If in fact that had happened, the Roman soldiers would have moved in quickly to slaughter the participants and scatter the crowds; and what we call “Holy Week” would never have happened.
It seems much more likely that Jesus performed a “prophetic action,” reenacting a scene imagined by and described by Zechariah (9:9), for a very small group of followers. Most people in Jerusalem at the time would probably never have noticed anything out of the ordinary. In fact, John’s gospel goes so far as to note that even his disciples did not understand what he was doing until after his resurrection.
What really happened, as Jesus approached Jerusalem that day, was probably very limited and most likely went by with few people even noticing. But that does not mean that it was not important. Sometimes in life, it is the seemingly small things that prove to be the most significant.
Studs Terkel (Hope Dies Last) quotes folksinger Pete Seeger’s observation on the importance of the apparently small contributions that people make in order to make the world a better place. He writes: “Seeger’s image of these small endeavors is that of a seesaw with one end held down to the ground by a basket of rocks. At the other end are the advocates and activists, armed only with teaspoons, slowly using them to fill a basket with sand in an effort to tip the balance for the good. People scoff at the effort to move the rocks but, one day, the critical gain of sand will suddenly send those rocks flying up in the sky. And people will ask, says Seeger, ‘How did that happen so quickly?’ Well, he replies, it’s us and our [little] teaspoons.’”
It is all too easy for us to look at all the problems and needs in our world and to throw up our hands in despair, realizing that we can do so little. Yet maybe, by the grace of God, the little that we do is enough. After all, we are not in this by ourselves. We are first and foremost in this work of renewing the world together: together with one another, together with countless other people of good will throughout the world, and, most importantly, together with God. God has a great track record of working through people who seem to be totally unqualified and whose contributions seem to be totally inadequate, and yet accomplishing through them great things.
Listen again over the coming week at the story that we tell. It is the story of the way that God worked through a seemingly ordinary man from an ordinary family and an ordinary town, and of the way that, in him, God thwarted the intentions of the mightiest empire that the world had ever known and brought new life to the world. If God can do that, God can do anything – even through us.