14 APRIL 2019.
Homily delivered before the reading of the Passion according to Luke
Rev Tony van Vuuren.
During Holy Week we recall Jesus’ last week on earth and so it opens today as we heard from the Gospel account earlier at the point where Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Passover, welcomed by large crowds of people who have started to identify him as the long-awaited Messiah. But then Luke’s Passion reading will remind us, as Jesus himself warned his disciples, that his mission would not be completed amid popularity and acclaim; the Messiah had to suffer and die in order to reconcile humanity with God.
Palm Sunday isn’t just a commemoration of Jesus’ passion and death: that script belongs particularly to Good Friday, at the end of Holy week.
The Palm Sunday liturgy is more about the movement away from the jubilation and triumph and the popularity Jesus enjoyed among the crowds of ordinary people as he arrived in Jerusalem, to the rejection and hostility he encountered at the end. The character and the message of Palm Sunday is the rapid movement from “Blessings on the King who comes!” to “Away with him! Give us Barabbas! Crucify him!”
Luke describes Jesus’ passion as the ultimate confrontation between the son of God and the forces of evil. It is an opportune time for the devil to attempt to complete the temptation he began in the desert three years ago.
Luke starts his telling of the Passion with an account of the Last Supper which contains some subtle, intimate details. He says, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you.” And as the first Eucharist is celebrated, Jesus uses the words “for you” after the bread and cup are shared, which encourages us to accept Jesus on a personal level.
We will listen as Jesus’ agony in the garden is described in vivid detail, but ultimately we will hear that Jesus accepts his cup of suffering because His one desire is to accomplish His Father’s will and thereby destroy the power of the devil.
In quick succession Luke relates for us how Jesus is arrested, mocked, beaten and questioned, but his messianic strength cannot be overcome. Peter’s denial must be disappointing for Jesus, but when he turns and looks at Peter, we can trust that it is with a look of mercy and forgiveness. Even when he appears to be helpless and defeated Jesus continues to minister powerfully to his disciples.
Jesus is the perfect witness as he testifies to the truth before the chief priests and ultimately before Pilate. He does not refuse the titles “Christ” and “Son of God.” And ultimately seals his own fate by proclaiming that he will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.
Even after he is condemned to death and begins the walk to Golgotha, he stops to comfort some women who are mourning for him. Through unwavering faith and trust in God’s plan, Jesus maintains his union with God and so his ability to still comfort people along the way and despite his agony on the cross comforts and promises eternal life for the repentant criminal.
Jesus begins his passion as he is crucified by uniting himself to the Father in prayer “Father forgive them…”and we hear how he maintains this union to his very last moment. “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Luke’s account has a whole host of characters and so where will we see ourselves among all these people?
What have our past thoughts and actions been regarding the will of the Father?
When have we known the right thing to do but just didn’t do it?
How will reflecting today on Jesus’ Passion and Death and the people he encounters lead us to be strengthened to embrace His Resurrection next weekend?
What darkness holds us back?
How can we change the path we are on to realign it more closely with the will of the Father?
How can we be instrumental in changing our future?
Many questions for us to reflect on as we stand and listen to the Passion of our Lord!