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Palm Sunday, cycle A
The Gospel: Matthew 26: 14 – 27: 66
Thoughts on the Gospel at the Procession:
In Jesus’ day the Jewish people had hoped that the Messiah would come with military power and might – and that with that power he would free them. But Jesus came and opened a new way. Just as he rode to Jerusalem on a donkey, an ass, a pack animal, rather than arriving with armies and angels, so he opened a new path for the reign of God, the Kingdom of God. He preached about God who cared for the least, who sought the lost and the poor and counted the hairs of one’s head. This God reached out to the Gentiles, the enemies of the Jews and spoke of loving one’s enemies as if it were possible. His idea of the reign of God and how a Messiah might act was incomprehensible to many of the people. This was not the way a messiah ought to act. This could not be God or God’s servant. (Celebration, April 13, 2002)
What does the word Passion mean for you?
A dictionary says that it means strong emotion and agitation, such as ardent love, eager desire, even rage. It also means intense suffering. Jesus is the face of God: “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) What do we learn of God in his passion?
Jesus does not want followers who seek after suffering; he does, however, want followers who seek after truth and love and are willing to suffer in order to live this truth and love in their real lives.
Thoughts from Prof. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) Theology of the Cross from his book: Einfuhrung in das Christentum (Introduction to Christianity):
In many devotional books we encounter the idea that Christian faith in the cross is belief in a God whose unforgiving justice demands a human sacrifice – the sacrifice of his own son. This somber and angry God contradicts the Good News of God’s love and makes it unbelievable. Many people picture things this way, but it is false. In the Bible, the cross is not part of a picture of violated rights; the cross is far more the expression of a life which is a ‘being for others.’
This is an appalling picture of God, as one who demanded the slaughter of his own son in order to assuage his anger. Such a concept of God has nothing to do with the New Testament. The New Testament does not say that human beings reconcile God; it says that God reconciles us.
The fact that we are saved ‘through his blood’ (Hebrew 9:12) does not mean that his death is an objective sacrifice . . . In world religions, the notion which dominates is that of the human being making restitution to God in order to win God‘s favor. But in the New Testament the picture is the exact opposite. It is not the human being who goes to God, to bring him a compensatory gift or sacrifice; rather, it is God who comes to human beings with a gift to give us. The cross is not the act of offering satisfaction to an angry God. Rather, it is the expression of the boundless love of God, who undergoes humiliation in order to save us.
Christian worship is not the act of giving something to God; rather, it is the act of allowing ourselves to receive God’s gift, and to let God do this for us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian who died at the hands of the Nazis on April 8, 1945. In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he talks about cheap grace and costly grace:
Cheap grace is when we look to ourselves for what we have in life. The blessings we have are taken for granted. We can do what we want without retribution. Cheap grace places ourselves in the center. It is easy. There is no personal responsibility, unless it is to take credit for the good. But it is empty. No, grace was bought at a price in Christ Jesus (I Corinthians 6:19-20). There is more to life than living in cheap grace.
If you’ve been following along with me on Twitter this weekend, you’re well aware that I am in the midst of an extended family reunion in Florida with my (very loud, Irish extended family). And while my family is still proud of our Irish heritage (some of them maybe a little too much), we are also deeply thankful to share in the freedoms the United States offers.
For those of you reading this outside of the US, today is Memorial Day– a holiday celebrating those who died fighting for our country and her freedoms. These freedoms that my family enjoy came at a great cost. And that cost was not just monetary, but blood-bought in wars and conflicts, some name and some now.
- American Revolutionary War – 25,000 deaths
- War of 1812 – 20,000 deaths
- Mexican-American War – 13,283 deaths
- US Civil War – 625,000 deaths
- Spanish-America War – 2,446 deaths
- Philippine-American War – 4,196 deaths
- World War 1 – 116,516 deaths
- World War 2 – 405,399 deaths
- Korean War – 36,516 deaths
- Vietnam War – 58,209 deaths
- Persian Gulf War – 258 deaths
- Iraq – 4,486 deaths
- Afghanistan – 2,145 deaths
These brave men and women gave all they had so that we could enjoy certain freedoms not available to all. For that, my fellow Americans and I are very thankful.That’s a lot to remember. That’s a lot of people who gave their lives for others.
I get that this is a picnic and barbecue day. Nothing wrong with that. But, in the midst of the summer kickoff, be sure to take some time to pray for the families of those who lost their loved ones– parents, children, siblings, and more.
And, contrary some of the comments you may see on social media, it’s OK to be thankful for those who are serving now (or have served) as well, as President Bush modeled in his 2007 Memorial Day speech, honoring the fallen and being thankful for those who serve today. He explained:
Good morning. This Memorial Day weekend, Americans honor those who have given their lives in service to our Nation. As we pay tribute to the brave men and women who died for our freedom, we also honor those who are defending our liberties around the world today.
Yet, the main focus should be on the “memorial,” remembering those who have fallen– who gave their lives for something greater than themselves, or just to serve along side a comrade.
At times like this, I’m always struck by the teaching of Jesus where he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
By Trevin Wax on Nov 24, 2010
Really, Paul? Give thanks in everything? No matter the circumstance?
Already, you’ve rocked my world. You’ve told me to rejoice always – not just when life is going well. That means that even though I’m tempted to rejoice only in the good times, you want me to rejoice in the bad times too.
You’ve told me to pray constantly – not just when life is going badly. Here, you’ve dealt with the opposite temptation. Even though I’m tempted to pray only in the bad times (when I sense I need something), you want me to pray constantly – in the good times too.
Paul, you’re calling me to a way of life that doesn’t depend on my circumstances. And what bugs me about this call is that you aren’t some idealistic pastor asking me to do the impossible. You are doing this yourself. You’re writing from a prison cell. Your happiest, sunniest letter (Philippians) is written when your circumstances are terrible.
And now, you’re telling us to give thanks in everything. But how? I want to be thankful, but come on… even for bad things? Even for trials?
…That we need to continue to pray for our nation!
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
On August 28th, 1982, my lovely bride Lois and I were married at Salem Baptist Church in New Brighton, MN.
Each year with Lois gets better and better!
Memorial Day is when we honor the men and women of our Armed Services who have made “the supreme sacrifice;” who gave their lives for their country.
Especially these days, when Memorial Day seems nothing more than a time for cookouts and swim parties, we cannot be reminded often enough about how great a debt we owe our war dead.
They gave up their hopes and dreams, families and friends. They submitted themselves to rigorous discipline—something I understand as a former Marine—24-hour a day duty, and placed their lives in great peril. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Their sacrifice should inspire in us a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, bought with a price. And that gratitude should compel us to lives of service as well. Serving Christ, our neighbor, and yes, our nation.
I can’t help but recall the brilliant film Saving Private Ryan. James Ryan, now in his seventies, has returned with his family to the military cemetery in Normandy. He visits the grave of Captain John Miller, the man who, a half a century before, led the mission to retrieve—to save—Private Ryan. At the end of the mission, Miller was fatally wounded. As he lay dying, his final words to Private Ryan were, “James. Earn this…earn it.”
We then see Ryan kneeling at Captain Miller’s grave, marked by a cross. Ryan, his voice trembling with emotion, says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”
Red-eyed, Ryan turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’ve led a good life…tell me I am a good man.”
With great dignity, she says, “You are.”
With that, James Ryan salutes the grave of Captain Miller.
I tell this story in greater detail in my book The Good Life, which you can purchase at ColsonCenter.org.
You see, Private Ryan, out of gratitude for Captain Miller’s sacrifice, did all in his power to live a good life.
And Memorial Day is a great time for each of us to look into the mirror…to examine our own lives. Are we living good lives in gratitude for all those who have sacrificed for us—including our men and women in the military, our families, our friends, and most of all Christ?
Are we, like Ryan, kneeling before the cross—Spielberg, a master cinematographer had to realize the power of this imagery. Are we, out of gratitude, doing our duty for Christ, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, ministering to those in prison, in whatever harvest field to which the Lord has called us?
Examine your life.
And this Memorial Day, at the very least, thank those who have sacrificed for you and those you know who have served in our nation’s armed forces. Maybe you’ll do what I do when you see a guy or gal in uniform…at the airport, at the store, wherever…walk up to them and thank them for their service.
And then go and remember Whom it is you serve.