“Sir, we would see Jesus,” the plaque on the pulpit proclaimed, visible only to the preacher.  In a former congregation, like many places, the words of people seeking Jesus greeted every preacher who stepped into the pulpit.  Mysteriously, thankfully, in that particular church, the plaque was lost in a sanctuary renovation.

The people who come seeking Jesus in this story don’t get to see him.  In his ministry, Jesus has said “yes” to despised tax collectors, sex workers, lawyers, women alone, desperate mothers, and prominent people who come to him in the cover of darkness, but these seekers are too late.  Jesus is fixed on another purpose, and even though his soul is burdened, he won’t turn aside.   Jesus begins his public life in John’s gospel with an awareness of divine time, telling his mother at the wedding at Cana that it wasn’t the right time.  Now “the hour” has come.  His life is moving toward its conclusion.  harvest wheat from Vanderbilt

Read the Working Preacher commentary by Sherri Brown here.

Read the scripture here.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem comes right after he raises Lazarus from the dead.  The crowd of people who saw him bring life out of death can’t stop talking about it, can’t stop testifying.  When they hear that Jesus is coming, they turn his entrance into Jerusalem into a party.  Just before this, the religious leaders have planned to put both Jesus and Lazarus to death.  Their parade is a defiant celebration in the face of danger.

In the Synoptic gospels, Jesus has a hand in organizing his entry into the city, but John has the energy coming from the crowd.  Jesus just “finds” a donkey here, and the crowd does the all the work.

Word is spreading far and wide, and now these strangers have come to see Jesus.  The story calls them “Greeks,” perhaps meaning Jews who lived outside the area and have come for the Passover.  The Greeks come to Phillip and Andrew, who have the most Greek sounding names of the disciples, maybe hoping they’ll get the best reception from fellow countrymen.

Jesus uses the occasion to reflect on his coming sacrifice, speaking about both the cost and the  growth to come.  The Synoptic gospels speak of taking up the cross and following, and John frames the same kind of discipleship as a seed and new growth.  Lazarus’ death and raising have brought people to a new understanding of Jesus; Jesus’ death will bring people to a new understanding of God.  Death is coming, and Jesus is reminding his friends – and himself – that there’s more than death ahead.

The lectionary then moves ahead to the next installment in the crucifixion story.  In her Working Preacher commentary, Sherri Brown reminds us: “Biblical scholars have long observed the characteristics of ancient Greco-Roman drama in the Gospel of John. The evangelist employs these techniques for several reasons, including the reality that his good news would most often be shared by oral story-telling. He sets the stage for storytellers who act out these verbal cues to facilitate the full impact of the message.  John 18-19 develops across five geographical locations: the garden across the Kidron valley (18:1-11); the house of Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest (18:12-27); the Roman praetorium (18:28-19:16a); Golgotha, the Place of the Skull (19:16b-37); and the new garden of Jesus’ burial (19:38-42). As Jesus moves to each new location, the narrator describes the place, as well as the characters and activity that will be involved there. John therefore presents his understanding of Jesus’ passion as a five-act play.  Act Four sends audiences directly to the cross with Jesus. This is a powerful component on the narrative level, with Jesus resolutely seeing his mission to its fulfillment. Likewise several disciples remain with Jesus, and audiences learn more about what it means to abide with Jesus.”

Pilate, remembered by history because of his meeting with Jesus, encounters the limits of his own power in his conversation with Jesus.  Expecting Jesus to be afraid of him, he instead becomes afraid.  Three times he calls Jesus “The King of the Jews,” the third time here on the cross.

Sermon possibilities:

If you celebrate Palm and/or Passion Sunday, there’s an interesting contrast between the festive parade into town and Jesus’ distressed ruminations afterward.  Did he enjoy the acclamation as he rode into town?  Was there a brief moment of joy when he saw the people celebrating him?  Or did it all fell hollow, knowing what was ahead?  Or, both, together?

John offers us a contrast between discipleship and the life of the world.  Unless we become like seeds which are willing to die for a greater harvest, we will lose ourselves in chasing what we think we want.  We let go of ourselves to find something greater.  The sermon might look at what we’re willing to let go of, and what God is calling us to relinquish in service to something greater.  Worn out habits?  Familiar biases?  Unconsidered privilege?  Places of selfishness?

We can imagine that Pilate never forgot Jesus.  Of all the people he meets, stubborn, puzzling Jesus must have stayed with him, along with the lessons Jesus taught him about the limits of his own power and the power of sacrifice.  Similarly, he must have lingered in the minds of the crowd, especially when they learn of his arrest and death.  The sermon might look at the people who stay in our minds over time, along with the things they taught us.

Jesus has focus.  He could easily spend a few minutes with the Greeks who are looking for him, but he chooses not to spend the energy when his purpose lies in another direction.  The sermon might look at where we use of time and energy, and whether we have the determined focus of Jesus.  We often try to fit in one more thing, or focus on the virtue of multi-tasking, in contrast to the single-mindedness of Jesus.

Where are your thoughts taking you this week, as Lent comes near its end?  We would love to hear your ideas, and continue the conversation, in the comments section below.

Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  She gave up online ordering for Lent, with mixed success.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.  The image above is by Jorge Alonzo, called “Soon for the harvest.” It is from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55325 Original source: flickr.com.

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3 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Palm / Passion Sunday (John 12:12-27; 19:16b-22)

  1. I’ve been hesitant to commit to this but since I just sent off the order of worship it will be: I am going to show the Passion Narrative from the LUMO project instead of reading it or using another dramatic portrayal. We have never done this so it will be something different and I have been impacted by watching the video, so I myself am hoping to have a moment of worship during worship, which is sometimes hard to come by.



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