We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary, Palm Sunday, Year B

 Lectionary, Palm Sunday

I.Theme –   "Strength is concealed in humility, pain is hidden in triumph, victory, in defeat, life, in death, God, in human form" -Diedrik Nelson


"Palm Sunday" – Giotto (1305-06)     "Betrayal & Arrest of Christ" – Fra Angelico (1450)

The lectionary readings are here or individually: 

Old Testament – Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm – Psalm 31:9-16 Page 623, BCP 
Epistle –Philippians 2:5-11 
Gospel – Mark 14:1-15:47 

"Borg and Crossan (The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem) imagine not one but two political processions entering Jerusalem that Friday morning in the spring of AD 30. In a bold parody of imperial politics, king Jesus descended the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem from the east in fulfillment of Zechariah’s ancient prophecy: "Look, your king is coming to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Matthew 21:5 = Zechariah 9:9). From the west, the Roman governor Pilate entered Jerusalem with all the pomp of state power. Pilate’s brigades showcased Rome’s military might, power and glory. Jesus’ triumphal entry, by stark contrast, was an anti-imperial and anti-triumphal "counter-procession" of peasants that proclaimed an alternate and subversive community that for three years he had called "the kingdom of God."

This week has two liturgies – Liturgy of the Palms and Liturgy of the Passon.

"The church is called to reckon with paradox on this week: triumph and rejection, death and rebirth." So writes Melinda Quivik in Working Preacher. The week begins with Jesus triumphant arrival and by the end of the week he is killed.  Next week we trace the path day by day.  God is sacrificed by those he brings life. 

"Strength is concealed in humility, pain is hidden in triumph, victory, in defeat, life, in death, God, in human form" -Diedrik Nelson 

The theme is established by the first lesson. The servant is disciplined by suffering so he may bring strength and refreshment to the oppressed, but there are those who oppose him. Willingly he submits to those who torture and humiliate him. But God is his helper, so he is not disgraced or shamed. God vindicates him, no one can convict him.

The servant willingly suffers humiliation at the hands of his adversaries. He is not disgraced or put to shame because Yahweh vindicates him and helps him; no one can declare him guilty.

The servant of the Lord is opposed (Isaiah), is obedient to death (Philippians). He is betrayed, tortured and crucified by those who should have listened to him, and is recognized as Son of God by a centurion (Matthew). He will be vindicated (Isaiah), exalted by God (Philippians), and honored by the unexpected (Matthew).

The Passion story in Mark can be broken down in the following scenes:

The Passion story in Mark can be broken down in the following scenes:

1. Mark 14:1-11 extravagant love 
2. Mark 14:12-21 passover preparation 
3. Mark 14:22-25 Jesus’ last supper
4. Mark 14:26-42 agony in the garden 
5. Mark 14:43-52 Jesus’ arrest  
6. Mark 14:53-72 Jesus’ trial, Peter’s denial
7. Mark 15:1-20 Jesus before Pilate 
8. Mark 15:21-32 Jesus crucified 
9. Mark 15:33-41 Jesus’ death  
10. Mark 15:42-47 Jesus’ burial 

II. Summary

Old Testament –   Isaiah 50:4-9a

The part of Isaiah written in exile (Chapters 40-55) contains four servant songs, sections that interrupt the flow of the book but have a unity within themselves. This is the third – he is disciplined and strengthened by suffering

Yet the thrust of this passage is the openness of the faithful believer to obeying God’s will, even to the extent of yielding to mockery and abuse

In vv. 4-6, God has “opened my ear”; he has commissioned the servant as one who is taught, i.e. like a disciple. God has made him a “teacher” (a prophet) of the “word” of God, to bring God’s comfort to “the weary”, his fellow Israelites – who reject God. He has accepted this command: he is not “rebellious”. They have tortured him (v. 6), as they did prophets before him, but he has accepted their “insult and spitting”. In vv. 7-9a, in courtroom language, the servant says that, because God helps him, he is not disgraced; he confidently accepts the suffering (“set my face like flint”), and will not be put to shame. God will prove him right (“vindicates”, v. 8). He is willing to face his “adversaries”, his accusers – for the godly to “stand up together” with him against the ungodly. He is confident that, with God’s help, none will find (“declare”, v. 9) declare him guilt

Isaiah presumes in vv.8-9 that there will be some form of legitimate legal process, that proper charges will be brought, that the accused will know the identity of his accuser, that there might be proper debate and the examination of evidence. This doesn’t happen with Jesus when he is confronted by Pilate. His decision is based on an emotional crowd. 

Psalm    Psalm 31:9-16 Page 623, BCP 

The Psalmist appears to speak quietly and from a position of oppression, confident that the Lord will certainly hear him, and will also be his rescuer

The Psalm also introduces the opposite of a crowd motif. Neither neighbors nor friends are willing to stand alongside the afflicted one in this Psalm. Instead, they flee from him or forget him, thrown away like discarded broken pottery.

The psalmist seeks deliverance from personal enemies. He is “in distress”: his troubles have led to ill health; his strength fails him (v. 10); perhaps he is terminally ill. The Psalm also introduces the opposite of a crowd motif. He is “scorned by all my enemies” (v. 11a, ) and even by his neighbors; his friends avoid him. People forget about him, as though he is already dead (v. 12); he feels as useless as “something thrown away. People are conducting a whispering campaign against him and they scheme to take his life (v. 13); but he accepts God personally; he has confidence in God (v. 14). His destiny (“times”, v. 15) is safe in God’s hands; he trusts that God will deliver him from his adversaries and persecutors.

Seeing himself as a “servant” (v. 16), he cries let me experience you, O God! May God, in his compassion, save him from all that beset him. 

Epistle –  Philippians 2:5-11 

In Vv1 -4 Paul provides guidance for the Christians at Philippi to be of the same mind set and shows how to live in relationship with others. Their attitude should be one of service and of humble self-giving. They are to “regard others as better than … [themselves]”, freely adopting a lowly, unassertive stance before others, replacing self-interest with concern for others.

Vv. 5-11 are an early Christian hymn. The purpose of this hymn is to encourage practical attitudes and action among the people of God

He exhorts his readers to be of the same mindset as Jesus – one that is appropriate for them, given their existence “in Christ” (v. 5). Christ was “in the form of God” (v. 6): he was already like God; he had a God-like way of being, e.g. he was not subject to death. He shared in God’s very nature. Even so, he did not “regard” being like God “as something to be exploited”, i.e. to be grasped and held on to for his own purposes. Rather, he “emptied himself”

(v. 7), made himself powerless and ineffective – as a slave is powerless, without rights. He took on the likeness of a human being, with all which that entails (except sin), including “death” (v. 8). As a man, he lowered (“humbled”) himself, and throughout his life in the world, was fully human and totally obedient to God, even to dying. (Paul now adds: even to the most debasing way of dying, crucifixion – reserved for slaves and the worst criminals.)

God actively responded to this total denial of self, his complete living and dying for others, by placing him above all other godly people (“highly exalted him”, v. 9), and bestowing on him the name, title and authority of “Lord” (v. 11) over the whole universe (“heaven”, v. 10, “earth”, “under the earth”).

God has given him authority which, in the Old Testament, he reserved for himself. (Isaiah 45:22-25, in the Revised English Bible, says: “From every corner of the earth turn to me and be saved; for I am God … to me every knee shall bow … to me every tongue shall swear, saying ‘In the Lord alone are victory and might … all Israel’s descendants will be victorious and will glory in the LORD’”); everyone shall worship him; confessing that “Jesus Christ is Lord”.

(v. 11) is equivalent to proclaiming the victory and might of God. The ultimate goal is the “glory of God the Father”, the reclamation of God’s sovereignty, his power over, and presence in, the universe.

There is a social element to this teaching: this hymn to Christ’s humility is not only to be honored in singing but in the lives of those who, trusting him and following his example, are to look out for the interests of others in the group and not simply their own. This crowd, formed in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, is not simply to be a disparate gathering of like-minded people. Much more than a crowd, this is a church – at least in its early stages. It is a united people, ambitious not for individual gain but for corporate blessing, as together with one another and indeed with ‘every tongue’ on earth and heaven they praise the Christ who is Lord and give glory to God. The whole company of heaven constitutes quite a crowd! We are part of God’s people, and as such we have the privilege of serving his world, and speaking out to praise the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

Gospel   Mark 14:1-15:47 

Comments by Bruce Epperly

In chapters 14 and 15, Jesus’ final hours, beginning with preparation for the Last Supper and culminating with his death on the cross, are depicted.

One way ancient writers emphasized an event was by devoting a significant amount of space to it. Mark devotes ten chapters to a ministry that lasted about three years. As mentioned above, he devotes six chapters to the final week, beginning with Jesus’ triumphal entry and concluding with the empty tomb. Mark “slows down” his narrative to describe, in what is truly remarkable detail, what happened to Jesus from his entry into Gethsemane until his burial in the tomb.

In chapters 14 and 15, Mark answers two questions for his readers: why Jesus had to die and how he died. Jesus died as a part of God’s plan. This is seen in Mark’s repeated references and allusions to the Old Testament scriptures and the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic pronouncements concerning his death. The second question is answered by his depiction of Jesus’ dying completely alone, abandoned by all supporters, surrounded by his enemies

The readings from Mark (11:1-11 and 14:1-15:47) capture the roller coaster ride of Holy Week. We go from praise and exaltation to agony and desertion. Nowhere in the passages does Jesus claim the prerogatives of a sovereign. Perhaps, Jesus did not intend to ignite a celebration, but in the spirit of Mark’s “messianic secret,” enter the town quietly on a gentle, non-confrontational beast of burden. A youthful colt, not a muscular war horse, bears God’s beloved child.

Intrigue and conflict are in the air. The religious leaders plot Jesus’ death and Jesus’ followers condemn a woman’s act of kindness. The Passover celebration is marred by Jesus’ prediction that one of his closest followers will betray him, and in the end, the One who was praised as he entered Jerusalem leaves the city, vanquished, dead, buried, and abandoned, except by a few of the women who were his disciples.

It is easy to shut down emotionally on Palm/Passion Sunday. The day is too real, too raw, and too filled with ambiguity. It is frankly too much about our own lives, not only our own personal emotional, relational, and professional roller coasters, but the reality of our own moral and spiritual ambivalence. We praise, yet forget. We promise loyalty, yet deny the causes that we claim are dear to us. We know the realities of economic injustice, political and military violence, discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation, and the threat of global climate change, but live as if life is going on as usual. We celebrate while others are disenfranchised, partly due to the impact of our own largesse.

Comments by N. Clayton Croy 

The following fourfold division attempts to reflect the sequence of scenes and actions.

Preparation and Passover (Mark 14:1-25)

In this section, two ritual acts foreshadow the passion. First, the woman who anoints Jesus engages in an individual act of extravagant devotion. She is criticized by some, but defended by Jesus. Clearly this is not a scene about stewardship or economic justice.

The woman’s action is a unique, unrepeatable act of honoring Jesus, which is precisely the point that Jesus makes in verse 7. The anointing of one’s head normally denotes an official declaration of kingly or priestly status, but Jesus interprets the action as anticipating his burial. Whether the woman understood it as such or not, Jesus credits her action with this effect and vows that it will be remembered around the world, a vow that the story’s canonization has assured.

Secondly, the Passover, the festival that commemorates Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12:1-20), is mentioned by Mark only in 14:1, 12-16. We might wonder if the mention of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb (14:1) is an allusion to the crucifixion, but the timing is off. More likely, Mark wants us to view the Lord’s Supper as a Passover Seder.

Certainly the Passover meal (verses 12-21) blends seamlessly with the institution of the sacrament (verses 22-25). In the sacrament, Jesus elevates the mundane to the level of a mystery. He takes an ancient ritual and makes it shockingly contemporary and personal: "This is my body, this is my blood." Verses 22-24 are one of the few hints in Mark’s Gospel that the death of Jesus has salvific benefit (also see Mark 10:45).

Supplication and Seizure (Mark 14:26-52)

They depart to the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. Peter and the other disciples emphatically assert their fidelity to Jesus despite his prediction of their abandonment (verse 27), a prediction shortly to be fulfilled (verse 50).

In Gethsemane, we see a very a human Jesus, a typical feature of Mark’s portrayal but especially true here. Jesus knows that events are headed for a violent denouement. He is described as "distressed and agitated" (verse 33), and he speaks of being "deeply grieved" (verse 34). Yet his prayer combines fervent supplication with reverent submission. The human Jesus does not want to die, while the obedient Son will not turn from his task. The disciples are only superficially affected by all this anguish, as is evident by their ability to nod off repeatedly.

Judas arrives with the arresting mob, and there is a short-lived and misguided attempt at violent resistance by an unnamed disciple. The sleepiness in Gethsemane, this sword-wielding outburst, and the ensuing desertion of the disciples are among the final strokes of the dismal portrait of the disciples in Mark.

Mark admittedly paints the disciples with dark hues, but historical facts likely stand behind many of these episodes, and facts are stubborn things. In telling the story, Mark often has no choice but to lay bare the disciples’ cowardice and failure. They all flee with a kind of shameful nakedness like the anonymous "young man" of verse 51.

Trials and Denials (Mark 14:53-15:15)

The trials of Jesus are famously irregular and ignore even ancient "due process." Mark relates a Jewish trial and a Roman one, with Peter’s infamous denials sandwiched in between.

The trial before the council and the high priest (who is never named in Mark) quickly runs into trouble. Testimony against Jesus is false and conflicting; the case is unraveling. When the high priest is unable to exact any response from Jesus, he tries a judicial Hail Mary: ask the defendant point-blank to confess!

Jesus does confess, but note how he acknowledges that he is the Messiah and then reverts to the title "Son of Man." In a profoundly true sense for Mark, Jesus is the Messiah. But it is not necessarily in the sense commonly conceived by either Jews or Romans.

Thus, Jesus clarifies as he confesses. He is the Messiah in the mode of the suffering Son of Man. Jesus will lay claim to the title "Messiah" but only on his terms, only if he is allowed to define it by the character of his ministry and message.

Meanwhile, Peter faces his own sort of trial. He has followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. Twice, a servant-girl questions Peter about his association with Jesus. Twice he denies it. A third time, he is questioned, this time by a group of bystanders who recognize Peter as a Galilean, presumably by his dialect (cf. Matt 26:73). Peter’s third denial is emphatic, apparently invoking the deity and perhaps even consequences against himself if he is not speaking the truth.

The irony is bitter indeed.

Instead of bearing witness to God, Peter invokes God as a witness to his falsehood. The cock’s crow pierces his soul, and he disappears as a character in the story apart from a brief reference in 16:7. The temptation to vilify Peter is hard to resist, but we should resist it, as well as the temptation to ignore our own acts of betrayal.

The trial of Jesus before Pilate kicks into high gear. In all likelihood, the Jewish council did not have the authority under the Roman prefect to execute prisoners (cf. John 18:31). That power rested in Pilate’s hands. The practice of releasing a prisoner at the Passover (Mark 15:6) is not corroborated outside the New Testament, but it is multiply attested in the gospels (cf. John 18:39).

Barabbas is mentioned in all four gospels, and there is no obvious motive for inventing him. There were frequent insurrections against Rome in the time of Jesus, so the reference to Barabbas’s activity is quite plausible. His name means "Son of Abba" or "Son of the father," an irony that may be both literary and historical.

Pilate’s failure is often portrayed as a lack of resoluteness. He was weak and so was manipulated by the Jewish authorities.

However, a more nuanced reading of the gospels, as well as other historical sources (Josephus, Philo), suggests that the historical Pilate was callous and conniving. Pilate’s frequent references to Jesus as the "King of the Jews" were more likely ridiculing Jewish nationalistic aspirations than showing sympathy or reverence for Jesus. The historical fact remains that Pilate had the power to release Jesus and did not.

Ridicule, Crucifixion, Death, and Entombment (Mark 15:16-47)

In this closing section, Jesus is first given into the hands of Roman soldiers and then, after his death, into the hands of Jewish sympathizers. The soldiers engage in a crude parody of homage: crowning, clothing, and hailing Jesus as a king, all the while abusing him with blows and dishonoring him with spittle. En route to Golgotha a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, is compelled to bear Jesus’ cross.

Historically, the need for this is plausible, given the mistreatment that Jesus has received. Theologically, Simon of Cyrene becomes the first person literally to enact Jesus’ description of his true followers (Mark 8:34).

The maltreatment of Jesus reaches its apex in the crucifixion itself, Rome’s fiendish method for combining execution, humiliation, and deterrence. The derision continues, coming from passersby, from priests and scribes, and even from the bandits crucified with him.

Jesus hangs on the cross from nine in the morning until sometime after three in the afternoon. At three o’clock, he emits the "cry of dereliction," that anguished outburst of abandonment. Again we see Mark’s portrayal of the deeply human Jesus (Luke edits out this saying; John has no use for it whatsoever).

At Jesus’ death, the temple curtain is torn in two, perhaps signifying both judgment against the temple (Mark 11:15-19) and the opening up of access to the presence of God (see Hebrews 9). The centurion at the foot of the cross, a Roman with no special acquaintance with Jesus nor the revelatory light of Judaism, makes the gospel’s third affirmation of Jesus’ divine sonship (see 1:11; 9:7).

The burial scene concludes the passion narrative. The coming of the Sabbath at sundown adds urgency to the action, for the burial cannot take place on the day of rest. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council who presumably was an exception to Mark’s earlier sweeping statements (14:55, 64), asks for the body of Jesus.

It is a bit peculiar that Jesus is dead after six plus hours on the cross. Victims of crucifixion sometimes survived for days, eventually succumbing to exposure, blood loss, dehydration, or asphyxiation. When the centurion confirms Jesus’ death, Joseph tends to the body.

The presence of women, especially Mary Magdalene, is noted at both the cross (15:40-41) and the burial (15:47). Apart from Joseph, the women are the only sympathetic characters mentioned by Mark at this point. They will reappear at the tomb after the Sabbath. But for now, this horrific and violent episode draws to a close with Jesus’ lifeless body lying on a stone slab.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old TestamentIsaiah 50:4-9a

PsalmPsalm 31:9-16

EpistlePhilippians 2:5-11

GospelMark 14:1-15:47