Talking about the Passion

29 March 2015
Palm/Passion Sunday
Palm Sunday B (RCL)
Mark 11:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1 — 15:47

We don’t often read large chunks of scripture liturgically. We usually chop it up into little bits of a few verses at a stretch. This is one of the few Sundays when we read two chapters in course. And, the chapters we read are at the heart of the Christian myth. It is a story we are all familiar with, at least cursorily. But reading Mark’s Passion reminds me how little we know about the whole story. There are all kinds of little, puzzling details that seem to obtrude into the story. Continue reading “Talking about the Passion”

What needs to die?

22 March 2015
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Lent 5B (RCL)
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

John is too good a story teller to be careless. But this week’s reading presents us with a puzzle: do the Greeks ever see Jesus? In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus asks for a drink of water, and by the end of the story, she abandons her water jar at the well. John is telling us that she has indeed met Jesus and drunk of his living water. Here, the Greeks appear in the story, and simply disappear from the narrative. However, all the way along the story so far, John has been teasing us with the idea of Jesus’ “hour,” which until now has not yet come. The appearance of certain Greeks signifies the arrival of Jesus’ hour. Their disappearance leaves us pondering the nature of Jesus’ hour. It is the hour of his glorification, and a too-simple reading would connect it only with Jesus’ death on the cross. Continue reading “What needs to die?”

Snake bit

15 March 2015
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Lent 4B (RCL)
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

This passage in Numbers is an odd little story. Yet again the people are grumbling, and God sends fiery serpents among them. The word in Hebrew for the serpents is “seraph,” just like the seraphim whom Isaiah sees in the Temple. As such, the seraphim are emblems of God’s holiness. The word in the Septuagint is “ophis,” which corresponds to the serpent in the temptation story (this connection, alas, doesn’t exist in Hebrew). John, in writing his Gospel, would have been reading the Septuagint. John uses “ophis” in this passage from his Gospel.

Whether the connection is to temptation/sin or to holiness, the people in the wilderness grumble, and God sends fiery serpents among them, who bite them. Continue reading “Snake bit”

Living in the presence of God

8 March 2015
Third Sunday in Lent
Lent 3B (RCL)
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

The “temple act” of Jesus seems to me one of the most historically probably events in the New Testament record. Such an act would have certainly called the attention of the Roman authorities to whoever performed it. It seems likely to have led to a swift punishment. The synoptic Gospels connect it with Jesus’ death. John, oddly, moves it to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Since John’s readers would have likely been familiar with at least one other Gospel, John wants us to notice this difference. John also connects it with the sign of changing water into wine (the authorities ask Jesus what sign he can give for the authority to perform the act, and John has just told us that the water-to-wine was the beginning of Jesus’ signs).

John foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection by telling us the disciples remembered and interpreted Jesus’ words about the temple of his body after his resurrection. Continue reading “Living in the presence of God”