Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday)

Luke wants us to know that Jesus does not feel out of control or abandoned

Three crosses overlooking lake
Photo by Federico Tasin on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

April 10, 2022

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Commentary on Luke 22:14—23:56

Passion Sunday is a unique moment in the worship life of the church. It is a day on which we hear not one, but two gospel texts. I will be offering reflections on the second text, the passion narrative from Luke, which takes us from the Passover meal in “a large room upstairs” to Jesus’ burial in the new tomb in the garden—one hundred and thirteen verses. This is a powerful worship service. The prayers, the gospel reading, and the hymns will all be preaching the intense message of Jesus’ final days. 

Since your sermon will probably be delivered after the reading of the passion narrative, that should be the focus of your message. Once we have heard the crowd shift their shouts from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him,” we have left the irony of the procession into Jerusalem behind. For many people in the congregation, this will be the only time that they will hear the story of Jesus celebrating that last meal with his disciples and his painful walk to the cross. Many will not be in church on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Therefore, it is important for you to explore that gospel with them.

A savior, who is the messiah

The passion narrative is one of the few things that appears in each of the four gospels. While each gospel tells this story, for each writer there is a different goal and focus, and they understand what happened in different ways. Each is writing to a different community, just as you are preaching to a unique community. Therefore, it is important, on this day, to focus on what Luke is trying to communicate. 

In the opening of his gospel, Luke writes that he has set out to provide an “orderly account,” in order to answer the central question asked throughout the gospel, “If you are the Messiah, tell us,” (Luke 22:67). Jesus of Nazareth, the teacher and healer who has now been arrested is, as the angels declared at his birth, “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Why has Jesus been arrested? They accuse him of declaring himself to be the Son of God, the “Messiah, a king” (Luke 23:2). When he hears these accusations, while Jesus never agrees, he also never denies these charges. 

Luke presents his readers with a moving six act drama. This is a long service. You do not need to explore every act in this, the central drama of our faith. People will be overwhelmed if you seek to talk about the final meal, the arrest, the trial, etc. 

One way to approach the narrative, exploring the message the Luke offers, is to enter into one of the acts, for example, Act V, the crucifixion. I would encourage you to review a synopsis of all four gospels and explore what is different in Luke’s telling. How does he seek to tell us that Jesus is the Messiah? There are several differences in Luke’s gospel. Jesus on the cross asks God to forgive “them,” and I think we can include ourselves (Luke 23:34). On that day, and today, we do not always know what we are doing. We always stand in need of God’s forgiveness. 

It is in Luke’s gospel that we witness the exchange between the thieves crucified with Jesus. It is one of the thieves who declares that Jesus has done nothing wrong. The innocence of Jesus is important for Luke. Pilate declares several times that he cannot see that Jesus is guilty of any of the charges. And finally, the centurion who, in Mark and Matthew’s gospels declares Jesus upon his death, the Son of God, in Luke’s gospel announces, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47). When the repentant thief asks Jesus to remember him, the dying man is given the news that we all long to hear, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). 

Luke wants us to know that Jesus does not feel out of control or abandoned. Unlike in Mark and Matthew’s gospels, Jesus does not cry out that he has been forsaken (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:4).

Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, takes control at the end. The other three gospels tell us that Jesus “breathed his last” (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:39), or “gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Yet in Luke, from the cross, Jesus cries out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23:46). At his baptism, Jesus had heard God declare to him, “You are my Son” (Luke 3:22). Jesus is now ready to return to the one who sent him.

The time has come

Rather than exploring one or two of the “acts” in this gospel, you might reflect upon a particular theme. Today’s gospel reading opens with an interesting announcement: “when the hour came” (Luke 22:14). Time features prominently in Luke’s gospel. After the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, we are told that the devil left “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). That time has arrived. Luke tells us that “Satan entered into Judas” (Luke 22:3). Jesus tells the disciples that “Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). And from the cross, Jesus tells the thief, “Today you will be with me … ” 

How has the time come in our lives? Jesus told Peter, James, John, and tells us, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial. This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:40, 53). With Passion Sunday, our Lenten journey is ending. Since Ash Wednesday we have been reflecting upon the ways that we have experienced those times of trial and given over to the power of darkness. We have given up things that draw us from the path of righteousness. On this day you may explore how the hour of temptation and passion has come for us.