Devotional Message for Passion Sunday / Palm Sunday; Year C (4/14/2019)

REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY TEXTS

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
St. Luke 22:14--23:56
or St. Luke 23:1-49

Processional Gospel

St. Luke 19:28-40

Prayer of the Day

Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

St. Luke 23:39-49 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: “The Grace of Our Lord, Jesus Christ”

As a preacher and a sermon writer, I have chosen to begin almost all of my sermons in the same way: “Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (On a good day I get a hearty “Amen” in response from the congregation…) As a worship leader and a liturgy writer, I often begin our time together with similar words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (On a good day I receive a strong greeting in response, “And also with you.” Sometimes even a hand gesture or two…)

Grace is such an interesting word. Such an interesting concept. It is used 4 times in the Gospels (NRSV), only in St. John’s prologue (but never on the lips of Jesus). It is used118 times in the New Testament (again, NRSV). Grace is a rendering of the word χάρις (charis) in the Greek New Testament. My Greek lexicon defines χάρις as, “a favorable attitude toward someone or something,” as in, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor (χάρις) of God was upon him.” (St. Luke 2:40) A more common definition of grace is, “a gift that is both freely given and undeserved,” as in “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (St. John 1:16)

When I reflect on grace as a freely given and undeserved gift, the first image that comes to my mind is of Jesus, suffering on the cross, forgiving both those who were crucifying him (St. Luke 22:34) and the criminal who is being crucified with him (St. Luke 23:43). Each of these is an extraordinary act of love and generosity. Suffering unimaginable pain and humiliation, feeling abandoned by God (St. Matthew 27:46), nearing the agonizing end of his life, the instinct of grace runs so deeply in Jesus’ veins, that he seeks to reconcile both his accusers and his fellow-accused to God. Today you will be with me in Paradise. His trust in where he is headed is as strong as his love for others, and his desire that they know God. Grace upon grace indeed!

In fact, the theme of grace seems to run through the whole of Holy Week. Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem with shouts of joy because of the many ways he has blessed his followers. He washes the feet of his Apostles, promising to love and serve them no matter what (and calling them to do the same!). He invites all twelve of them to his very last meal: including the one who will betray him, the one who will deny him three times, and the ten who will run away and hide when he needs them most. Even as he is dying, grace flows from his heart, through his lips, and touches those who surround him in these most desperate hours.

Holy Week provides us with an opportunity to draw near to and be touched by the grace of God that we know in Jesus Christ. It is a time to remember that there is no limit to God’s desire to love us, to forgive us, to grace us. It is a time for those of us who have become recipients of this grace are invited to become conduits of this same grace. 

A blessed Holy Week to you all. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you throughout this week. May it come to you as a free and undeserved gift; as grace.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why might people in his time have been surprised or offended that Jesus forgives the criminal dying with him?

  2. What does this act of forgiveness have to say about the character of God?

  3. What other surprising acts of forgiveness have been attributed to Jesus?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When have I felt as though I didn’t deserve to be forgiven?

  2. What does the concept of grace say to me about God’s insistence about forgiving me?

  3. To whom might I extend the gift of forgiveness this week?