Listen as those who are taught

Palm Sunday/The Sunday of the Passion, March 24, 2024: Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; The Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-39; Psalm 31:9-16

Today we experience what I’ve come to think of as whiplash Sunday: we begin with the joyous procession into Jerusalem with palms, and end with the death of Jesus on the cross. These are two familiar gospel stories, but back to back it’s always a bit discombobulating. We are presented with the readings as if it’s two separate services, the Liturgy of the Palms and the Passion, but we do them together.

So it is useful to turn to the other readings we do to get some perspective. Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures in the Passion part of the service is from Isaiah. Isaiah says he has been given “the tongue of a teacher”. And the Lord God “wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught”. So we need to listen. In Philippians, Paul reminds us that Jesus “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited”.

These are not obvious movements. Those of us who are teachers, in any way, how do we learn to listen as those who are taught? How do we turn ourselves into our students? How do we hear as they hear? What is it we hear? And even more, how do we not take our positions–maybe not equality with God, but in the world–and not exploit it? These are challenges.

If we listen, pretending we do not know what we know, we hear a movement from celebration to tragedy. We hear failures of courage, but we also see people angling for personal power and position. In a section we did not read, Jesus is betrayed by Judas. Peter denied knowing Jesus. Pilate knew Jesus did not deserve to be crucified, but went along to oblige the crowd. There were failures to go around. We hear how quickly we can move from triumph to grief.

Most of us have not suffered as Jesus suffered. If we have, we have not done so willingly. But most humans, at a certain point, have suffered. We know that happiness and joy are transient, that life will also include grief and sorrow.

Of course, we know the end of this story. We know that Jesus will rise from the grave. We know that through his death and resurrection we are saved. But we need to get from here to there. That is what we do in the coming week.

Still, as we go through this process, we can listen. When we experience pain and suffering, Jesus was there too. We are not alone. In the week ahead, we walk with Jesus on a road that leads to the cross. This week, our job is to be there, and know that we are not alone.

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