As you begin to ponder what the sermon on this highly charged Sunday ought to contain, let the wisdom of writers from Homily Service in 2007 dealing with the Passion story serve as yeast for your thoughts.
Luke 22:14–23:56 or 23:1-49
In no place in the passion according to Luke, as set forth in our lectionaries, do we even come close to getting a clue as to why some authorities in Jesus' day wanted him out of the way. . . The Gospels (Luke included) routinely offer exaggerated impressions of sizeable crowds and high drama in the events leading up to the cross. This exaggeration is to be expected. The authors are convinced that the death of this man had cosmic significance. If that significance had not been apparent to the immediate witnesses, why should the Christians of the evangelists' communities recognize this either?
Instead, the far more realistic image is of a small man, from an insignificant part of the nation, with a small group of followers, caught up in a conflagration and put down because of it with no thought or hesitation on the part of the Roman occupation forces. In no way does the more realistic image necessarily subtract from the cosmic and atoning significance of Jesus' death.
I suggest, instead, a more modest account of the passion allows us to appreciate the incredible interpretive task undertaken by the earliest communities of Christians. The audacity of reading their scriptures as having been fulfilled in the life and death of this man! The audacity of God in using the death of this man to teach humanity the impotence and utter vacuousness of scapegoating and sacrifice! – Jeffrey VanderWilt
Isaiah frequently pursues the story of Israel, humiliated, exiled, and now restored to its imperial ambitions. This “reversal of fortune” story implies also a theology of atonement. . . [which] may have a substitutionary character—Israel suffers and bears a God-given burden so that the nations do not have to. . . .
Christians found this theology of atonement, implicit to the story of the servant of God who suffers, strongly and compellingly attractive as they tried to put together the pieces of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the healing rabbi, who proclaimed the restoration of the kingdom of God, and yet who suffered and died so grievously so that, when his fortune was reversed in resurrection, the nations would turn and glorify the God who saved Jesus. – Jeffrey VanderWilt
Here is the One who emptied himself, who humbled himself, who became obedient. In letting others do what they would to him, this is what Jesus did: He chose the identity he would have as others did their worst. He emptied himself to take the form of a slave, when by all rights he could assume full equality with God. He impoverished himself for the sake of his fellow human beings. He offered himself.
And we, too, are called to offer ourselves, to “let the same mind be in” us as we choose our personal identity in this world, to think as he did when others would do their worst to us. . . .
Here is the One who, on the cross, offers words of forgiveness for those who crucified him, words of promise for those who trust in him, words of commendation to the Father whose will he obeys. Here is the One who eats and drinks with sinners, the One whom death cannot hold. . . .
He gave himself for us. In what wounded him is our healing. In what nailed him to the cross is our freedom. In the offering of his life is our life, eternal life. – Paul G. Bieber
Paul Bieber is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, San Diego, California.
Jeffery VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003) teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California.
Homily Service 40, no. 5 (2007): 3-20.