Sermon Options: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

January 27th, 2023

Palm Sunday/Liturgy of the Passion

Sermon 1: The Triumph Over Tragedy

Scripture: Matthew 27:45-50

45From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. 46At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” 47After hearing him, some standing there said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48One of them ran over, took a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink. 49But the rest of them said, “Let’s see if Elijah will come and save him.” 50Again Jesus cried out with a loud shout. Then he died.



We come now to that unspeakably terrible last day in the earthly life of Jesus. He was young when he died, even by the standards of longevity of his time. He started so late in his ministry.

He had only three years to do the most important thing in the world for all time. There are many sad things about how and why it all happened the way it did! The sense of tragedy is in almost everybody and everything. Even dumb nature rebels.

The earth trembled. Rocks split. Tombs broke open. The sacred veil of the Temple split open from top to bottom. Darkness fell over the whole land. The battle-hardened execution team, including their leader, became afraid and said: “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54 KJV). A thief on the cross beside Jesus asked to be remembered by Jesus in his coming kingdom. His enemies taunted him and said that if he were who he said he was, he should save himself. His friends and family wept. The whole atmosphere of that day was one of unrelieved tragedy. Yet there was something happening on that rough hilltop that was beyond the knowing of everyone present except Jesus and his heavenly Father, whose spirit hovered over the place like a heavy fog. This is the focal point of the Atonement in time and history. It is God acting on behalf of all humankind for all time. This is the raw material from which the great atonement theological formulations are later made. It is too soon for the Gospel writers to find adequate words and phrases to communicate the meaning of this divine transaction. It is a holy mystery, yet none present could doubt that it held meaning beyond their present knowing.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus caused many questions, then and now. When you immerse yourself in this holy mystery, however, meaning is so palpable that it seems sacrilegious to raise questions and discuss exegetical and language problems. You get the feeling that you do not need to mess with the mystery. As one observer said, it would seem like “geologizing on holy ground.”

This is not just talking about what is going to happen. This is not the “Mass” acted out in symbolism and institutionalized in the sacrament of the Last Supper. This is the Mass! This is the real thing! Its meaning is a holy mystery beyond description.

The Gospels were not written to boost the power of the Atonement by the psychological effect on the reader. The Good Friday narrative is not “juiced up” in order to get the attention of the reader or to get it on some best-seller list. The Gospel writers simply tell the story. They neither pose imponderables nor presume to resolve inherent mysteries.

Unlike some Hollywood versions of the passion of the Christ, the Gospel writers avoid the gory details of the flogging, the Via Dolorosa, and the Crucifixion. This is not to withhold or obscure important features in giving a factual account of what happened. They understand that the efficacy of the suffering and death of Jesus for humankind does not turn on the intensity of the psychological effect it has on subsequent readers.

Those of us who handle “holy things” every day and whose conversation is sprinkled with “God language,” and whose sermons, prayers, and lessons presume to describe and interpret those inexplicable mysteries that mean everything, else they mean nothing, must be very cautious about reducing the mystery of the Passion and the Atonement to simplistic sentences and “bumper-sticker” interpretations. To trivialize by oversimplifications and strip the mighty acts of God in Christ of mystery is to miss the meaning.

Those who loved Jesus hung on to every word he spoke from the cross. Some things he said were so graphically etched into the minds of the Gospel writers that they remembered his exact words in the language in which he spoke. Near the very end he cried out: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) (Mark 15:34b KJV; Matt. 27:46). Those haunting words were too heavy to translate. All the Gospel writers say that Jesus gave a great shout and died. John tells us what he shouted: “It is finished” (19:30).

Dr. William Barclay brings a thrilling insight to that last great shout. In English, “It is finished” is three words, but in Greek it is one word—tetelestai— as it would also be in Aramaic. In classic Greek, tetelestai is the victor’s shout (William Barclay, Matthew, vol. 2, Daily Study Bible Series [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003], 408). It is the triumphant shout of one who has survived the struggle and the pain and now stands in the winner’s circle. What a great difference this makes at the end of this tragic day. Jesus does not go down in defeat. His life has not been taken from him. He has willingly and purposefully laid down his life. Tetelestai! This understanding is not an attempt to put a nice facade on what has been a terrible day. Tetelestai is a fitting precursor to the next surprising mystery on which we all bet our lives—the Resurrection.

The story does not end with a tragic death on the cross on Friday. Get ready! Sunday is coming. Tetelestai!

—Thomas Lane Butts

Sermon 2:It Is Accomplished

Scripture: John 18:1–19:42

1After he said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples and crossed over to the other side of the Kidron Valley. He and his disciples entered a garden there. 2Judas, his betrayer, also knew the place because Jesus often gathered there with his disciples. 3Judas brought a company of soldiers and some guards from the chief priests and Pharisees. They came there carrying lanterns, torches, and weapons. 4Jesus knew everything that was to happen to him, so he went out and asked, “Who are you looking for?”
5They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He said to them, “I Am.” (Judas, his betrayer, was standing with them.) 6When he said, “I Am,” they shrank back and fell to the ground. 7He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8Jesus answered, “I told you, ‘I Am.’ If you are looking for me, then let these people go.” 9This was so that the word he had spoken might be fulfilled: “I didn’t lose anyone of those whom you gave me.”
10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword away! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?” 12Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the guards from the Jewish leaders took Jesus into custody. They bound him 13and led him first to Annas. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. ( 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was better for one person to die for the people.)
15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Because this other disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. 16However, Peter stood outside near the gate. Then the other disciple (the one known to the high priest) came out and spoke to the woman stationed at the gate, and she brought Peter in. 17The servant woman stationed at the gate asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”
“I’m not,” he replied. 18The servants and the guards had made a fire because it was cold. They were standing around it, warming themselves. Peter joined them there, standing by the fire and warming himself.
19Meanwhile, the chief priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20Jesus answered, “I’ve spoken openly to the world. I’ve always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews gather. I’ve said nothing in private. 21Why ask me? Ask those who heard what I told them. They know what I said.”
22After Jesus spoke, one of the guards standing there slapped Jesus in the face. “Is that how you
would answer the high priest?” he asked. 23Jesus replied, “If I speak wrongly, testify about what was wrong. But if I speak correctly, why do you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him, bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
25Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing with the guards, warming himself. They asked, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”
Peter denied it, saying, “I’m not.” 26A servant of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said to him, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” 27Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
28The Jewish leaders led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s palace. It was early in the morning. So that they could eat the Passover, the Jewish leaders wouldn’t enter the palace; entering the palace would have made them ritually impure.
29So Pilate went out to them and asked, “What charge do you bring against this man?” 30They answered, “If he had done nothing wrong, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your Law.” The Jewish leaders replied, “The Law doesn’t allow us to kill anyone.” ( 32This was so that Jesus’
word might be fulfilled when he indicated how he was going to die.)
33Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?” 35Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to
me. What have you done?”
36Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.” 37"So you are a king?” Pilate said. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason:
to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.” 38"What is truth?” Pilate asked. After Pilate said this, he returned to the Jewish leaders and said, “I find no grounds for any
charge against him. 39You have a custom that I release one prisoner for you at Passover. Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”
40They shouted, “Not this man! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas was an outlaw.)
1Then Pilate had Jesus taken and whipped. 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. 3Over and over they went up to him and said, “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
4Pilate came out of the palace again and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look! I’m bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no grounds for a charge against him.” 5When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here’s the man.”
6When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify!”
Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I don’t find any grounds for a charge against him.”
7The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”
8When Pilate heard this word, he was even more afraid. 9He went back into the residence and spoke to Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus didn’t answer. 10So Pilate said, “You won’t speak to me? Don’t you know that I have authority to release you and also to crucify you?”
11Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above. That’s why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” 12From that moment on, Pilate wanted to release Jesus.
However, the Jewish leaders cried out, saying, “If you release this man, you aren’t a friend of the emperor! Anyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes the emperor!”
13When Pilate heard these words, he led Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench at the place called Stone Pavement (in Aramaic, Gabbatha ). 14It was about noon on the Preparation Day for the Passover. Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Here’s your king.”
15The Jewish leaders cried out, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate responded, “What? Do you want me to crucify your king?”
“We have no king except the emperor,” the chief priests answered. 16Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
The soldiers took Jesus prisoner. 17Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to a place called Skull Place (in Aramaic, Golgotha ). 18That’s where they crucified him—and two others with him, one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19Pilate had a public notice written and posted on the cross. It read “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21Therefore, the Jewish chief priests complained to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The king of the Jews’but ‘Thismansaid,“IamthekingoftheJews.”’”
22Pilate answered, “What I’ve written, I’ve written.”
23When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and his sandals, and divided them into four shares, one for each soldier. His shirt was seamless, woven as one piece from the top to the bottom. 24They said to each other, “Let’s not tear it. Let’s cast lots to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill the scripture,
They divided my clothes among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.
That’s what the soldiers did.
25Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life.
31It was the Preparation Day and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath, especially since that Sabbath was an important day. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of those crucified broken and the bodies taken down. 32Therefore, the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who were crucified with Jesus. 33When they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead so they didn’t break his legs. 34However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35The one who saw this has testified, and his testimony is true. He knows that he speaks the truth, and he has testified so that you also can believe. 36These things happened to fulfill the scripture, They won’t break any of his bones. 37And another scripture says, They will look at him whom they have pierced.
38After this Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could take away the body of Jesus. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one because he feared the Jewish authorities. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took the body away. 39Nicodemus, the one who at first had come to Jesus at night, was there too. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe, nearly seventy-five pounds in all.40Following Jewish burial customs, they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the spices, in linen cloths. 41There was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.



According to the New Revised Standard Version of the Crucifixion in the Gospel of John, “When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (19:30). The New English Bible (NEB) translates the Greek word tetelestai as “accomplished.” Hence Jesus’ last words, according to the NEB, were “It is accomplished.”

To hear Jesus say “It is finished” only recognizes the finality of his earthly life. To hear him say “It is accomplished” places a stamp of approval on what has come before. This feeling of accomplishment would be much like a marathon runner who is simultaneously exhausted and proud at the end of the race. There is less meaning to Jesus’ life if tetelestai is interpreted as “finished” than if it is interpreted as “accomplished.” To say “It is accomplished” is an exclamation of success. Jesus’ plan, or God’s plan, had been fulfilled.

Each Gospel writer tells Jesus’ story in a slightly different way. There does, though, seem to be a unity of theme from his temptation to the cross. This Son of God is introduced to the manifestations of evil while alone in the desert. Now, alone on the cross, evil seems to be victorious over the kingdom of God. But it is here Jesus speaks the words “It is accomplished.”

The life and ministry of Christ reveal the character of a just God in the midst of evil. As Jesus heals people of their demons, feeds the hungry, challenges the legalism of the Jewish religious leaders, and ministers to children, Jesus brings the kingdom of God to bear against the injustice of the world. These two worlds collide during this final week of Jesus’ life. Those who opened their hearts to the Kingdom follow Jesus into Jerusalem with a celebration noticeable even during Passover. But as the threat of evil personified by Caiaphas and Pilate emerges, Jesus’ supporters disappear. At the cross only a few women and John are present. Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus. As in the desert at the time of his temptations, Jesus is alone on the cross, and evil seems to be victorious.

We can only imagine the thoughts of Jesus’ followers. Certainly, they are afraid for their own lives as they witness the violence of the political powers toward Jesus. It is understandable that they would scatter. It is also understandable that they would question what the kingdom of God is all about. Is this victory? How can they see anything except the triumph of evil over good? If Jesus is the Son of God, why doesn’t he fight back? Pilate’s questions to Jesus are similarly penetrating: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked (18:33). “My kingdom is not from this world,” replied Jesus. “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (v. 36).

Jesus’ confrontation with world powers has always been different than others expected. He will not match earthly power with earthly power. Jesus’ confrontation with evil is nonviolent. “You say that I am a king,” says Jesus. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (18:37). We are left with a similar sense of desperation today as we continue to confront the manifestations of evil. Evil was not destroyed by the cross. Our ability to deal with evil, however, has been given new hope. The hope Jesus offers is a kingdom of justice and compassion in the face of evil.

Caiaphas and Pilate are with us today in the form of terrorism, political tyrants, unethical business practices, injustice in our own government’s actions, and even immoral behavior within the church. The social and cultural context of the cross has not changed. Evil is still present. So . . . what did Christ accomplish? Will our human reality always be the cross, or did Christ accomplish something beyond the cross? Unlike Jesus’ followers, we know that the cross is not the end. Their hopes were dashed as they saw the lifeless body of the Messiah hanging on the cross. For them, it seemed to be finished.

As we observe the cross event today, we do so through the lens of Easter, knowing that resurrection is just around the corner. Before we move to that celebration, however, let the cross remind us of the real character of God, that in the face of evil, injustice, and oppression, it is not lifelessness we see on the cross . . . it is indeed a life of accomplishment. It is through the life and death of Jesus Christ that the kingdom of God is ushered in.

—Dan L. Flanagan

Good Friday, Year A

Sermon on the Gospel Reading

Scripture: John 19:13-16

13When Pilate heard these words, he led Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench at
the place called Stone Pavement (in Aramaic, Gabbatha). 14It was about noon on the
Preparation Day for the Passover. Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Here’s your king.”
15The Jewish leaders cried out, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate responded, “What? Do you want me to crucify your king?”
“We have no king except the emperor,” the chief priests answered. 16Then Pilate handed
Jesus over to be crucified.


Sermon Title: Mistakes that Make the Difference

I once made a mistake in buying a car. I allowed myself to act without adequate study, preparation, and evaluation. I made an impulse buy, the kind retailers only dream of! Sure enough, I hadn’t been driving the car more than a few weeks before I began finding all kinds of things I absolutely hated about the car; within six months, I was trading it for another one (and losing plenty of money in the process). I’m glad you never make mistakes like that! Mistakes come in all sizes, don’t they? Some are small and have little long-term impact; other mistakes have enormous implications. They are like a stone thrown into a tranquil pond; the ripples can be seen far from the point of impact.

They had arrested Jesus and brought him to Pilate, who wanted nothing to do with this itinerant preacher. Yet politics being what they were, Pilate found himself backed into a corner and felt compelled to act on the mob’s demands. Some terrible mistakes were made that day; misjudgments that would have far-reaching implications.

I. They Made the Mistake of Thinking Pilate Was the Real Judge.

As Pilate sat at the judge’s bench preparing to announce his decision, he saw only the short-term. He thought he was the only judge on that stone platform that day, but he was tragically wrong. The One who will someday judge all humanity, including Pilate, stood next to the Roman that day. Pilate just couldn’t see it.

It is easy to judge reality only on the basis of what we see around us. Pilate saw the Roman soldiers with their weapons, answerable to him, and thought he had the real power. He just didn’t realize what authentic power was. Will you make the same mistake, evaluating life by the wrong criteria, and miss the truth of God’s presence?

II. They Made the Mistake of Overlooking Their Real Preparation.

It was the day of Preparation for Passover, John tells us, when they would celebrate God’s deliverance of his people in Egypt. It was an important religious ceremony, a time to worship God. Yet they foolishly overlooked the very Son of God who was standing in their presence— the only one who could truly prepare them to encounter the holy and true God.

Sometimes we make such mistakes. We get caught up in the externals of religion and lose contact with the deeper realities of faith. Will you make the same mistake, allowing your attention to be diverted by ceremony or other external factors, and miss entirely the reality of God’s presence?

III. They Made the Mistake of Ignoring Their Real King.

The world looked to Caesar as the ultimate political power. Pilate certainly did, for his power was delegated by the emperor. The Sanhedrin did, for they knew their own protected status depended on a conciliatory attitude with the Roman authorities. The mob did, for they declared, “We have no king but the emperor.”

They simply didn’t realize that the one who stood before them as the accused was the true king—King of kings and Lord of lords. This one they were about to crucify was actually the one who will reign over all creation. Pilate didn’t realize how true his words were when he asked the mob, “Shall I crucify your King?” The tragedy was that they ignored their true king.

Will you make the same mistake, placing your loyalties and your allegiance with the wrong ruler, and miss the true King who seeks a place in your heart? Mistakes are only permanent when we refuse to correct them. Don’t make the mistake of failing to recognize Jesus for who he truly is, and failing to surrender your heart and life to the true King.

—Michael Duduit

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