Liturgy of the Passion: The Gospel Passage – Getting to the crux of the story

There are two gospel passages for the Liturgy of the Passion. One of them quite long, and the other even longer. And if it makes sense, both passages take us through the entire passion story, which is also played out during Holy Week. One of the passages is Matthew 27:11- 54, picks up the story when Jesus was brought before the governor Pilate.

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.” (Matthew 27:11 – 14)

The passage ends with Jesus’ death. The other longer passage starts with Matthew 26:14 . . . .

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14 – 16)

and continues all the way to Matthew 27:66 where the body of Jesus is sealed in the tomb.

The longer passage also contains the writer of Matthews account of Jesus’ last Passover with his disciples, also known as the Last Supper.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.” (Verses 17 – 19)

It was during the Passover, this Last Supper, that Judas took his opportunity to betray Jesus.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” (Verses 20 – 25)

Judas left to carry out what was foreordained for him to do. And the rest of the disciples and Jesus continue to break bread together. But the conversation turned to the broken bread becoming a symbol of Jesus’s sacrifice.

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Verses 26 – 30)

The story continues with Jesus speaking to his disciples and preparing them for the events that the coming days would hold. We are familiar enough with the story; Peter’s promise of fidelity that breaks apart under pressure. Jesus praying in the garden. Judas leading then temple guards and others to Jesus. Jesus arrest and trial. His sentencing. And finally his death and burial. So, there we are at the end of the Passion story.

It occurs to me, the story of the Passion, and the Palms, does not change regardless of which lectionary year it is. Of course the book of the gospel changes from year to year (this year Matthew is used for the Passion/Psalms and the gospel of John is used during Holy Week) but the story is pretty consistent. Perhaps that is a silly and naïve observation. But my point in mentioning it is that regardless of the theme of the lectionary year or the particular slant given each year, the Messiah Jesus Christ is pretty consistent. A good thing to remember in a world that constantly seems to be changing. Shalom!