April 17, 2011: Prelude to The Passion According to Matthew

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Passion/Palm Sunday

Through the years I have been tempted to forgo preaching a sermon after the reading of the Passion Story. Today, I yield to temptation. Hold the applause, please. After we participate in this reading, nothing else needs to be said.

Listen carefully to the reading. The characters in this story live inside us in one way or another. We are ones who have failed, denied and even betrayed our Lord, not in the ways of those who actually did, yet the results are the same. Our ways are more ordinary and common. Like Pilate or Peter, we know times we could have stood for what we believed, but kept silent. Like High Priests, scribes and Pharisees, we’ve fought to keep the status quo, unwilling to see that God might be up to something new and unexpected. Like Judas, might we betray our Lord when we want to make him Lord on our terms, not his. Do we mock Jesus when we call him the Prince of Peace, and still carry hatred in our hearts? We casually walk by his cross, because we’ve heard this story so often. Are we ones for whom Jesus prays, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”?Scripture says this drama of suffering and death has been God’s plan all along. If that’s so, Judas wasn’t even needed. God’s the one with blood on His hands. It’s his will. And it’s the divine price it takes to love and redeem the sorry lot of us.

Imagine you are there in Jerusalem today, part of the crowds and officials. Be open and listen to what you hear inside you. We are all guilty, yet God who uses to do other than love us unconditionally, steps in to turn this mess into a love story that defies explanation.

And after we’re finished and sit in silence, then join in sing a hymn (last stanza): “Here might I stay and sing – No story so divine! Never was love, dear King, Never was grief like thine. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.” Maybe we’ll be able to mean it.

My song is love unknown

My song is love unknown,  My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,  That they might lovely be.
O who am I, That for my sake
My Lord should take Frail flesh, and die?

He came from His blest throne Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend, My Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way, And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” Is all their breath,
And for His death They thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have  My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save, The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He To suffering goes,
That He His foes From thence might free.

In life, no house, no home My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb, But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb Wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King, Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, In whose sweet praise
I all my days Could gladly spend. [1]

[1] From The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal Church), Church Pension Fund, p.458. Words: Samuel Crossman (1624-1683); Music: Love Unknown, by John Ireland (1879-1962).


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