Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes on The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Passion Sunday and Passiontide

In the Book of Common Prayer this Sunday is entitled: “The Fifth Sunday in Lent Commonly Called Passion Sunday. The old Latin name was Dominica in Passione Domini.
The name of Passion Sunday has been given to the second Sunday before Good Friday froom time immemorial, because on that day the Lord began to make open predictions of His coming sufferings. Those sufferings also begin now to be commemorated in the Scriptures for the season. J. H Blunt, Annotated Book of Common Prayer, New edition, (Longmans, Green & Co., 1892)
This Sunday was also known as Judica, from the use of Psalm 43, Judica me, Deus. as the Introit. This is the Introit appointed in the Prayer Book. Other names for this Sunday that were used for dating documents in the old times were Isti sunt dies and Dominica mediana; I hav enot yet discovered why these names were used.
In the revised liturgy, the name Passion Sunday has been appropriated to the Sunday Next Before Easter, now known by the rather cumbersome title “Sunday of the Passion with the Liturgy of the Palms”. Nonetheless the readings to some extent continue to point more clearly towards the Passion. For a brief note on the Roman usage, see
Blunt notes that at “the last attempt to alter the Prayer Book in 1688”
[1] a new Collect was proposed for this Sunday. He gives the text of the proposed Collect, which despite the rather prolix style of the time might be of interest:
O Almighty God, Who hast sent thy Son Jesus Christ to be an High Priest of good things to come, and by His own Blood to enter in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us; mercifully look upon Thy people, that by the same Blood of our Saviour, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot unto Thee, our consciences may be purged from dead works, to serve Thee, the living God, that we may receive the promise of eternal inheritance, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is the custom in some places to veil pictures, crosses, and statues at this time; in the Prayer Book rite, red may be used instead of violet from Passion Sunday. In The Ritual Reason Why Charles Walker explains this custom thus:
Veiling or covering is a sign of mourning (Isa 25.7); and in some parts of the church the crosses and pictures were accordngly veiled throughout Lent. The spirit of the Passion-tide veiling seems to be, that the Church would draw off our attention from everything except Him whose suffering she is commemorating, bidding us “consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners.” It was also synbolical of the hiding of our Lord’s glory during his earthly life, and especially during His ignominious and bitter Passion.
In that that last point the symbolism might appear to jar with the note in today’s Gospel of the lifting up of the Lord as his glorification, “the great Johannine apprehension that the Passion is the divine Glory” (Temple). In the mystery of the Cross both glory and humility are found together and operate together, and it is a mistake to lose sight of one or the other. As with the most important doctrines (such as unity in Trinity, the union of divine and human nature in the one Christ) we are called to hold what appear to be opposites together, grasping as it were with both hands, lest we lose hold of either and fall into error. On this general principle See Eric Mascall, Via Media.

The Readings
Jeremiah 31.31-34
Jeremiah was either born or began his ministry in 627 BC; it continued until sometime after 580, probably in Egypt. He was descended from the priest Abiathar, whom Solomon had banished to Anathoth (1 Kg 2.26-27); In Jeremiah’s time, Babylon succeeded Assyria as the dominant power in the Middle East. Jeremiah witnessed the return to worship of the Lord (instituted by the Judean king Josiah), and then (after Josiah's death in battle in 609), the return of many of the people to paganism. At the fall of Jerusalem in 587, Jeremiah emigrated to Egypt.
This prophecy was written after the fall of Jerusalem. It follows the prophecy in which Jeremiah rejected the belief that descendents were punished for the sins of the ancestors (the proverb, “The father’s have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” 31.29) and declared: “everyone shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge” (31.30)
Jeremiah opposes an increasingly limited concept of the Sinai covenant and affirms that YHWH will cut a new covenant inscirbed on the hearts of the people. “To cut” a covenant is the oldest expression for covenant making. See 17.1, 32.38-40; Ezekiel 11.19, Hos 2.20. (I think this note is from NOAB, and apologize if I stole it from someone else.)
The Psalm
There is a choice of Psalms today. Psalm 51 is the Miserere, the greatest of penitential Psalms. (It might be good to listen to the splendid setting by Allegri in preparation for Sunday.) The superscription, which is not in the liturgical psalter says that it is a Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. It was recitred on Ash Wednesday and is repeated again at Matins of Holy Monday, and in the traditional service of Tenebrae. Used today, it is linked to the first reading by the verse Cor mundum crea in me, Deus, et spiritum firmum innova in visceribus meis, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me”. The mediaeval rabbinic commentator Rashi added to “Create for me a pure heart, O God” the words “so that I do not stumble again.”
The other choice is 119.9-16, which may also be understood as a prayer for a new heart.

The Epistle
Hebrews 5.5-10 speaks of the suffering of Christ, the Son of God and the true Priest. On Melchizedek, and indeed for an expansion of the meaning of this passage, see Hebrews 7.1-22: 7.22 ties the whole complex of ideas back to the reading from Jeremiah: “accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant;” a better, and hence a new one.
This reading also recalls the Lord’s agony in verse 7, “he offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” The NOAB comments that his prayer was heard in the sense that he learned obedience by submitting to the divine will, which involved death.

The Gospel, John 12.20-33.
The fourth Gospel does not recount the agony in the Garden, going straight to the betrayal and arrest (John 18.1-3). However, verses 27 and 28 of today’s passage incorporate the essence of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden). “Here we find the substance of the prayer then offered, though at a less pitch of tension, as befits the moment. What took place in the Garden was not an isolated crisis; it was the focus of a lifelong temptation and of a lifelong ictory over temptation.” [William Temple]
This, then is the hour for which we have been waiting since the sign at Cana (John 2.4: my hour has not yet come). As at the Agony in the Garden, Jesus fully accepts the Father’s will and offers himself to be lifted up for the life of the world. Therefore, in this hour is the judgement of the world and the casting out of its prince. Though it will seem to be the triumph of the world —of Caiaphas and the priests, of Pilate and his master of Rome, of the fickle crowd thirsting maybe for little more than excitement— all these are judged and condemned by the one condemned to the Cross. Indeed, recalling that the Greek for judgement is κρίσις (krisis), we realize that this is the Crisis of the world, the hour of choice to which all who look on the uplifted Son of man are called and in which the healing of the world is offered (see John 3.14-15)
We need to note that in verse 25 the word “life” is used for two different words in the original, and that the distinction which is missed is important for understanding verse 27.
25 Those who love their life [psychē] lose it, and those who hate their life [psychē] in this world will keep it for eternal life [zōē].
27 Now my soul [psychē] is troubled. And what should I say, 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
Archbishop Temple’s comments on these verses are helpful: "There are two Greek words here, and we have to use ‘life’ for both. The ‘life’ which we must not love, the life in this world, is the animal life with all that goes with it of sentience and its pleasures. The other word, used in the phrase Life eternal, is the vitalizing enrergy itself." And a little further on, “Life comes through death, but it is real death, and the soul shrinks from it. In Greek the word for soul is that which is translated ‘life’ in life in this world. His whole human nature, His natural humanity shrank from what lay before Him."
Finally we return to the beginning of the passage. The coming of Jesus’ hour is marked by the request of “some Greeks” to see Jesus, that is, to meet him and speak with him. This passage follows immediately the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12.12-19), which ends with the Pharisees’ observation, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.” It has been suggested that the Evangelist mentions the Greeks as a confirmation of these words.
It is sometimes said that the request of the Greeks that opens this passage should be written on every pulpit so that that preachers may see them and be reminded of their task: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Perhaps it should be memorized by all Christians so we may always be prepared to represent him to the world.

That is all the time I have this week. Please note, it is likely that rather than producing new notes for Palm Sunday and Holy Week I will simply refer you to the archived postings from last year, since the readings are for the most part the same in all three years..

[1] This date may suggest, at least in part, why the liturgical revisions of recent years were overdue.


Felicity Pickup said...

re "simply refer you to the archived postings from last year"

Yes, found & used them. Thank you.

William Craig said...

I'm glad you found them. Oh that I had a private income and could afford to give these notes the attention they deserve!