For Women’s History Month 2015, GCSRW is pleased to offer a series of sermon preparation notes and resources written by Rev. Hyemin Na and following the lectionary texts for March. PDFs of the sermon notes are also available here.
WEEK 5: March 29, 2015
The Passion of Christ Sunday
The cross was used by the Roman Empire to suppress any form of resistance against its rule, against its values, against its ways. Whatever and whoever would speak or act out against its grip would be violently silenced. They were silenced publicly, in a dehumanizing and humiliating fashion, as an example for any who dare harbor seeds of dissent. The tortured, beaten and stripped bodies were displayed on crosses lining the main roads leading into cities. These bodies were left out for the wild animals and birds to tear, rip and peck at, adding to the shame on these individuals and their respective communities. It was a fierce political weapon used by the powerful, by the ones who benefited most from the status quo. The cross represents what humans do to one another, individually, societally, and systematically, in complex webs of fear, hatred, abuse and violence.
Right and wrong, innocence and guilt were determined by human authorities who had conflicting and self-serving standards of ethics. Jesus, who lived by a different compass point, manifested in his words and actions the blindingly brilliant realm of God and was, therefore, condemned for punishment. His teachings and ministry were too radical, upsetting and threatening to both religious and political authorities.
The passion narrative is a rich and disturbing tapestry of the human condition and the corruption of human relationships. The passion narrative is one of jealousy and deep insecurities (15:10), ignorance (15:14), cowardice, indifference, and neglect (15:15). Contempt and callousness are themes found throughout as well. We wince and grieve at such sadistic violence dealt out to any living being.
The Passion Narrative Plays out in 2015
The instruments of shame and death may have changed, but the gruesome reality of the “cross” persists. Our black and allied communities in the U.S. are still outraged by the double standards of “justice” we witnessed in Ferguson, where certain lives were deemed dispensable because of the color of their skin. The Boko Haram has massacred thousands of innocents. Their marauding armies are fronted by dispensable child soldiers who are trained to kill other children, women, and men indiscriminately. Over 200 female students from Chibok, who were abducted by this terrorist group, remain missing more than a year after their kidnapping. Many influential leaders in the Japanese government adhere to a revisionist approach to history which denies a history of “comfort women.” In so doing, they minimalize the Imperial Japanese Army’s role in kidnapping 200,000 to 300,000 girls and women from occupied countries and forcing them into sexual slavery. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime, and gender-based violence against women continues to be one of the most common forms of human rights violations.
Crosses are strewn across towns, villages, cities and nations today. Bodies, beloved, exquisitely created, bearing the sacred image of God, are brutalized in many forms. In the busyness of daily living, many in our congregations are not present for Holy Week services. What is Easter if one skips directly from the triumphalism of Palm Sunday into resurrection? We must be reminded of the extent and horror of human sin that manifest in our midst. It is important for our congregations to name evil for what it is and to recognize its existence and prevalence.
We cannot begin to comprehend Easter joy and resurrection hope until we, as a Church, weep with those who weep and shake in anger at the injustices that bind and silence lives. In the hearing of the Passion narrative, we mourn; we repent of any complicity in the workings of oppression, and confess to our willful ignorance. For those in the Church who have been victimized in any way, the Passion narrative is an affirmation of the victim’s side of the story. Jesus knows, and understands. And when the Passion narrative is retold, the Church is galvanized to uncover the truth hidden in the victor’s embellishments, the perpetrator’s active erasing, the oppressor’s version of history. The Passion narrative pushes the Church beyond the privilege of remaining oblivious.
Creative Sermon Ideas
It will be difficult to preach from this Sunday’s text, as it is too long. For several years I have had dynamic readings of the Passion narrative in its entirety. Consider letting the drama of the story lead the congregation through worship and providing a brief theological framing for the congregation. You may also want to follow up such an intense worship with concrete recommendations for individuals, small groups, and/or the congregation to pursue as part of their response. It may be powerful to show carefully and thoughtfully selected images that coincide with the Passion reading as well. No matter what form of worship is created by the people of your congregation, instruct all to depart with the full understanding that God is on the side of the oppressed, and shares in their pain, even unto death.
May all know that God does not condone violence but would subvert the cross to expose the frailty of human systems of “justice.” This will set the tone for what is to come—Easter vindication of life.
Bartlett, David Lyon and Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Vol. 2. Louisville: WJK Press, 2008.
Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark, Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011.
Kim, Seong Hee. Mark, Women and Empire: A Korean Postcolonial Perspective, The Bible in the Modern World. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010.
Kinukawa, Hisako. “Women Disciples of Jesus (15:40-41; 15.47; 16.1).” In A Feminist Companion to Mark, edited by Amy-Jill and Marianne Blickenstaff. Levine, 171-190. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2001.
The “Gallery” section of The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible includes an insightful collection of images related to the cross. The commentary provides a helpful lens in assessing the ideological assumptions behind religious images that we or our congregations may take for granted.
DeYoung, Curtiss Paul, Wilda C. Gafney, Leticia A. Guardiola-Sáenz, George “Tink” Tinker, and Frank M. Yamada. The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.
Hyemin Na, a cradle Methodist, is an ordained Elder in the Northern-Illinois Conference and is currently a Ph.D. student in Homiletics at Emory University. She is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (M.Div) and Harvard (A.B.). She is interested in exploring how preaching is done faithfully and well in our postmodern society, with an ear on the ground for the voices of religious “nones,” and an eye out for visual culture. She makes her home in a suburb of Atlanta with a couple of old time prophets: Daniel, a fellow UMC Elder and spouse, and Elijah, of her womb.