This year I’m doing something a little different. I usually roll my eyes hard when I hear about most “sermon series.'” My thought is that unless you’re doing some strong reinforcing things through the week, a series from Sunday-to-Sunday just isn’t enough to catch anyone’s attention. Goodness gracious, sometimes even I forget what I preached about last week.
But, Holy Week is one of those perfect times when a series of sermons on a theme can work. Especially if your community really marks the week with regular attendance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. It’s a great opportunity reinforce one scriptural/ theological concept or theme over the course of a week. And, if done well, it can really begin to ‘set in’ late in the week.
This year, I’m doing a series using the several uses of the word “Passion.”
Passion = the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Passion = strong emotions, feelings
Passion = what gets people off the couch to do something that has meaning to them
Passion = intense love
What I want is for people to see the motivations which led Jesus to the cross (his passionate love), the motivation for the Father to raise him to new life (his passionate love), AND what should be the underpinning of our love for God and neighbor (a similar passionate love).
I want people to reach Easter Sunday morning wanting to get off the couch for Jesus. By Easter Sunday morning I want a parish that is taking on the passionate love of God, and finding outlets to spread that love.
Palm Sunday’s epistle lesson is the perfect launching pad for that. It’s the same epistle lesson that we have every year (in the Revised Common Lectionary and BCP Lectionary) on this day.
The Christ Hymn from the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a perfect text to kick off a series such as this. Scholars have gone back and forth over the years trying to decide whether Paul 1) composed the hymn himself for the purpose of this letter, or 2) it was a well-known and established hymn that Paul inserted into this letter because of its content and familiarity.
Apparently modern scholarship is leaning towards option #1 this decade. Personally, I like to think it’s option #2. I think it’s a simpler explanation for many reasons (which I won’t go into here).
Regardless it’s content is all about the passion of Jesus: who died on a cross and was then highly exalted. The hymn takes the sacrificial nature of Christ’s passion and winds the clock backwards to include the incarnation. In other words, it wasn’t just Jesus’ death that illustrates his self-sacrificing love for us, but even his willingness to come among us as a human (in human form, as a “slave“) was a sacrifice.
The kicker though, is the first phrase: Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.
In other words, whatever it was that motivated Jesus to lower himself for the incarnation and crucifixion should motivate us. So, the passion of Jesus is meant to be a model – a paradigm – for our passion.
If Jesus was a passionate Messiah, we’re to be passionate people. And, if we want know what that looks like we don’t have to go much further beyond Bethlehem or Golgotha.
A sermon that sticks to just highlighting that exchange is more than sufficient. You don’t have to go overboard because 1) it’s already a long Sunday with the Liturgy of the Palms and the full reading of the Passion in the Gospel of St. Mark, and 2) because we have the rest of the week to flesh that out.