I've taken a different path on Palm/Passion Sunday this year--the manner in which it developed is the leading of the Holy Spirit, because I have been led to Christ.
Several months ago, an expanding group of ministers/volunteers at First Lutheran Community Church formed an outreach that would meet people in their vocation with the grace of God. We spend so much of our lives in our work, that God's presence should be proclaimed in the midst of that work. I wanted to proclaim God's presence and offer encouragement of gifts present in vocation. We've called this ministry "Celebrating Faces in the Community," offering thanks for a particular line of work in worship the last Sunday of each month. January offered thanks for health care workers, February offered thanks for people in education. Our March service is in recognition of "First Responders," emergency personnel, law enforcement, firefighters, EMT's and others like them. The group serving in this ministry considered changing the date because of Palm/Passion Sunday and working around the sermon series related to challenging texts of the Old Testament. I had an idea about how these strands of worship, proclamation and service could be woven together, but I lacked confidence.
After the recent violent events near my home in Federal Way, reading the Passion stories, and studying the Old Testament book of Judges, I realized I didn't need to weave as much of the aforementioned themes as I thought.
"First Responders" as we know them are not mentioned in the Bible, but First Responders are established to provide the grace of God in the midst of violent and chaotic situations. What is the source of violence in the book of Judges? Jephtha's lack of trust in the presence of God with him, the sacrifice/child abuse/murder of his daughter, and the ensuing civil war in the land of Israel. What happens in the midst of this civil war? Judges 17:6 and 21:25 provide bookends for the actions of the people when they do not trust God: "all the people did what was right in their own eyes."
In between these bookends in Judges we see some of the most despicable and egregious acts of violence in all of scripture. One can read of rape, complete and violent disregard for the human body, and murder. This takes us back to the question "why is there so much violence in the Bible? Why would we even bother reading these Bible passages?" This takes us back to a key discussion point early in the sermon series from Professor Jacobson. A key interpretive question about Bible passages is "is this passage prescriptive or descriptive?" Is this passage telling us what to do, or is this passage describing a situation? If we look at this passage as prescriptive--telling us what to do, then we legitimize violence in the name of God for our own purposes. This is the exact point of the passage. The reason we have violence in Judges in the first place is that "all the people did what was right in their own eyes." The people of Bible times are not any more violent than we are--Judges is telling a story about ourselves and the consequences of when we do what is right in our own eyes.
"...all the people did what was right in their own eyes" is the human drama of Holy Week.
+ Jesus is brought up on charges because "all the people did what was right in their own eyes."
+ Jesus is mocked by leaders of all stripes in because "all the people did what was right in their own eyes."
+ Jesus is abandoned by his followers because "all the people did what was right in their own eyes."
+ Jesus is executed because "all the people did what was right in their own eyes."
First Responders are not our source of our salvation, but they do provide the grace of God in the midst of a world where "all the people did what was right in their own eyes." This is not to say that First Responders are perfect, but they are the grace and compassion in some of the worst possible situations. For a people and society that does what is right in their own eyes, the grace of God is our only hope for transformation. The grace of God is made perfect and real in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus who conquers death in the hoards of people who "do what is right in their own eyes." Thanks to all the First Responders in our midst who provide the grace of God in unspeakable violence and chaos, thanks be to God in Jesus Christ, who withstood our violent, chaotic behavior so that we may know that there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God.