“When I Am Weak”
(A Reflection For Palm-Passion Sunday)
This coming weekend we will be observing Palm-Passion Sunday, which in the church year signals the beginning of Holy Week (Maundy Thursday with Jesus instituting the Last Supper “in remembrance,” Good Friday with Jesus going to the Cross “for our sin and salvation,” and the wonder of Easter Sunday with Jesus “overcoming sin, death, and the devil” for us, by his resurrection. This weekend will also conclude our Lenten Study on the book of Psalms, giving special focus to Psalm 31.
Much like the music of Jazz, we have found various genres or styles in the Psalms. For example, we have heard the diminished “Blues” of lament such as Psalm 51:1 (“Have mercy on me, O God … blot out my transgressions”). But as well, we have also heard the up-beat “Swing” of praise and thanksgiving lifted up in Psalm 121:2, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” In sum: the book of Psalms at once speaks of our human condition of sin yet also of our being met by God’s Word of steadfast mercy and grace that reaches across the whole gamut of our life of faith. And so, let me ask: “As you listen to the heart of Psalm 31, for this coming weekend’s reading, what are you hearing?”
“Be gracious to me, O [God], for I am in distress; my eye is wasted
from grief , my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my
years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones
waste away.” (Psalm 31:9)
At least this part of the psalm is without question, a lament. Can you feel the weariness of the psalmist? In “body and soul” the psalmist is absolutely spent … wearied right down to “my bones [that are] wasting away.” And so it is with Jesus in our first Gospel text for this coming weekend from Luke 19:28-40. Think on the fact that at this point in his life, as Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem on that Palm-Passion Sunday (what in Jesus’ time, the Jewish tradition referred to as the beginning of Passover) … he’s doggedly spent himself in a ministry of healing, teaching, traveling, being ridiculed and challenged … day after day … for now some three years since his ministry began at his baptism.
In our mid-week Bible study this past Wednesday, a woman pointed out something I’d never really “seen” before: as Jesus and the disciples prepare to enter the gates of Jerusalem, “they set Jesus upon [the donkey]” (Luke 19:35). “Could it be,” she questioned, “that Jesus was so weary that his disciples needed to help him up onto the donkey’s back? I mean, he must have been totally exhausted, say nothing of what he knew was his destiny with death, finally being used up for our salvation.” Could it be? And so what was it that kept Jesus going, his grounds for hope and strength, facing the cross? Listen once more to the words of Psalm 31 …
“BUT I trust in thee, O Lord, I say, ‘Thou art my God.’ My times are [and
have always been] in thy hands; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors!
Let thy face shine on thy servant; save me in thy steadfast love!” (Psalm 31:14-16)
My friends, think carefully and deeply with me on this … There are places in our hearts where only weakness can get in, where power and glory cannot enter. Knowing that, God has sent his Son in the likeness of a suffering servant (see our Old Testament lesson for this Sunday from Isaiah 50:4-9a), taking on our frail flesh and the sins of the world. And Christ, having laid aside his majesty and taking the form of a servant, being obedient even unto death on the cross, was crucified in weakness (see our Epistle lesson for this Sunday from Philippians 2:5-11). And on him God has laid the chastisement that has made us whole.
So it is, that when we come to the end of ourselves that we are most ready for the saving, steadfast presence of God. And then, into the earthen vessel of our own weakness is poured the whole counsel of God. Yes, even in the weakness and weariness of life, what we are called to embrace there is a supreme strength because it is God’s strength. For when we are weak, then we are strong (II Corinthians 12:10b) – in Christ. “O bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me” (Psalm 103:1)!
Dr. John Christopherson