Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Preaching Helps: Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday-Pentecost

Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Preaching Helps: Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday-Pentecost

Article excerpt

Preaching John

These "Preaching Helps" take us from Passion Sunday through Pentecost. A friend once agreed to provide commentary on these texts for year B, because he really loves Mark's Gospel. Settling down to work, he opened the lectionary and found all the readings from John. My friend was somewhat chagrined since, like so many preachers (including me), he finds John challenging to preach.

When my friend Barbara Rossing and I teach our award-winning (1) senior interdisciplinary course, "Preaching John," I begin my first lecture with this bold statement: Traditionally, in the lectionaries of the Church, the Gospel of John is given the final word. While the synoptic gospels may provide the "history," the Gospel of John provides the theology. These Preaching Helps illustrate the point. During the Triduum--the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil--John interprets the Paschal Mystery of Christ's passion, death and resurrection (2) both in lectionary and liturgy. Maundy Thursday is observed with footwashing (John 13:1-17, 31-35b); on Good Friday we adore the cross as Christ's glory (John 18:1-19:32). Turning to Easter, while the synoptic gospels are appointed for the Vigil, John 20:1-18 is appointed for Easter Day in all three cycles John receives the final word. Throughout the Easter Season, John is used to proclaim the glory of Jesus Christ.

John regards the resurrection through a particular angle of vision. Rather than treating the resurrection as an episode in the gospel narrative that reveals something new about Jesus, John sees the risen Jesus in the man Jesus. Throughout John's Gospel, Jesus is understood as both temporal and eternal, human and divine, Fully revealing God amidst the realities and confines of history. The first three Sundays of the Easter season concern the resurrection and the risen Lord; we are called to sec and believe (like the Beloved Disciple) and not doubt (like Thomas). The last tour Sundays concern our life in Christ. Belief emails relationship with both members of the Church and members of the Godhead.

Teaching with Barb Rossing has made John my favorite Gospel. It's also taught me a couple of cautions when preaching from this book. First, somewhere in all my reading for the course, I found the poignant reminder that there is undeniably an anti-Semitism built into the gospel telling of the events of Jesus' last days, especially at the hands of John the Evangelist. It is not "the crowd" or "some of the people" or "those who collaborated with the Roman occupation" who are the villains; it is "the "Jews." This has meant, over time, that Holy Week has been the season most productive of hate crimes against Jews. Christian anti-Semitism is part of our tradition, surely a part of which we can only be ashamed, but one that risks perpetuation through the passing on of words (and ritual actions) that escape critique. To remember must include remembering the dark side as well, with an eye to its vigorous amelioration. The kind of remembering that is to shape and form us must be truth-telling. As a start, Barb has taught me to use Judeans instead of "Jews" when I read from and preach out of John's Gospel.

Even as I write that we must "remember the dark side," I cringe uncomfortably over John's use of darkness and light. (3) Scholars say that everyone in the ancient world agreed that God is light. But this premise plays differently to people for whom the light of day does not automatically bring safety and the darkness of night does not automatically signal danger. I shudder when I'm reminded that it is painful for someone with dark skin to hear that "God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Being legally blind, I know firsthand that to walk in the light often hurts. I wear sunglasses both to darken my world so that I can function and to protect my eyes from the light. Left unaddressed, all John's talk of darkness and light may confuse us instead of proclaiming new life. …

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