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Passiontide

Divine Service themes for March

 

The service for the departed at the beginning of the month is closely linked with the ensuing divine services marking Passiontide, which commemorate Christ’s time of suffering and its aftermath. We empathize with and have compassion for those in eternity who still wait for redemption through the merit of Christ, but we also give thanks for the offer of salvation that opens up for them as a result of Christ’s suffering and death.

Nearly all the divine services in the month of March are associated with the Passion of Jesus Christ. The term “Passion” has its source in Latin and denotes “suffering”. In the special case of Passiontide, this represents the period of Jesus Christ’s suffering.

The striking events of salvation history from this time include Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the institution of Holy Communion, Jesus’ arrest, the ensuing indignities and torments He endured up to and including His path to Golgotha, and His cruel death on the cross. However, the despair of the disciples—which is reflected for example in Jesus’ farewell discourses and which often becomes apparent when Jesus makes reference to His death—also belongs in the context of Passiontide.

The dual character of Palm Sunday becomes clear in the divine service marking this holy day. On the one hand, the oil with which Mary anoints Jesus is a sign of His majesty and Messiahship (the terms “Messiah” and “Christ” both mean “Anointed One”) and, on the other hand, the oil mentioned here already points to the imminent death of Jesus. At the time of Christ it was customary to anoint dead bodies with oil. This is already foreshadowed by Mary’s deeds upon the living Jesus. This is how the statement recorded in the “Context” of the Bible text for Palm Sunday is to be understood: “She has kept this for the day of My burial” (John 12: 7). Beyond that, oil was a sign of joy, and thus the oil also points to the joy that was unleashed by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. We therefore understand that the significance of Jesus’ anointing has multiple facets.

On Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ death, it seems that evil has won, and so this day is filled with grief and pain. Only on Easter does it become clear that this was in fact a day of victory over evil. 

 

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