Palm/Passion Sunday

Last Days of the Kuomintang, Peking, 1949 by Henri Cartier-Bresson — gelatin silver print, printed later, 9 1/2 x 14 inches. Image by

April 2, 2023 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Liturgy of the Palms Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 • Matthew 21:1-11
Liturgy of the Passion Isaiah 50:4-9a • Psalm 31:9-16 • Philippians 2:5-11 • Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

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Image description: Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was present in China during the civil war that ended in 1949 with a victory for the Chinese Communist party. The ousted Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party, retreated to Taiwan. Taken at midday, a man sits eating a meal at a crude bench. His hat rests on the bench and his coat has been tossed over a basket beside him. Heavy shadows of the canopy structure above fall on the paneled wall behind him. In a panel opening near the upper left of the image is another man who sits gazing out through the opening. The look on this man’s face could be calm, maybe pensive, or even blank — perhaps he is in deep thought or perhaps not.

Because the Lord, the Eternal, helps me I will not be disgraced; so, I set my face like a rock, confident that I will not be ashamed. — Isaiah 50:7

I give the moments of my life over to You, Eternal One. Rescue me from those who hate me and who hound me with their threats. Look toward me, and let Your face shine down upon Your servant. Because of Your gracious love, save me! — Psalm 31:15-16

In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts. — Philippians 2:5

When evening came, Jesus sat down with the twelve. And they ate their dinner.
Jesus: I tell you this: one of you here will betray Me.
The disciples, of course, were horrified.
A Disciple: Not me!
Another Disciple: It’s not me, Master, is it?
Jesus: It’s the one who shared this dish of food with me. That is the one who will betray Me. Just as our sacred Scripture has taught, the Son of Man is on His way. But there will be nothing but misery for he who hands Him over. That man will wish he had never been born. At that, Judas, who was indeed planning to betray Him, said,
Judas Iscariot: It’s not me, Master, is it?
Jesus: I believe you’ve just answered your own question.
— Matthew 26:20-25

Peter: Lord, maybe everyone else will trip and fall tonight, but I will not. I’ll be beside You. I won’t falter.
Jesus: If only that were true. In fact, this very night, before the cock crows in the morning, you will deny Me three times.
— Matthew 26:33-34

Then He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with Him, and He grew sorrowful and deeply distressed.
Jesus: My soul is overwhelmed with grief, to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.
He walked a little farther and finally fell prostrate and prayed.
Jesus: Father, this is the last thing I want. If there is any way, please take this bitter cup from Me. Not My will, but Yours be done.
— Matthew 26:37-39

And then, starting at noon, the entire land became dark. It was dark for three hours. In the middle of the dark afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice.
Jesus: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani—My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
— Matthew 27:45-46

Understanding the context of the photo we are exploring today will help in making connections with our texts. This image was taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French pioneer in the art of photography. Cartier-Bresson is known for the “decisive moment” — an exact moment that when captured on film communicates most effectively the drama, the relationship, the tension, the beauty, the sorrow, etc. of an experience at given place and time. This photo is taken prior to the Chinese Communist Party taking control of the government of China in 1949. We see a man eating a hearty meal, an image standing in stark contrast the famine that would later starve 30 million people in China due to radical policies and economic mismanagement by the new regime.

I chose this photo for the feeling it evokes of impending darkness, suffering, unknowns. A similar woeful anticipation echoes in the events leading up to Christ’s death on the cross. As you explore this image, consider looking at the main components and asking how they serve as metaphors for elements within the lectionary texts.

These questions may help guide you:
Who might the man eating the meal represent? Christ? Judas? The other disciples? Myself?
What about the man behind the screen? Who might he represent? Christ? Peter? The Father? Judas? Myself?
What do the canopy shadows make you think of?
If we connect Jesus’ declaration of bread as his body and wine as his blood to the food being eaten by the man, what new thoughts come to mind?

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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