Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sermon: Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

9 April 2006 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 21:1-9; 27:11-54 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey.”

For centuries, the Old Testament Church, the daughter of Zion, heard these prophetic words proclaimed in the Temple and in the synagogue. It must have seemed so distant, so far away, so remote as to not even seem real – that is until they saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. St. John’s Gospel tells us the disciples didn’t realize the full impact of Jesus’ majestic ride into Jerusalem until after the resurrection.

But obviously there were lots of people who did get it. First, the multitudes who waved their palm branches to welcome Jesus to David’s Royal City. They get it. They see with their own eyes as Zechariah’s prophecy is fulfilled. For they shout the same greeting as their ancestors did a thousand years earlier as King Solomon took his throne. “Hosanna! God save the King!” And notice they cry out: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” – since they know Jesus is their true and rightful King. This is the true Son of David, the one who is destined to bring David’s eternal Kingdom to fruition. They get it.

The scribes and Pharisees, in spite of their stubbornness, also get it. They know exactly what this entrance on a donkey with palms and cries of “Hosanna” means. And it frightens them. They like their old king, their false king Herod, and their comfortable existence under Caesar and Pilate. They like their old priests, Annas and Caiphas. They like their old Temple made of stone. They like being the spiritual leaders of Israel – and they aren’t about to step aside as a new and greater Prophet, Priest, King, and Temple unseat them. They aren’t about to enter into a confrontation with the Romans over the nature of this new and greater King of the Jews. As the high priest profoundly said, it’s better for one man to die than all of the people.

The demons get it. All throughout Jesus’ ministry, they identified him as the Holy One, the very Son of God. Satan knows very well that this is the Seed who has come to destroy him, the One who is to crush the serpent’s head.

And this dramatic entrance into Jerusalem begins the final battle in the war between God and Satan.

But how different that battle was when compared to everything everyone expected! The disciples had not long before been arguing over who was going to get the best jobs in the Jesus administration. King Herod figured this Messiah was a threat to his puny and phony throne. The multitudes believed this meant the end of Roman occupation and a new day of political independence. And it seems like the devil himself was to be fooled, as he believed that killing Jesus would be a Satanic victory, when in fact, the death of Jesus on the cross was to be the devil’s defeat.

Isn’t it interesting that the same crowds who hailed their King with singing and palm branches and cries for his long life are the very same mob who less than a week later mocked their King with cursing and spit and demands for his crucifixion? For they really weren’t interested in God’s Kingdom, they wanted their own kingdom. They weren’t interested in a Kingdom “not of this world,” they liked the world just fine – along with their flesh and the devil. They didn’t want a savior, they wanted revenge against their oppressors.

Pilate is most confused. He sees an innocent Man on trial, who says nothing in his own defense. Pilate’s wife has been tormented by nightmares about it. He sees right through the sudden loyalty to Caesar displayed by the Jewish leaders – knowing full well they would have supported Jesus if he were a terrorist. But this Jesus is no terrorist. There is something about him that gives Pilate pause. Pilate wants to free him. He sees no threat to the government in this Man. He sees no crime this Man has committed. While convinced of Jesus’ innocence, in the end, Pilate caves in to the mob. Even so, he understands that this King’s Kingdom is “not of this world.” And Pilate confesses as much by making the sign above Jesus’ head read: “This is the King of the Jews.”

And while Jesus prays the Psalms and forgives his tormentors from the cross, the mobs continue to shout. No longer do they hail their King with Hosannas, with cries of “God save the King,” they now challenge their King to save himself. They claim he cannot. And they are right. He can not. I say he cannot not because Jesus lacks the power to come down from the cross, but rather he cannot come down, because that would allow the devil to win, it would prevent the salvation of all of us. Indeed, the people are right for the wrong reason when they say: “He saved others; himself he cannot save.”

Strange things happen as Jesus is on the cross. There are signs in the sky. The sun no longer gives its light for a period of three hours. There are earthquakes, and a resurrection of the dead. The temple curtain is ripped in two, and one of the mocking thieves on the cross miraculously comes to faith and is absolved of his sins by Jesus.

Even one of the guards, a centurion, a hardened officer in the Roman army, as well as his men – perhaps the very unit in charge of driving the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet, plunging the spear in his side, and mocking him on the way to Calvary – witness these things and confess: “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Christian tradition says this centurion converted to the Christian faith, and was himself martyred for confessing Jesus.

And so, dear Christian friends, we enter Holy Week with this narrative on our minds and lips, pondering the mystery of a different kind of Kingdom, and a different kind of King. Today we mark Palm Sunday while processing into this sanctuary while singing “Hosanna!” We joyfully mark the triumph of Jesus over evil, even as we know what this coronation means for our blessed Lord. For though we join the crowds of that first Palm Sunday singing “All Glory Laud and Honor” to our King, we also know that by our sins, by our rebellion, by our refusal to submit to God’s Kingdom, we daily join with the mobs at the cross, demanding our Lord’s crucifixion. We “poor, miserable sinners” also beat our Lord with a stick, crown him with thorns, and spit in his face every time we sin. We flog him, we crucify him, and we mock him hanging on the cross. His blood is indeed on us and on our children.

And thanks be to God for that!

For our Lord did refuse to save himself for the purpose of saving others. His holy blood that we have shed has become our salvation. His blood is on us and on our children – blood that atones for our sins. “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.” Jesus absolves us of all our sins, so that his blood is, for us, not a curse, but a treasure. His holy and perfect blood is infused into our anemic and dying blood. His perfect and incorruptible body is given to us to eat, even as we are made new and incorruptible in body and in soul.

Indeed, the Kingdom of God is unlike any other kingdom of the world. The King dies for us, gives us all of his wealth, then rises again from the dead, crowning us all as his co-regents who will reign forever. King Solomon at his mightiest was a pauper compared to this Son of David. The Roman Empire at its most glorious was a speck of dirt compared to this unworldly and eternal Kingdom.

And Satan, the chief of all the angels who took upon himself the desire to be greater than God, has been defeated once and for all by of all things, a lowly human being, who took the form of a slave, and came in our human likeness.

How humiliating for the once-greatest of all creation, Lucifer, to be humbled and defeated by one who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

For every king of this world, there is only a short time of glory. In glorious Rome, we see emperors being murdered and replaced by cunning relatives – who are themselves killed off by other ambitious folk. We see constant warfare and rebellion. And in the end, every great king and emperor must succumb to death – often in great pain and humiliation.

But look at this different kind of King in his Kingdom not of this world. “God has also highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth.” Every knee will bend before this King. Pilate will kneel before Jesus. Herod will kneel before Jesus. The mobs who mocked him will find themselves genuflecting before him, as will the priests, Pharisees, and scribes.

And so do we, dear Christians. But we genuflect in joy, as our King gives us his very flesh and blood. And it is our privilege to come to this holy place, this embassy of God’s Kingdom, every Sunday to “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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