Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sermon: Dominica Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

1 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Matt 27:11-54; Zech 9:9-12; Phil 2:5-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

On this Palm Sunday, we have two Gospel readings (which, incidentally also happens every time we have a baptism). As we processed into this holy place named after Jerusalem, we called to mind our Lord’s procession into David’s Holy City. We heard anew the proclamation of St. Matthew concerning the commencement of our blessed Lord’s passion.

Year after year, we wave palms and sing All Glory Laud and Honor to Him, our Redeemer and King. As we are in our final week of the penitential season of Lent, and even as we still refrain from singing Glory Be to God on High and as we hold off chanting Glory Be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can’t completely stifle our praise to the Redeemer King who makes his triumphal entry into his kingdom on a lowly donkey.

But we also replay a bit of this Palm Sunday pageantry every week in the Divine Service – in the Sanctus. Right before our Lord comes to us humble, and riding under the forms of bread and wine, we laud and magnify his name as he processes into this holy place, this Salem, with the very same shout: “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!”

For as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as our Lord and King rode among His subjects, and just as He came bearing gifts, and just as He came humbly, motivated not by a desire for self-aggrandizement, but in order to do His Father’s will, and just as He is the One who loves us with such a perfect love that He would lay down His life for His friends – He continues to do the same today.

For no truer confession has ever been uttered than those divine words penned by St. Paul about our Lord Jesus: “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

Though He is exalted and sits at the right hand of the Father, and though He is in His glorious body that shall never again die, that shall never see corruption – it is a body that He continues to subject to space and time, permitting Himself to be handled by sinners.

For Jesus, the triumphant King and Master of the universe is still playing the servant, still kneeling before us to wash our feet, still doing our bidding as a common slave. He continues to invite us to His table where He is both host and feast. He drinks the fruit of the vine anew with us in the Kingdom of God – just as He promised.

He continues to serve us, dear brothers and sisters, even as we continue to be fickle, to praise Him with our tongues and betray Him with our deeds. For the same crowds that sang “Hosanna” in our first Gospel were shouting “Let Him be crucified” in our second. The more things change…

This is what makes Jesus a truly divine King. For history has many examples of kings who lay down their lives for their people, their country, their homes, or even a noble idea. The new movie 300 is a retelling of the story of the 300 Spartan heroes who stood up against a million man army of invading Persians at a critical pass called Thermopylae nearly 2,500 years ago. The heroic sacrifice of King Leonidas and his brave soldiers who laid down their lives in order to fight a delaying action until Greece could ready itself to repel King Xerxes and the mighty Persian Empire has been told and retold thousands of times. A good king will lay down his life for his people. Good kings are rare, but they do exist.

Jesus does this, and more. For He is not just a good king, he is the Good Shepherd, he is the Son of David, he is the great I AM, who lays down His life not just for his own tribe, his own supporters, but even for His enemies, even for those who drive the nails, even for His mockers, even for sinners like us whose wicked thoughts, words, and deeds brought the pain of the passion, cross, and death to Him. Jesus not only dies for His friends, but for His enemies as well – for us who choose to please ourselves instead of submitting to our rightful King, we who seek to serve ourselves instead of others, we who routinely opt for evil instead of good.

For our Good King, our Good Shepherd, has humbled Himself and come as a sheep, as a sacrificial lamb that “goes uncomplaining forth.” For Jesus knows His Father’s will, He knows His mission, and even as the adoring crowds wave palms and sing His praise, He knows they will soon become a lynch mob. And yet, he rides on in majesty just the same.

Even as the adoring crowds sang “Hosanna” as Jesus began his holy week journey – a word that means “Save Him!” – a word that basically means “God save the King!” – they will soon join the malignant taunts of jeering multitudes as He suffered on the cross, saying: “save Yourself… He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” Indeed, even as He saves others, He Himself dies. And yet, it isn’t true that He cannot save Himself, for that will come at Easter.

For in rescuing us, He will indeed rescue Himself. The grave will not hold Him. Evil will not declare victory. The taunts of the crowds will be silenced. The pain of the cross will be removed. The stench of death will give way to the fresh breath of life. The sting of the thorn will be replaced by the sweetness of wine. The sweat of the brow will be overcome by pools of living water. The groans of pain of giving birth to new life will be supplanted by the joyful singing of the multitudes of heavenly saints waving palms. The cemetery plot will be replaced by gardens, and the Lord will once more walk with His people, and His beloved children will see Him face to face. And “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Until that great and glorious day, we Christians can only experience the foretaste of the Great Feast. We sing “Hosanna” – “God save the King” - even as our God and King saves us, even as he invites us to dine with Him, even as we continue to fall into sin and even as we seem helpless in the face of death. We come to this altar week after week to receive everlasting life from the King who humbles Himself, who dies for our sakes, and who continues to give us rich and eternal gifts.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And so with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying:

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He, blessed is He; blessed is He
That cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Amen.

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

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