Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sermon: Palmarum – 2011

17 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-11, Matt 27:11-54

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.

As our Lord “drew near to Jerusalem,” He was given a welcome fit for a king. In fact, He was received and acclaimed as a king. He did not walk through the city gate, but was “mounted on a donkey,” a beast of burden. And though such a mount was humble, it reflected the same ride into David’s Royal City by David’s son (and our Lord’s ancestor) Solomon when he was also received as a king.

The crowds cheered. They waved branches from the trees and spread them on the road. “Hosanna! Blessed is He!” they cry out with excitement. They know the kingdom is indeed at hand, and that their King has drawn near in fulfillment of the prophets.

And watching this scene unfold, the people begin to write the rest of the story in their minds. Even the disciples think they know what is to come – even arguing among themselves who will sit at the King’s right and the King’s left. As with any transfer of power, there is a gathering of the ambitious, of flatterers, of hangers-on, and of those seeking to ride behind the king in majesty.

But the story was to take a shocking and unpredictable turn.

For our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday was to yield to His shameful expulsion on Friday. His Sunday parade was to become His Friday passion. The acclamations of “Hosanna!” on the first day of the week were to give way to cries of “Crucify!” as the sixth day waned into the Sabbath.

For the kingdom was not what the people wanted, and nor was the King. Instead of a mighty mover of men, they saw a submissive Savior of sinners. Instead of driving out the Romans, the people of Judea heard Jesus preach about a kingdom not of this world. Instead of a commander of an army of vengeance armed with firepower, they saw a Rabbi teaching a fickle assembly of disciples bearing only the Word of God.

And just as now, when what you have received is not what you wanted, you return the merchandise for a refund. “Give us Barabbas!” they demand. “Crucify Jesus!” instead is their desire.

And so the Lord’s departure from Jerusalem did not have the air of a triumph. He was given a send-off fit for a criminal. In fact, He was mocked and accused of being a false king. He did not ride out of the city gate as a hero, but was himself forced to bear the beam of his own cross in the manner of a beast of burden, pushed, shoved, whipped, and made sport of. Nothing of the Kingdom of David and Solomon was to be seen on this procession save the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, and the mockery of a scepter-like reed with which He was beaten by soldiers who bent the knee in order to humiliate him who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The crowds jeered. They waved their fists and spat at Him along the road. “Save yourself!” they were to shout at Him at the Place of the Skull. “Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him!” they mock and cry out with excitement. They know not what they do, and they mistakenly believe that He whom the prophets foretold is now calling for help to one of the prophets.

Gone are the ambitious, the flatterers, the hangers on. There is no-one left to cheer. No-one waving palms. Of His followers, only His mother and the disciple whom He loved are there to Him in His agony. They remain to watch the man declared by the acolyte of Caesar to be the “King of the Jews” take His humble throne. For this King’s ride is one of lowly pomp, as He rides on to die.

Even the singing of the children has been silenced for the time being, as the enemies of Jesus sought. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin and the Romans all gather like vultures waiting for this King to close His eyes in defeat. As they gloat, He suffers. As they shout and celebrate the seeming victory over their enemy, He struggles to breathe. As they drink merrily and carry on, He thirsts while His bones pop out of joint. And hearing Him sigh heavenward, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” before yielding up His spirit, the enemies of the kingdom of God believe that it is back to business as usual: might makes right, money and power defeat goodness and mercy, Satan is the ruler of this world and the king of this fallen creation.

After a frightening three years for those in power, it seems like everything is back to normal. The Sanhedrin is back in charge over the “little people.” The High Priest can once again carry on like a demi-god. Herod has no more rival claims to His puppet-throne. The Pharisees can go back to lording over the tax collectors and other sinners. The Sadducees can continue in their oh-so-sophisticated disbelief. The Romans can go on with their rapacious and murderous empire-building. Satan can get on with his business of driving men to despair and destroying God’s good creation.

Or so it seemed. But again, the story was to take a shocking and unpredictable turn.

For when our Lord, the Son of God died, the sacrifice was offered and accepted by the Father. When the Lord yielded up His spirit, the Spirit was unleashed upon the forces of evil. In seeming defeat, the cross’s hatred was conquered by Jesus in the true victory of divine love. The Victim was in fact, the Victor. The devil had been swindled. Four millennia of enmity between God and man had suddenly been reconciled on the cross. The blood of the Passover Lamb was spilled upon the doorpost of the entire world.

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two…. The earth shook…. The tombs were also opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

And when these children of the grave made their entrance into the holy city, they caused many to sing “Hosanna!” anew to the King who rules a kingdom in which the dead are raised, sinners are forgiven, and the powerful and mighty are toppled. And the Church has repeated the refrain that came originally from the lips of children ever since.

From his vantage point at the foot of the cross on Calvary’s hill, the Roman centurion saw all that had happened. He and his soldiers who served Caesar were compelled to shift their allegiance from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God. As a witness to the victory of the King and the consummation of the kingdom, the hardened officer of a hundred confesses the reality of the Lord’s victory with the matter-of-fact bluntness of a man under orders filling out a postmortem battle report: “Truly this was the Son of God.”

And so we sing anew: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! 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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