Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon: Palmarum (Lent 6) – 2014

13 April 2014

Text: John 12:12-19 (Matt 26:1-27:66, Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today is a both/and day in the church year.  It is both Lent and a celebration.  It is both Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion.  It is a day of two Gospels, the first of which welcomes the King with royal palms and cheers, and the other which crucifies the King with criminals nails in his hands and jeers.

And yet, these are not two accounts of two different men, but one account in one week in the life of the greatest Man who ever lived, who lives yet, and who has not just changed the world but who has remade the entire universe.  And He did so while dying on a cross.

Moreover, dear friends, He did not do it for glory or money, nor even to win the favor of God and man.  Rather He did it for us, He “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” and yet who is God.  He did not carry out this mission to serve Himself but to rescue us – from sin, from death, and from the devil.  He did it not motivated by the adoring crowds, but rather in spite of the hateful crowds.  He did it motivated by love: obedient love for His Father and in saving love toward us “poor miserable sinners.”

And just as the crowds waved palms and sang “Hosanna,” crying out to the King for salvation, so do we, dear friends, waving branches and singing our Hosannas, we thank and praise Him for the salvation He won for us at the cross, salvation earned by blood and given to us in our baptism, delivered to us through our faith which He Himself gives us as a gracious gift, and presented to us in the flesh every time we partake of His body and blood.

And in the midst of the joyful paradox, we are saddened by the spectacle of it all: the cheering crowds who would turn deadly, the betrayal with a kiss, the hypocritical religious leaders, the police and soldiers who betray the public trust in their service by becoming thugs, the government that was there to protect and to serve becoming shameless murderers and purveyors of injustice, the crowds whom Jesus came to save becoming a lynch mob.  The cowardly disciples who scattered.  Peter who denied, repeatedly.  The abuse heaped upon Him in His dying woes.  The mockery of the true criminals.  The thorns.  The nails.  The spear.  The bitter gall to drink.  The frightening darkness.  The tearing of the temple curtain.  The death of God Himself.

And amid all of this confusing and disturbing turn of events, dear friends, this is how we have been redeemed and how creation is being renewed.  For the lifeless body of Jesus was borne to a tomb that could not contain Him.  The ones who fled gathered anew.  The cursed serpent who cleverly asked Eve: “Did God actually say?” has heard the sentence of death from the lips of the human body of God.  Death itself was forced to yield to the author of life. 

And out of death came life.  Out of darkness came light.  Out of betrayal came love.  Out of the cross came redemption.  Out of the side of Jesus flowed water and blood, out of which Christians are born of water and the blood and the Word.  And once more, the children of God sing Hosannas and wave palms.  The king no more wears a crown of thorns, but the crown of righteousness.  He is no more knelt to in mockery, for “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We kneel before our Lord, we worship the crucified One, we eat and drink His blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, we pray, praise and give thanks, we acknowledge our King for His substitutionary death for us, we celebrate with joy and humility our place in His kingdom though we are the ones who deserve to have been crucified.  We celebrate the Lord’s victory over death and the grave, and we glory in the triumph of the evil one whose lies in the Garden of Eden brought about destruction and death in the first place.

Dear friends, even as the Book of Revelation tells of the saints in heaven dressed in white robes, waving palms, and singing the praises of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so too do we join Christians around the world in taking up our own palms, knowing that this most Holy Week will see Passion Sunday lead us to Good Friday and to Easter Sunday.  The purple and black will yield to white, celebration will return to our liturgy, and we will be unable to contain our joy any more than the gloomy grave could contain the beaming countenance of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us wave these branches and hail our King, knowing that His mission is not to create a worldly kingdom, but to create a kingdom of a new world.  Let us sing Hosanna to our King, knowing that He is not a ruler like Caesar to whom we are forced to bow, but that He is a ruler like King David, the man after God’s heart, before whom we gladly kneel, and to whom He gives crowns, making us kings and priests with Him for all eternity.

Moreover, this king exacts no taxes, but pays us the dividend of the forgiveness of sins.  This king does not conscript and send us to war, but has won the war for us.  This king does not seize our possessions, but shares all good things with us.  This king does not restrict our liberty, but gives us true liberty that the world cannot give, that is, freedom from the bondage of sin and from the tyranny of Satan.  And unlike other kings in history, this King did not build a tomb to glorify Himself, but was placed into a borrowed grave, from which He departed, an edifice which became a church, that is, a place from which the Gospel of His word and sacrament flow to His grateful subjects.

And this church is where we gather, dear friends, to receive the gifts of our king, where we are given anew the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.  Today is a both/and day for us who are both sinners and saints!  Let us sing for joy even amid Lent.  Let us give thanks for both the cross and the empty tomb, looking forward to both Good Friday and Easter.

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

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


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