Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sermon: Palm Sunday - 2018

25 March 2018

Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11, Matt 26:1-27:66)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today is known as Palm Sunday, or more accurately, the Sunday of the Palms, because of our Lord’s reception into the Holy City for the High Feast as the people “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” –
as was read just before our own procession into the church.  It is also known as the Sunday of the Passion, because of our Gospel reading, which explains why the Lord was coming into the Holy City.

Unless you understand a couple very important things about what is happening, this all just won’t seem to make any sense.

Why palms?  The palm branch symbolizes the nation of Israel – often appearing on ancient coins.  And as the palm represents the nation, the kingdom, its use acknowledges the King.  The people strew the branches before Jesus in celebration of his accession to the throne.  There was one occasion when the crowds wanted to take Him by force to crown Him, and He departed.  But now, it is time for His departure, and a different crowd, a mob, will indeed take Him by force to crown Him – but this time it will be with a crown of thorns.

As our account of the passion painfully recounts, our Lord, our King, will be crowned and robed; He will carry a scepter, and will be hailed as the King of the Jews.  For Jesus is the one and only King in history who saves us: from sin, from death, from the devil, from the world, and from our sinful flesh.  This King doesn’t rule by lording over us; rather this Lord rules in love, in sacrifice, in laying down His perfect life for us poor miserable sinners. 

And this is why on that Palm Sunday, that initial Holy Week, our Lord was not only welcomed with royal palms, but also by the royal chant recognizing Him as the King: “the Son of David.”  For David is the founder of the dynasty of the kings of Israel, a dynasty that is eternal.  It is eternal, dear friends, because Jesus is eternal.  He dies, and yet He rises – and so will we.  For where the King is, His loving subjects follow.  He treads our filthy roads – the last of which leads to death.  And we filthy sinners likewise tread the road to death.  But we do not tread alone.  We follow Him through the valley of the shadow of death, we join Him through baptism into death, and we continue to follow Him to eternal life.

For only a King can rule us, dear friends, and only this King rules us in love.

This King hears us praise His name, and this King hears our petitions before the throne – and our most urgent prayer, dear friends, is our Hosanna.  Hosanna is such an important plea to our Lord and King that we left it in the original Hebrew.  “Hosanna” is a word of prayer for salvation.  “Save us, O Son of David,” we are bold to cry, “Save us, O King,” we cry out in joy waving our own palms.  We are joyful because we know that our King will do as we ask: “Save us from our sins, from the grave, from hell itself, O Son of David,” is our plea that accompanies our palms and our singing.

“Blessed is He,” our song continues, our song that is a prayer; our song that is a cry of triumph, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  And the cloaks we spread before Him, dear brothers and sisters, is our life.  We serve our King with our very lives, because He first served us with His own life – even as His sacrificial lifeblood was poured out upon the cross as a full atonement, a complete sacrifice, an all-sufficient oblation before the Father on our behalf, the payment of the penalty of our sins, and the promised deathblow delivered to the devil: the old evil foe, the tempter who brought misery and death into our world by making us doubt that Word by whom all things were made.
Do not doubt, dear friends!  For we know where this Sunday of Palms leads.  It will lead to the Thursday of the Eucharist, the Friday of the cross, the Saturday of the Lord’s Sabbath rest in the tomb, and finally to a new and greater Sunday, the First Day of a new and greater week of a new and greater creation, the Sunday of the Resurrection, the Sunday in which our palms not only symbolize the King, but also victory and peace.

But before Easter Sunday there is Good Friday.  Before the empty tomb there is a cross – a cross that is not empty; a cross adorned by the King, a cross that serves as a throne, a throne from which our King offers the greatest decree ever uttered by any King: “Father, forgive them.”  

This is why, dear friends, we process into church this morning.  This is the meaning behind the palms and the hosannas.  This is why we sing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”  

We pray for Him to save us as Holy Week begins because we know how Holy Week ends!  Our salvation has been won at the cross.  Our eternal life has been sealed at the tomb.  Our participation in eternal life has been given to us at the font.  We go into Holy Week knowing that our King is also our champion, the one who has saved us, the one who has heard our pleas, the one at whose name is above every name” before whom every knee will bow, “and every tongue confess” – even as our lips sweet hosannas sing – that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  

“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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