Saturday, March 28, 2015

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Sermon on Mark 14:1 – 15:47
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
March 29, 2015 (Palm Sunday)

Today’s theme seems to be a juxtaposition of two very different themes.  Today is Palm Sunday, in which we celebrate our King coming to the Holy City triumphantly, with crowds shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  But in the Gospel lesson for today, He is mocked, tortured, falsely accused, falsely convicted, and executed in the most brutal and painful way that man has ever invented.  The only crowds in the second Gospel for today are the ones who cry out, “Crucify Him!  Away with Him!”  Now, this doesn’t seem, at first glance, to make much sense.  In fact, the passion reading seems at first glance to make the Palm Sunday celebration almost macabre, as it makes it look like an example of failed hopes and shattered dreams, something to be best forgotten rather than celebrated every year as part of Holy Week.

The key to the connection between these two themes comes when you remember what was really happening on that first Good Friday, as opposed to what seemed to be happening.  Jesus endured everything that happened to Him that day willingly.  It wasn’t a mistake or a defeat for Christ as some thought, and as some who call themselves Christians continue to think even today.  No, it was all according to His Father’s plan and will, and it was done out of His love for us sinners.  The guilt and the pain of the sins of everyone who had ever lived and ever would live was borne by Him so that He could pay the price for all of that sin.  He died so that we can live forever.  He suffered the pain and torment of separation from His Father so that we can be united with Him in eternity.  It was for us that He did all of this, and for our salvation.  And because He did this for you and me, it was precisely through all of this that He shows Himself to be our true King, our true Lord.  As the Catechism puts it, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me.”  He is my Lord because He has redeemed me.  He is my king because He is the one who gained entrance for me into His kingdom through His suffering and death.

When you understand this, the connection between Palm Sunday and Good Friday becomes clearer.  Good Friday is not the ignominious end of the movement that seemed so full of promise and hope the previous Sunday.  Rather Good Friday is precisely where the King hailed the previous Sunday comes into His own.  He was doing precisely what He came to Jerusalem to do.  The King of the Jews had in fact claimed His throne, but His throne was made of wood.  It was a throne from which He hung rather than being seated on it.  He had claimed His crown, but that crown was made of thorns.  The crowd on Good Friday were reacting to Christ out of the hate and anger that was in their sinful hearts—the same hate and anger toward God and toward authority that is in all of our sinful hearts—but they spoke better than they knew, because they were asking for what Christ had come to do in the first place.  They were asking for Jesus to be crucified, which is precisely what He had come to do.

Crosses are not a pleasant thing.  Crucifixes remind us that sin has consequences.  In many mega-churches (and want-to-be mega-churches) today you will not see a single cross anywhere you look, to say nothing of a statue of Jesus hanging on one.  That’s because crosses and crucifixes carry with them an unpleasant reminder.  They carry the reminder that the forgiveness of sin is not just a matter of saying, “Oh, God will forgive me because He’s just a nice God.”  They carry the reminder that the forgiveness of sins is a matter of Jesus suffering and dying a horrid, bloody, painful execution in our place, which means that sin, including our sin, is serious, bloody, painful business.  They carry the reminder to us that we all were among those who shouted, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” that first Good Friday, because it was our sin that put Him there.  That’s not a comfortable thought, that we are the cause of that much pain and suffering.  But, and here’s the amazing part, being put there to suffer was something He did willingly for us.  Being put there to suffer was something He did out of love for His creatures.  Being put there to suffer was something He did because He is a God who is love, and that means that he will give Himself up to death so that we might have eternal life.

It is from this perspective that we can truly understand what the crowd was saying when they welcomed Jesus as their King that first Palm Sunday.  That crowd probably didn’t understand fully what they were doing, either.  After all, they were probably expecting an earthly king, who would defeat and drive out the Romans and restore the national sovereignty of Judah and Israel.  But they were correct in welcoming Jesus as their King, because that’s what He was.  That’s what He is.  He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He is God Himself, who reigns over us.  But His reign over us is precisely from the cross.  He reigns over us, by giving Himself up for our sakes so that we might have life.  Just as the crowd did, we welcome His coming among us to reign in triumph from the Tree, with the very same words in the Communion Liturgy as the crowd used that first Palm Sunday almost 2000 years ago: “Hosanna!  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  From the cross He comes to us and gives us His body and blood, so that, united with Him we may never be parted from Him either here or in eternity.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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