Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sermon for 4/17/11—Palmarum: Sunday of the Passion (LSB 1-year)

This is the reading from the procession of palms at the beginning of the divine service for Palm Sunday.  I'd usually preach on the Passion account in the lectionary for Palm Sunday, but since we were already on the road to Golgotha in our midweek Lenten services, I thought this was appropriate for this year.

The Long Road

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

He "was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." The Creed moves from the Lord's birth to His suffering and death with very little mention of the life that He lived. Some have faulted the Creed for failing to note at least something of the life that Jesus lived: His works of compassion and His words of truth. But in moving directly from Jesus' birth to His Passion, the Creed is making a point. The Creed is pointing to the fact that the Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary came to suffer and to die.

The events that we are observing this week are not the sad conclusion to an otherwise triumphant and well-lived life. Rather they are at the very heart of who Jesus is and what He came to do in order to reconcile the world to God. It is no small matter that Jesus comes into the holy city of Jerusalem to suffer and die as the Passover Lamb whose blood brings redemption for this sinful world. Ponder well all that takes place this week, for the Son of God did it all for you and for your salvation.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem at the head of a parade. "Everybody loves a parade," goes the old saying. But the Romans did not love this parade. In fact, this parade looked more like the start of a riot. With nervousness the Roman troops looked on as the crowds chanted something another about a King of Israel coming on a donkey's colt. What could this mean? Was this man Jesus a political revolutionary who would stir Jerusalem, swollen with pilgrims in town to celebrate the annual Passover, to revolution? Would His presence ignite with the ancient memories of Egypt's oppression of Israel that were remembered at Passover time to inflame rebellion? Roman soldiers watched in vain for their would-be insurrection. Jesus is not that kind of king.

The Jewish religious leaders did not love this parade. They had already learned that Jesus was not their kind of Messiah. He was not a teacher of Israel who could be controlled. They were threatened by His rising popularity and they concluded that if He were allowed to go on doing the things He did and saying the things that He said, their religion would be ruined. No wonder that they stood by as the parade passes and said to themselves: “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the whole world has gone out after Him!

Neither did Satan love this parade. In fact, this is a parade that Satan had tried to prevent. He had offered Jesus another way some three years earlier as he tempted Jesus to embrace the kingdoms of this world by simply bowing down and worshiping him. The cross would mean suffering and shame for Jesus, but for Satan it would spell his own eternal defeat. No wonder that Satan, speaking through Simon Peter, had rebuked Jesus as Jesus spoke of how He must go to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and, on the third day, rise again. Satan hated the sight of this parade as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords made His way in humility to the place of sacrifice.

But Jesus loves this parade. He isn't fooled by the shouts of "Hosanna!" He knows that they will be short-lived. He knows that before the week is over another cry will come from the fickle lips of the people: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Let His blood be upon us and our children.” He knows that even His own disciples will forsake and deny Him, and one of them will even betray Him. He knows that we for whom He died care little for His cross and suffering, even knowing what it means for our salvation. Jesus loves this parade—not because of the momentary popularity that it gives Him, but because this parade culminates in the cross. That is why He came into the world. That is why He, in fulfillment of Zechariah's prophetic word, mounted that donkey and rode into Jerusalem as the King going to His throne, as a bridegroom going to His bride. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame.

We spend so much our lives trying to avoid suffering. The world even tells us that it is a good thing to destroy the life of one who suffers if the suffering cannot be controlled or ended in any other way. To those who think that the supreme good in life is to avoid pain, the Suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus Christ, is an embarrassment, and His cross a foolish scandal. If the cross is the highlight of the parade and the foolishly suffering Jesus is the grand marshal, the world wants nothing to do with him.

But Jesus did not detach Himself from the suffering. He did not avoid Jerusalem. Jesus took the path to Calvary. He walked the way of the cross. Even when He was abandoned and deserted, betrayed and denied, He held to the work that was His alone to do. He drained the cup of suffering. When the parade was over and cheering crowds were silent and the palm branches wilted in dust, the Lamb of God kept walking. During Holy Week He goes from this triumphant entry to the upper room and Gethsemane's garden, and from there to the judgment hall and the cross. He goes there, driven by the passion to have you with Him for all eternity. The pain that He endures is real and raw. The death He dies is dark and cold. He does it all for you. It is no small thing that God allows Himself to be sacrified on a cross.

This morning we will participate in another parade, as we come forward to receive forgiveness and life and salvation in the body and blood of Christ. And Satan does not love this parade, either. He has made this a parade of pain and suffering because he does not want you to get to the end of it. But the body and blood of Jesus strengthens you to continue on this journey, enduring that pain and suffering, so that you will not perish, but have eternal life. It is no small thing that the same God who went the way of the cross still comes to you today. He does not come to show you the way out of suffering or a way around suffering, but the way through it. It is the way of His cross and resurrection. It is the way of His Gospel. It is the way of His body and blood given you to eat and drink from this altar. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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