St. Matthew 26:1 – 27:66
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Palmarum is both the Second Sunday of Passiontide and the beginning of the holiest week of the Church’s Year of Grace. The liturgy and the Propers for Palmarum are steeped in drama and passion. Even the most stoic of Lutherans may be seen this day to divert their eyes, to wriggle uncomfortably in their seats, maybe even to shed a tear or two. You cannot help but get caught up in the emotion of the day, for it brings together the entire Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in one setting.
When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the first day of the week that would end with His trial, scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial, the crowds gathered in the City of God’s Peace for the Passover received Him with joyous, triumphal acclamation and praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” They threw down their garments and palm branches before their Messiah King who would release them from their oppression under the Romans, retake the kingly throne of David, and restore glory and honor to Israel before the eyes of the Gentiles.
But, this was not the first time that they tried to make Jesus their king. When He fed the 5,000 plus with five loaves of bread and two small fish, and the people ate until they were full, and still they took up twelve basketfuls of leftovers, the mob rushed at Jesus to force Him to be their king. Jesus retreated up the mountain to be alone. But, the next day the mob found Him in Capernaum, and there Jesus taught them that they sought Him to be their king for all the wrong reasons. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus then taught them that the True Bread that gives True Life is His flesh come down from heaven. Then the mob began to grumble.
How quickly the songs of praise turn to angry shouts and hatred. Palm Sunday begins with the joyful “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord” and it ends with ugly shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews, and of the Gentiles, – the sentence nailed over His gory head was correct – but He was not the kind of king the mob wanted. He rides into the capital City of God’s Peace, not on a war horse with a chariot, but lowly, in humility, on the colt of a donkey. He wears no royal gown of costly purple, but He is stripped of all clothing, scourged until His flesh is ripped and torn and He is robed in His own blood. Only then, and in cruel mockery, is He robed in purple cloth. His crown is also a mockery, a twisted ring of terrible thorns beat into His skull. To the eyes of the Jews and the Gentiles, to the eyes of the Sanhedrin, the Romans, and even to the eyes of the disciples, King Jesus was weak, pathetic, pitiable, and defeated. Change the sentence to “This man said I am King of the Jews,” the chief priests shouted. But Pontius Pilate, the sword of authority in God’s left hand, ruled “What I have written, I have written.”
Dearly beloved people of God, having eyes, you do not see. Having ears, you do not hear. There is only one Law of God, and that is love. Love is the fulfilling of the Law because love is always concerned with the welfare of another, not with the welfare of the self. How do you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? You begin by not loving yourself more than Him. How do you love others? You begin by not loving yourself more than others. God is love, and this is how God loves, He gives, He doesn’t take, and what He gives is a free and perfect gift, the most costly and most precious gift possible, the gift of His Son in death for the life of the world. He gives the Life-Giving Bread from Heaven that men may eat and live forever, yet we grumble and complain and disbelieve because the gift doesn’t come in the fashion we desire. We are like children screaming “There’s nothing to eat!” standing before a pantry full of food!
Oh, we have eyes that see and ears that hear, but we allow them to be filled by the lies and deceptions of the devil because they fulfill our emotional needs, for a while. But, like eating a bag of fatty chips or a half-gallon of ice cream, what the devil gives us always leaves us feeling worse in the end, fat, lethargic, depressed, no energy, self-loathing, etc. Oh, we make for ourselves so very many kings, but none of them satisfies, and none of them frees us from the bondage of sin and death.
But, o people of God, you have a True King in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. King Jesus rules the people of His kingdom by serving them. King Jesus has served you by taking on your human flesh, by humbling himself, by becoming obedient to the authority of an earthly king even unto the point of death on a cross, because King Jesus is the sacrificial love of the Father for you His beloved sons and daughters that you may live with Him in His kingdom forever.
Your King who serves, your King who suffered and died for your sake to set you free from sin and death, your King Jesus, your Bread King, continues to serve you still. This day He stoops down from His throne to wash you anew in His absolution, restoring you to the purity of your Holy Baptism. This day He proclaims to you again His victory over sin, death, and the devil in His creative and life-giving Word. And this day He feeds you, still, with the Bread come down from Heaven, His holy flesh and precious blood, in this Blessed Sacrament that your flesh may be joined in His flesh and that your blood may be joined in His blood, O, most Holy Communion, that you may have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Oh, what a King our Jesus is!
As I began to prepare for today’s service, at first I thought that it was going to be quite a challenge to work together the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the horrible shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” on Good Friday, all on a day in which we also joyously celebrate that fourteen of our young catechumens will receive their First Holy Communion. But, as I prepared, I began to see that it is precisely Holy Communion that ties Palm Sunday and Good Friday together. Do we not sing the song of the Palm Sunday mob “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist? Does not our King Jesus come to us humbly, mounted in, with, and under the common elements of bread and wine to serve us with the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He died on Good Friday’s cross to give us? And, does not our Lord Himself exhort us to eat and to drink His body and blood in remembrance of His Holy Passion and Blessed death?
Yes! The Lord’s Supper brings to you your King. “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 hidden in lowly form, simple bread, inexpensive wine, He comes! He comes, and He is present, here and now for you, always for you. Once again King Jesus comes to you where you are and He serves you with His forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. And where the King is, there is His Kingdom as well, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. And at the Name of Jesus every knee bows, knees in heaven and knees on earth, even knees under the earth, and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And, God the Father is glorified!
In the blessed and holy Name of + Jesus Christ, in whom the Father is glorified, with the Sanctifying Spirit of God. Amen.