Monday, April 2, 2012

Homily for Palmarum (Palm Sunday)


(No audio available)

Matthew 21:1-9, 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It was indeed the Father’s will that Israel have a king, but not a merciless earthly king like Saul and his successors, but a gentle king of peace and mercy, of selfless love and sacrificial service. But, since the children of Israel cried out to God for a king like those of the pagan nations around them, God permitted them to have what they asked for. He gave them a king and He commanded His prophet Samuel to say to the people: "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day." Indeed, it seems that the Lord knows a thing or two about kings. How much more does He know the prideful, selfish, greedy, and murderous hearts of men.

Yet, it was indeed the Father’s will that Israel would have a king – a king who would not take, but who would give; a king who did not come to be served, but to serve; a king who would not rule by power and force, who would not murder, but a king who would rule with love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, and who would lay down His own life into death for His subjects. The king the Father gave to His people was Jesus, at whose birth the choir of angels sang in praise, whom gentile sages from the east honored with precious gifts, whom God Himself anointed and christened, with His Holy Spirit at His baptism in the Jordan, ordaining Him for a kingship of sacrificial death upon the throne of the cross, crowned with thorns of cruelty and mocking. This is He of whom the prophet wrote, “and the government shall be upon His shoulder” and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” The people were right to receive Jesus as their king, but they had it all wrong about the kind of king He would be.

John the Baptist had prepared His way, preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was like those servants of old who went before their king to prepare his way for safe travel by filling in the low places in the road and by removing stones and leveling the high places as the prophet had said: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” Only, John prepared the way for King Jesus to enter into your hearts and your lives by removing your mountains of pride and your valleys of despair by the preaching of the Law and the Gospel. It is a kind of surgery, this preaching, that heals you by wounding, by cutting, by crushing, and by killing. That is to say that the Law has to have its deathly way with you, convicting you of your sin, showing you your uncleanness and death, slaying your adulterous and idolatrous self, that the Gospel may then be given to you freely, by grace alone, and heal you and raise you up to new life in the King who first died for you and was raised to life, victorious over sin, death, and the devil.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the City of David, the City of the Great King, the people received Him as their King. They laid down their cloaks upon His path before Him. They cut palm branches and they waved them in the air, crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” By all appearances, they truly believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah, for they received Him with all the Messianic accolades and titles. They cried out to Him “Hosanna,” which means “Save us, we pray”. They called Him the Son of David, the title and designation of the Messiah given in prophecy. They confessed Him to be the Blessed One of the Lord God Himself. Yet, with all that positive confession, with all that faithful praise and adoration, before the sun sat on the day we call Palm Sunday, the religious leadership of the people were becoming disillusioned with Jesus and the kind of King He was showing Himself to be.

Immediately upon entering the City of the Great King to the pomp and circumstance and the crowds, though He entered riding, not upon a war horse or chariot, but upon a lowly colt of a donkey, a beast of burden, King Jesus proceeded, not to Governor’s headquarters in order to throw him out, but He proceeded to the temple and He began to throw out the money-changers and the peddlers of pigeons, crying out, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” These people were using the temple for dishonest gain by exchanging the people’s money for pennies on the dollar and extorting the people by overcharging the poor when they purchased their sacrificial victims. Is it any surprise that women and children, the poor and the sick and the demon possessed, and all the other unclean or disenfranchised people flocked to Jesus? But, when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to Him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” Jesus then left Jerusalem and returned to the temple the next day and taught in many parables which the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived were about them. Though they wanted to arrest Jesus, they could not, for they feared the crowds because they held Him to be a prophet.

As the week that we call Holy continued, however, the chorus of those setting themselves against King Jesus grew. Many who believed in Him were scandalized by His teaching. By Thursday, even His closest disciples had become conflicted. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ head with costly ointment, the disciples were indignant at the waste. It was likely then that Judas decided to betray Jesus to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. After celebrating the Passover feast with His disciples, Jesus and they went out to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. There Jesus told His disciples that they would all fall away from Him that night. Peter insisted that he could never betray his Lord, but that he would die for Him if necessary, and the rest of them said the same. Yet, before sunrise the next morning, they had all abandoned Jesus in fear and confusion and unbelief in fulfillment of the prophecy, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”

Jesus’ trials before the Jewish Sanhedrin, before Herod, and before the Roman Governor Pilate each focused upon the confession of the people that Jesus was the Messiah, the God-given King of the Jews. Jesus was careful to not make this claim Himself directly, but He did not deny the claims that others made about Him. When He was handed over to be crucified, He remained innocent and guiltless, but He was charged, convicted, and executed for the claims, the guilt, and the sins of others: for the crowds, for the disciples, even for Judas, and even for the scribes and the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, Herod, and for Pilate himself. Indeed, your God and Lord does not force Himself upon you or upon anyone – He is not that kind of a King – but you must receive Him as your King, your Lord, your Savior and God. He comes in humility and lowliness, not to be served, but to serve. He comes, not to bring you health and wealth, power and influence, but He comes to bring you forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation. He comes, not to defeat your enemies, but to restore you prodigal enemies of God to sonship with your heavenly Father.

Jesus is your King, the only true King ever to have lived, who served you, His subjects, His people, in selfless, sacrificial love, even laying down His life into death that you would live. He is your substitute ram caught in your thicket of sin and death. He is your scapegoat bearing the load of the world’s sin upon Himself to face death and the devil in the wilderness. He is your Passover Lamb whose blood marks you as His own so that the Angel of Death passes over you. And He is your Great High Priest who has entered into the Holy Places once and for all, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own sinless, holy, and innocent shed blood, securing for you an eternal redemption from your sins.

Jesus is the King your Father wills for you to have – a King of boundless mercy and compassion, forgiveness, and selfless, sacrificial love for you and for all mankind. Jesus is the King your Father wills for your to receive and confess; Jesus is the King whose reign your Father wills for you to share in by so loving others as He has so loved you. Jesus is your King, who has claimed you and named you as His own in Holy Baptism. Jesus is your King who provides for your sustenance, comfort, and protection in this life and world. Jesus is your King who gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink in intimate communion with Him for forgiveness of your sins, strengthening of your faith, eternal life, and salvation. And Jesus is your King who comes on the ‘morrow to crown you as kings and queens with Him of heaven and earth. But, already you have been called to kingly service of your neighbor in his need with the promise that when you serve one of the least of your brothers, you serve your King and Lord Jesus. You learn this service best by being served by your King Jesus – by being in His Word and in His Wounds as the recipient of His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Then, you live this service by showing this grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to your neighbor, to your brother, as it has been richly and abundantly showered upon you.

Today, six young kings and queens will receive their First Communion, their first reception of King Jesus’ holy body and precious blood given and shed for them for the forgiveness of their sins. In receiving this precious gift they receive their King and they confess Him to be their Messiah, their Lord, and their God. They sing with all the faithful, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.” Into the mouths of babes their King is received, and out of the mouths of babes is His Name confessed.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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