Sunday, March 20, 2016
Homily for Palmarum (Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion / The Second Sunday of Passiontide)
Matthew 21:1-9; Matthew 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.
Palmarum’s Gospel lesson is the fulfillment of Judica’s Old Testament lesson: Jesus is Abraham’s Promised Son making His procession to Mount Moriah as the Lamb of God’s providing to lay down His life as the only pleasing sacrifice for the sins of the world. Like Abraham and Isaac before Him, Jesus begins His procession from outside of the Mount, now the City of Jerusalem, the City of God’s Peace. The Mountain stands before Him as the Mount of God’s Justice, where He will lay down His life in selfless sacrifice and substitutionary atonement for Isaac, for Israel, for the Gentiles who will believe in Him, and for you. The fulfillment of Isaac’s substitutionary ram, Jesus humbled Himself to become caught in the thicket of God’s justice and wrath against our sin that He might become our substitutionary and atoning sacrifice sparing us the wages of our sin, death.
Jesus processes into Jerusalem as our great Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet, Jesus fulfills the Old Testament Messianic prophecies, particularly those of Isaiah and Zechariah: “Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus does not enter Jerusalem in order to fulfill these prophecies accordingly, but rather, the prophecies foretold what the Messiah would do. Thus, Jesus does not merely fulfill the prophecies, but He is, literally, their fulfillment. And, as the preacher to the Hebrews describes in rich detail, Jesus is also our Great High Priest who offers up, not the blood of bulls and calves, but His own holy, innocent blood as a sacrifice to cleanse us from all sins. In the City of God’s Peace, Jerusalem, Jesus would restore for us peace with God by shedding His blood and by dying the death we deserve. Jesus is both our Great High Priest and our spotless, unblemished sacrificial Lamb.
Yet, Jesus is also our King, the true King of the Jews and of heaven and earth. Undoubtedly, it is Jesus’ Kingly office that most Christians associate with Palm Sunday. Like so many kings of Israel before Him, Jesus rides into the City of the King on a donkey, the crowds displaying their submission and allegiance to Him by bowing down and laying branches of palm before His path. The crowds praised Him and God together shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” These were Messianic acclamations. They truly believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah, but they had long forgotten that the Messiah was to come in lowliness and humility, and not as a conquering warrior king. Like so many today, they were looking for a political savior, a powerful demagogue who would rally the hoi polloi to revolution and overthrow their occupying Roman oppressors, making Israel great again. However, Jesus the Messiah is not that kind of King. He does not enter the kingly city on a warhorse with a chariot and an army of soldiers, but in lowliness and humility upon a donkey with women and children and ordinary citizens welcoming him along. And, He would ascend, not a golden throne in the palace of Pilate or Herod, but would be nailed to a throne of wood, the cross, and His crown would be not of precious metals, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and other precious stones, but a crown of thorns adorned with the ruby-red droplets of his holy, innocent shed blood.
Abraham called the name of that place “The LORD will provide,” and the people continued to call it “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided,” to that very day. Perhaps they believed that the priesthood and the sacrificial system were the means through which the LORD would provide. For, they had corrupted the meaning of these God-given signs of mercy and grace and made them into works that they could perform, believing that they earned or merited God’s favor. Instead of placing their faith and trust in the Word and Promise of the LORD, they placed their faith and trust in their works, their prayers, and their sacrifices. They had the priesthood, they had the sacrificial system in the temple, all they needed now was a king, and they’d have heaven on earth, a heaven of their own making. And so, they were joyful and excited on Palm Sunday when Jesus processed into the Holy City. They were ready to make Him their King – until they began to realize that Jesus would not be the kind of king they had imagined and hoped for. They cried out “Hosanna!” “God save!” thinking that Jesus was God’s Savior who would restore glory and greatness to Israel once again, but before the end of the week, they were shouting, not praise and acclamation, but cursing and condemnation, “Crucify! Crucify!”
Still Jesus processed on, willingly. He was their King, whether they understood what that meant or not. He is our King, and He does what a true and good King should do: He serves His people, protects His people, and dies for His people. He defeated our true enemy, Satan, in the wilderness, resisting the devil’s temptations through unwavering trust in the Word of the LORD. He upheld the LORD’s righteous Law, fulfilling it in perfect and holy obedience and love. Now He returns to His Kingly palace, not in Jerusalem, but in heaven at His Father’s right hand by means of Calvary’s cross and the Garden’s empty tomb, leading a victory march of those who die in the Lord unto life that will never end. No, His Kingdom is not of this world, and neither are you, His subjects, though you are in the world for a time.
At the beginning of our Lenten pilgrimage, on Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of Jesus’ exhortation, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Today, as our Lenten pilgrimage is nearing its climax, destination, and fulfillment in the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus our King, we are reminded that we are citizens of two kingdoms, the kingdom of this world in which we are physically bound for the present time, and the kingdom of heaven which we cannot see for the present time. However, our true citizenship is of the latter, the kingdom of heaven. Throughout His days on earth, our King Jesus remained faithful and obedient to the LORD and His Word, and at peace, showing patience and compassion, mercy, and grace to His kindred on earth. Yet, all the while, despising not His earthly residency and responsibilities, He knew that His kingdom was not of this world.
And, so it is with you: Heaven is your true kingdom and home. This is not a reason to despise this world, with it’s sin and brokenness, deceit and corruption, violence, wars, and what can be considered nothin other than simply evil, pure evil, but it is a reason to have hope and to find contentment in whatever your situation may be, and to endure and persevere in selflessness and humility. For, we know that we are citizens of a good and everlasting kingdom, even now, and that it is but a matter of time before we will return home. And, in the meantime, we are the King’s holy subjects, redeemed and purified in His holy, innocent shed blood that we might be His representatives on earth, even His hands, His heart, His mouth, and His voice in selfless, sacrificial service of our neighbor that, in all things, our Lord and King might be glorified. Indeed, this is the meaning of St. Paul’s creedal statement in Philippians two as he describes Jesus’ descent in humility to become a man and to suffer and die on the cross and His consequent exaltation to glory at the right hand of His Father in heaven – St. Paul exhorts you to “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” As our King Jesus has gone, so also do we go, follow, and serve. This is what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ disciple – to take up the cross the Holy Spirit has appointed for you and follow in the footsteps of your King.
And, as we together follow in the footsteps of our Servant King Jesus this Holy Week, we do so with the awareness that we are in Jesus, and that all that Jesus experienced and suffered He endured for us, and that, as we are united with Him in His suffering and death, so also are we united with Him in His resurrection. Thus, we prayed in today’s Collect, “Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of [Jesus’] great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection.” Our LORD God hears and answers our prayer here and now in this Divine Service. Let us so, then, name this altar “On the mountain of the LORD it is still provided,” for here our holy and righteous servant King Jesus serves and cares for, forgives and protects you, His people. Here you commune with your Lord and King as His closest confidant, friend, brother, sister, and Bride. His righteousness and holiness He shares with you. His forgiveness and Sonship with His Father He shares with you. And, He sends you as His own ambassadors to a world and a human race that is dying in the thrall of sin, darkness, and death. He sends you with this message and proclamation: “Hosanna! God has saved us! Blessed is Jesus who comes in the Name of the LORD!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.