Saturday, April 4, 2020

Palmarum (Palm Sunday) - The Second Sunday of Passiontide

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This is a strange Palm Sunday, to be sure. Normally this would be a festive and celebratory day with better than average attendance. There would be a processional with children waving palm branches and the congregation singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor to Our Redeemer King.” Instead, there are no people here at all. There is no processional, no children, and no singing. The only palm branches are the few I blessed earlier as a symbol of our perseverance and hope throughout this pandemic that things will eventually return to normal and that we will gather here once again to receive the Lord’s gifts and to return to Him thanksgiving and praise, after this Lent of all Lents.
However, I would posit that there is something we can learn from this somber, stripped down, bare as bones Palm Sunday observance. Perhaps we can come to see how easily we can misunderstand the meaning of Biblical events, particularly when the culture and customs were so very different, and we are removed by nearly 2000 years of history. Why did the crowds receive Jesus that day in the way that they did, laying down their cloaks, waving palm branches, and singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”? Why did Jesus ride on a donkey? Why did he bring a second animal along? Wittingly or unwittingly, all of this worked together in the Lord’s providence both to fulfill prophecy and to galvanize Jesus’ opponents so that He might accomplish the purpose for which His Father had sent Him, to suffer and die as the Passover Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.
The crowds received Jesus as their king on Sunday, but He would quickly prove to not be the kind of king they were looking for by Friday. They waved palm branches in the air and laid their cloaks on the road before Him. Palm branches and cloaks really had nothing to do with messianic prophecy or the God of Israel, but they had everything to do with political and military victory over tyrannical worldly oppressors. In 140 BC the Jews revolted against the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes who had prohibited their worship in the temple. Upon victory, the people celebrated by waving palm branches as they paraded the high priest back into the temple. The palm branches had become a symbol of Jewish independence and a breaking free from tyrannical oppression, not unlike Americans waving flags at a Fourth of July parade. At the time of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Israel had been ruled by the Roman Empire for almost one hundred years. The crowds believed that they were welcoming and celebrating a national and worldly king who would set the people free from Roman rule and restore glory and power to Israel once again. Perhaps it is a good thing that there is no holy parade processing down this aisle today. Perhaps it is a good thing there are no palms and celebrative singing. Perhaps, on this Lent of all Lents, we will be better able to reflect upon the kind of king our Jesus truly is, a king whose kingdom and people are not of this world.
The donkey, however, is another matter. King David had his son Solomon ride into Jerusalem on his own donkey to be anointed his successor and king. Solomon was in effect riding upon King David’s throne into the midst of his people. This is really where the messianic title Son of David originates. Moreover, God had promised David that his seed would reign on the throne of David forever. Thus, though they were confusing the role of the Son of David, they correctly ascribed that title to Jesus proclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Hosanna means “save us.” Were they asking Jesus to save them spiritually from their sins, death, and damnation? Most likely not, but they wanted Jesus to save them from Roman oppression and tyranny. However, Jesus had another purpose in mind for riding on a donkey, the messianic prophecy of 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 come to make war against the kings of the earth, but to make war against the devil, and His kingdom is the kingdom of heaven.
Needless to say, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He entered a powder keg set to explode. The people were in a nationalistic frenzy anticipating their overthrow of their Roman oppressors. The combination and confusion of both nationalistic and religious messianic zeal would not fail to capture the attention of either the Roman government or the Jewish Sanhedrin, not to mention the High Priest Caiaphas, the Galilean King Herod, and the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. For three years Jesus had refused to let himself be taken by His opponents saying, “My hour has not yet come.” Now His hour has come, and Jesus, the Lamb of God, goes willingly, knowingly, silently, but intentionally, to slaughter.
And so, Jesus rides into that mob-like crowd with their sin-warped hopes, desires, and expectations, humble and mounted on a donkey, in lowliness, to be crowned their King. He entered the Holy City Jerusalem, not to be served but to serve, and to lay down His life for the world. His throne was not bedecked with gold and jewels, but of wood and nails. His royal crown was made of twisted, savage thorns, His robe a torn, muddied, and bloodied shroud. He was the Son of David, but He was also David’s Lord. He was sinless, but He was condemned and executed as a sinner. He was the Son of God the Father, but He died that we Barabbases, the sons and daughters of sinful human fathers, might live and be free. The LORD’s passion is for you; it has only and ever been for youBehold, your King comes to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted upon donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
As we together reflect upon His Passion this Holy Week, may we remember that it was in divine and holy love that the LORD has visited His people. He came to His own, who could not and would not come to Him, to restore them to Himself. Even though they rejected Him, mocked Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him, He came to them to lay down His life for them, to die for them, that they might live through Him, in Him, and with Him. In His dying Words He plead the Father’s forgiveness, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and through Jesus, they, and we, are forgiven. All this He gladly suffered.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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