We don’t do the passion reading on Palm Sunday. Sad, I know, because now there is no Sunday of the church year when we hear the direct words of the passion itself.
We do not however, lose Christ crucified. Each Sunday we hear the word of Christ instituting the Sacrament.
Why do we not do the passion reading? Because Palm Sunday is also confirmation Sunday in my parish. I believe it is simply too much to add yet another thing on that day. We are already split in our focus almost beyond the ability of our minds to comprehend.
I had planned on recording the sermon, but my audio recorder hiccuped. So, no recording. Which is good and bad. Good, because I thought this sermon reads better than it preaches. (Not a good thing, I know. But it ended up that way, and no time to fix it…)
Bad because a Rainbow appeared out of the front window in the chancel, on which I commented ex-corde, tying Baptism, confirmation and holy week together. Those words are now, alas, lost. But it was a truly amazing moment. I said that the Lord gave us this sign – which is true. He gave it to Noah, and said that whenever we saw it, it was a sign from him. A sign taken over into Baptism after the resurrection. Which ties it all up into a nice little bow. A rainbow, if you will. The strange thing was that there was no sun, no visible break in the clouds. Just a rainbow sitting in front of the mountains. It was really quite extraordinary.
After the jump, you can read my sermon, which discusses the foolish spectacle of a king on a donkey. Not at all kingly, as the world sees it. But a king, He is.
Today is Palm Sunday. Day when hear of Lord’s triumphal entry. Hear about it First Sunday in Advent too. Only Gospel reading used on two different Sunday’s in church year. But in Advent, it is about judgment – Christ the king, returning to judge the quick and the dead. The cry goes up, “Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord, the Lord God of Hosts!” Today, the cry goes up, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, savior of Israel, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The great High priest and sacrifice for sin. The one who enters this day is not the great king, but the humble homeless preacher. he comes not on a mighty charger, a noble steed to proclaim victory, but a humble colt, a young donkey. He comes in humility, because he will die.
Of course he will, we will all die. But his death is imminent. And it is unnecessary.
You can gripe all you want to about the unfairness of life, but you can never rightfully complain about the unfairness of death. Oh, it might be unkind – it always is. It might even be cruel – the timing often seems to mock you in your misery. It is unpleasant, it is unwanted. But it is never unjust. It is like a criminal complaining because there are worse criminals who deserve to be in prison more than he does. All well and good, but he is the one who got caught. he did break the law. He had his day in court. The sentence was not unjust. It was just unwelcome.
So it is for any person who dies. It may be unwelcome, it is not unjust. No matter how innocent the person seems, the wages of sin is death, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, sinful from the time your mother conceived you. You have no excuse, no reason to complain. Not that you don’t complain, and wail and lash out against your just reward. But it is just.
Except in this one case. Jesus should have entered Jerusalem on a great and mighty horse, not with crowds, or the High Priest or even with the Roman Governor welcoming him, but with angel trumpets heralding his arrival, with the heavenly hosts lining the way, and with the glory of heaven itself beaming down on the city. Our Lord should have called down fire from heaven to consume all those who did not believe in him. He should have set up an earthly kingdom befitting the one who created the universe. The problem is, if he did that, belief would not be enough to save you. Faith can not save if Christ did not die. There would be no redemption. There would be no baptism, for there would be no death to be joined to in Baptism. There would be no resurrection to become a participant of. There would be no happy ending. If Christ did not die for you, then you would have to die. If he consumed the doubters with the fire of his wrath, it would have only been a prelude of the eternal suffering that awaits you.
Was the death of Christ Unjust. oh yes, it was horribly unjust. No death was ever more unjust. But it was for your good.
In the Litany for Passiontide that we pray at our midweek services, we pray that our lord would deliver us by all the acts of his passion, and they are listed individually, the arrest, the spitting, the mocking, the stripping, the whipping, the crucifixion, the agony and blood sweat, the precious death and burial. But just as certainly, this humble entrance into the city was for you as well. It was triumphant in a way – the people shouting, waving coats, putting down palm branches as if he were a king. But from the outside, it was a little bit like a child’s game. It couldn’t really be the entrance of a king because he was rising on a little donkey. Just as, no matter how involved children become in their fantasy, they are not really sailing the seven seas, they are not really saving the world from disaster, they are not really going to live as king and queen, or whatever the fantasy is. To the outside it looked as if Jesus was living in some kind of bizarre delusion – he had some of the trappings of office, but only in a superficial way. Anyone could tell he was not a real king. Even Pilate and Herod judge him to be no threat at all. Jesus is nothing more than a mad fool.
He came in honor and glory as the crowds that followed him from Galilee shouted their hosannas. But the people were not an army. They were not the leaders. They were tourists gone wild, shouting and whooping for someone that was so obviously not a king that the people of Jerusalem were mostly puzzled. In The verse right after our reading, the people actually have to ask, who is this guy? What is he doing? What’s going on?
Is he a king? He doesn’t look like one. He doesn’t act like one. As the week goes on, he will alienate the people. He turns over tables in the temple, driving out the lucrative temple concessions. He offends the people with his talk of being God’s son. Last week we heard how he tells them point blank, “I Am” The title reserved for God alone – the name so holy that man could not even speak it. They try to stone him, and he has to sneak away. Not exactly kingly sort of activities.
But make no mistake. He is a king. His kingdom is not of this world – a relief to us, because if it is, he was an abject failure in his life, his death was pointless, and even today, his he doesn’t seem to be doing any wonders. Look at his people – a motley group, a few who come out. How easily could this small band gathered here be conquered? This building is not the hallowed halls of power. This is no center of commerce. It is not a great and mighty force to be reckoned with in the community. As a symbol of how useless it is, the government even writes it off of the tax roles.
But here is where the king dwells on earth. Not because he lives in temples made with hands – he is here because he promised to be where two or three are gathered together in his name. Two or three is a pretty small crowd for a church. If attendance fell that low, there would be grave concerns. But one to preach and one or two to hear is all you need. And the great king comes. He comes with his body and blood to bring salvation. That’s why we sing the words of that Palm Sunday crowd each Sunday “Blessed Is he who cometh in the name of the Lord” The song continues, the comic tragic bizarre king, who really doesn’t have a kingdom in this world, comes, no longer to die, but to offer the fruits of that death to those who believe. To those who discern the body and blood, to those who examine themselves. To those who have confessed with their lips their belief that Jesus is the son of God, that he is present in this holy supper for you to eat and drink, He comes. That’s why we instruct, and examine, and confirm that baptism. That’s why we say, yes, next week we want you to join us at the altar – so that you may receive him who comes to you in his body and blood, as we celebrate the great victory of our lord at the feast he prepares.
And so here we are, at the beginning of Holy Week, ready to celebrate the feast of Christ, ready to proclaim him king, and wave our palms and sing our hosannas. But waiting, just like those crowds waited on palm Sunday. They knew something great was coming. They had no idea what it was, and they could not have borne it or even understood it if they did know. It was too horrible and too wonderful, to terrifying and too comforting for mortals to behold and grasp. It is the glory of the Lord. Ahh, yes we say, we understand. And yet, even we have veiled our image of his glory. Even we have hidden him from sight. We who are ready to join the crowds today, and the angels next Sunday as we sing our Alle— well, you know. Even this shameful way of death is too glorious for those of us who deserve far worse. We now our sin, and our transgression is ever before him. Those images are veiled and hidden even as we sing hosanna, because the cry of hosanna means “Save, Lord help.” We need saving. And we know that as sinners, we are not worthy to look on God in his glory. And his death is his glory. Because that’s where your salvation was earned. Not with Gold or silver, but with the holy precious blood, and the innocent suffering and death. The same holy precious blood that was offered to God for you on the cross, is now offered by God to you at the table. Not a new sacrifice for sin, but the fruits of the sacrifice, brought to you by God for the forgiveness of your sins.
This week we celebrate the death of the king. Long Live the King. Indeed, the king will reign forever and ever. He has been given the victory not over a rival king, but over death, the devil and hell itself. But to vanquish death he must himself go through death. And so we begin that final journey to the cross again. Ready, and yet never ready for what awaits us. Knowing that the grave where he rested will one day hold you. Just as the disciples shed their tears, so one day your friends and family will shed theirs. The dirt that entombed him will entomb you. But like Christ who has gone before, the grave will not hold you either. That is the promise, though for now, like the man riding the donkey in the parade, it doesn’t look all that glorious. In fact, it looks pretty silly when you think about it. The time will come. Then the king will return on the clouds of heaven, with the angel trumpets that are no more than his right. And we pray he will come soon.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hold fast to the one who is the king. He is your salvation.