No day has as many themes crammed into them as Palm Sunday does. We start with the palms. The little children processing into the church. After that we hear the passion account – abbreviated today, because we also get to hear our catechumens once again make the good confession that they made at their baptism, and be welcomed into the fellowship of the altar. We travel from the gates of Jerusalem to Calvary, from the Font to the altar.
And yet, those journeys are not all that large. Jesus goes into the city gate of Jerusalem, then we hear of him being taken out to the mount of Calvary. Our catechumens will confess the faith of their baptism, and receive the sacrament at the altar rail – a total distance of about 2 steps. But what a difference those journeys make. For our confirmands today, they go from their baptism, where they are brought into the kingdom of God, to the altar, where they taste for the first time the precious body and blood of our Lord. For Jesus, the journey into the city, as exciting as it was, is no where near as important as the journey out of it. The second part of his journey is the one that earns us forgiveness of sins. A forgiveness given at the font and at the altar.
With all these themes crammed together in one service, we have a sort of a split personality today. We still don’t have the festive parts of the Divine Service. We have the images veiled. Some of the hymns are quite focused on the cross. And yet, we have red today – the color of the church, in honor of our confirmands. We have friends and family joining us, plans for celebrations. Large Cakes for after the service. This is an exciting day. Like the people waving palms, we’re kind of excited about it all. The note for the pastor is that there should be silence between the palms and the rest of the service, to set apart the festive entry into Jerusalem from the solemness of the rest of the service – the focus on the death of Christ.
And yet, even that moment of silence doesn’t really damped our excitement over these three young members confessing their faith. Why? Because it IS a big occasion. We can’t really just ignore what’s happening here among us. It is an important time. The reason that we have it now is so that on Easter they will be communicants and partake of the fullness of the feast of victory for our God. This comes from the ancient practice where new members would be Baptized and admitted at the midnight vigil on Easter. We don’t have one of those services, so we back up to the next Sunday Service. Here we are, getting ready for Good Friday and Easter, by welcoming these three into the fellowship of the altar of this congregation and of the Lutheran Church.
Today marks the culmination of years of study for them. The two years of Catechesis to be sure. But also the years before that – from the time of their baptism, when they were first brought to the church, they have been brought back again and again, to hear, sing, pray, and be blessed with the Word of God. Today for the first time they take eat and take drink. And it’s good that family gather to be a part of this, to receive with them the gifts of God, to encourage them as they receive these gifts. And to offer prayer that they be kept in the faith they confess this day.
But in the scheme of things church-year wise, we would be remiss if we did not at least spend a few moments meditating on where we are, and what is going to happen this week.
Holy Week – the week of Jesus death and resurrection. The week that forgiveness was won for you. The week that is the center and anchor of the rest of the church year. Everything is measured from this. Going forward – Pentecost is fifty days from now, Trinity the next Sunday and then the Sundays after, counting to the end of the church year. And Christmas is placed on December 25 – not because of some invented Roman festival, but because it was thought to be nine months from March 25 – which was thought to be the date of the crucifixion. So, our church year revolves around Jesus death.
And so does our Catechesis. Without the death of Jesus, without the resurrection, then there is no Gospel. And the Creed, the Holy Trinity, three in one and one in three, points to Jesus. Jesus is true God and True man, the only begotten son of the Father. And it is his uniqueness as God and man that allows him to die on the cross to save you from your sins. Without the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there can be no Son to die. And if Jesus can not die, then you can have no forgiveness of sins.
The Lord’s Prayer begins our Father. Without Jesus taking our sins away, there is no “God is our father, and we are his true children.” That can only be because of what Jesus has done.
In baptism we are baptized into his death. In the Supper we receive the body and blood of the Lord, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And in Holy Absolution, we hear the voice of the resurrected Jesus – whoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven.
Jesus death and resurrection are the center of our catechesis, the center of our preaching, the center of our life together. It is what we teach, what we confess. And it is why we spend time instructing the children. Not so that they can parrot back the correct answers to our carefully constructed questions, but so that they learn by heart the promises of God. Not just in their head, but in their heart. The words that are so precious to us: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord… Our Father who art in heaven… These are the building blocks of our faith – because they point to Christ.
You see when we talk about confessing the faith, it’s not just confessing for the sake of confessing. To confess the faith is to confess something specific. We don’t have this strange thing called “The Faith” that’s just floating around out there. Faith has an object. And in the case of the church, it is Christ crucified. We see it every time we come into the church – there’s Jesus on the cross.
Ooops. We can’t see it now, can we. This is the week when we talk most about it – we have four services with the four different Gospel accounts of the crucifixion. We have the service on Thursday, where Christ institutes the holy supper of his body and blood. And this is the time that Christ on the cross is hidden from our eyes. And yet, it only draws attention to what is underneath. Take a child’s toy, and put it in front of him. He might play with it. He might decide he wants a different toy. Wrap it so he doesn’t know what it is, and you have his compete undivided attention. The gift of Jesus on the cross. Our attention is drawn to the cross now more than ever, because today we can’t see it.
The confession of our young confirmands is not “I believe in believing. But “I believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, who died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.” And yet, they are not saved because of their faith. They are saved because of Christ’s promise working through that faith. Just as you are. The good confession has power not because it is a confession, but because of the one being confessed.
It’s all about Jesus. Always, only, all: from and to and through him. So, when we have the triumphal entry into the city, it’s because it points us to Jesus going out of the city on Friday to die for our sins. We hear the reading of the crucifixion because there is no preaching apart from that, and this is Holy Week. We have the children confess today and celebrate with them, because this way they can join us in hearing about the death of Christ, and of receiving His body and blood as we celebrate the resurrection.
It’s all about Jesus. Whether we celebrate or mourn. Whether we are happy or sad. Whether we are confessing when it is easy, or it is hard. Whether we live or die. We do it all in and through Jesus.
His death is the center of everything the children have learned, because it is the content of our preaching, the focus of our faith, the center of who we are, and the reason for whose we are.
Without Jesus death, no matter what we think we have, we have nothing. Which is why Jesus death is everything. Amen.