Sermon for Palmarum

Today’s sermon doesn’t really address the whole “Palm” part of Palm Sunday. We did the Passion reading, and so it was based on a tiny section of that.

Palm Sunday is – when we have confirmands – Confirmation Day. We enter with the Palms, we hear of our Lord’s triumphal entry, and then we hear the confession of faith from our catechumens – the same faith confessed when they were baptized – and they are admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar in time to join us in receiving the body and blood of Christ at Easter.

When we do that, we have a lot to cover. The Palms, the entry, the confession of faith. It takes up enough time that we don’t get to hear the entire Passion account.

But, in years when we don’t have children being confirmed – like this one, when our catechumens are both finishing their first year – we get to hear the Passion Account according to Saint Matthew.

It is a long-standing tradition in the church to hear the passion account today. True, it’s Palm Sunday. We have a lot going on with that. We’ve got our catechism review game show later this morning. But this is the only chance we have in the church year to hear the crucifixion of Jesus read on a Sunday. We’ve been getting ready for it. Friday we commemorate it with the Tenebrae Service. But there is no Sunday in the church year for hearing of the crucifixion. Now, every Sunday is a Sunday to hear about the crucifixion. We preach Christ crucified. And each Sunday we receive the body and blood of our Savior, given and shed on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sins. But actually hearing the passion account – that only happens on Palm Sunday. We start with the Palms. We sing the song of praise. We pause. Silence to mark the transition. Because we know something those crowds on Palm Sunday didn’t know. We know what the apostles could not even imagine on that festive day – Jesus came to Jerusalem to die. He isn’t hear to start an earthly kingdom. He isn’t hear to have the disciples receive thrones after kicking out the Romans and re-establishing the kingdom of David.

Jesus is here to be betrayed, handed over to the Gentiles, crucified, and on the third day rise again. We spend six weeks preparing for this most Holy of weeks. The entire church year revolves around the events of Holy Week. We know nothing, except Christ crucified. It is all we have.

And today, we heard the account according to Saint Matthew. Thousands of books have written about what we just heard. There isn’t time to even begin to cover all of it. And we can never fully comprehend the depth of love, the greatness of the sacrifice, the gift of forgiveness, that was won on the cross. But we can spend a few minutes meditating on just a few of the words in the Gospel reading.

Hear again the word of the Lord from Matthew, the 26 chapter.

And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”

10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

This doesn’t – at first – seem to be related to the crucifixion of Jesus. The disciples certainly don’t see any specific relation between the two events. They think this is an appalling waste. But Jesus knows. He is going to be crucified. The fragrant perfume that the woman uses serves to prepare him for his burial. Not really. Almost certainly the perfume made no actual difference in the burial of Jesus. But that’s not really the point of it. It’s not that now he won’t need as much perfume for his body in the grave. Jesus body will be free of decay and corruption. Technically, he doesn’t need any of the spices or oils. But she is anointing him – because she knows how great her sins were. She knows how much she has been forgiven by Jesus. And she has to respond to that. She can’t not respond.

And the only thing she has of any value to Jesus would have been her perfume. She takes the perfume, and uses it to anoint his feet.

It’s an odd image. But one of devotion. And – given her checkered past – one that is oddly pure. There is nothing untoward or forward about what she is doing – she isn’t anointing him for services rendered. She isn’t preparing him for a night of passion. She is anointing him in a way that shows she has no designs on him, except to show her gratitude.

And that’s all any of us can do for God. We can’t give him anything that he didn’t first give us. Our possessions – from the greatest to the least – are a gift of God. Even our time in this world is a gift from him. And we are given that time, those treasures, so that we can praise God, and show love to our neighbor. That’s what the woman does – she is praising God. That’s foolishness to the world. The world can not seek after the things of God. The disciples – and we are told in John’s Gospel that it was especially Judas – are driven by a false piety – we could help the poor. We don’t need any fancy aroma or any of those things. And yet, this extravagant and brief praise of God is recorded in all four gospels. Jesus says that it will be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached. Because she gave the best that she could, merely to say thank you for the forgiveness Jesus had given her. She heard and received the things of God, and responds – even if she doesn’t know it at that time – by meditating on and pointing to Jesus death.

She gave the richest gift she owned to him. And it wasn’t a large sum of money to be slowly used by the apostles. It was a once-off gift of aroma. It was her own tears. Her own hair. She gave what she had to Jesus – and the timing was perfect. He is within days of his own death. The disciples will abandon him. The people will turn against him. The Romans will mock and crucify him. But her tender act of devotion points to Jesus fragrant offering before the Father on behalf of not only herself, but of all sinners. Let my prayer rise before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Jesus is the sacrifice. And the woman offers a pleasing incense – a pleasing aroma for Jesus. Her act of devotion will be spoken of throughout the world. She will be the example of the forgiven sinner. The example of how to respond to God’s infinite grace and mercy.

We respond with our prayers, with our praise. With the word of God in our mouth, and on our lips, and in our hearts. We look to Jesus, the one who was crucified, and hold on to him – like the woman holding on to Jesus, weeping onto his blessed feet. We come to hear the word of God – to receive the gifts he gives. For this is true worship of our heavenly Father. To hear his word, to be taught that word in its truth and purity. To receive the gifts given through that word – the forgiveness won by Jesus in his suffering and death. That is the true worship. To receive the salvation Jesus has earned for you and hold fast to it.

This week we will hear again of his suffering and death. But for now, for a moment, we remember the forgiven woman. The woman of faith. Who gave what she had to Jesus – who was given the great honor of preparing him for his death and burial. We can never do such a great deed. We can, like the woman, give to him what we have. But it is nothing, compared to the gift he has already given us – his own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. The one who is forgiven much loveth much. God, grant us to know the depth of your merciful forgiveness, that we may respond in love to you.

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