We started this morning with the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We heard selections from the Passion account. In a few moments, our catechumens will confess the faith and will be admitted to the Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood for the first time.
A whole sermon could be – should be – preached for each one of those things. Entire books have been written. There is too much for us to do today. While we can not properly consider the entirety of what happens this day, we should take a few minutes to consider the Word of the Lord, and hear what he would teach us.
What we hear is the death of Jesus. Paul says “We preach Christ Crucified.” For most of the church year, we hear of Christ Crucified through the lens of some other portion of the Gospels. Today we hear Matthew’s account of the crucifixion itself. All the Palm branches and hosannas lead up to it, point to it. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die. He announces it to his disciples before they even leave Galilee. He tells them on the way. He weeps over the city when he sees it. The triumphal entry is just one more step in that journey. It’s a journey that started long before Jesus was even born. The curse and promise in Eden: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed, he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. The seed of the woman – Jesus – will crush the head of the serpent. The serpent will die, but the one who kills him will be fatally struck. A promise made thousands of years before, is now finally fulfilled in Jesus. He is the seed of the woman who will overcome death hell and the devil on the cross. As we say in the Proper Preface, he who overcame by the tree of the garden would by the tree of the cross be overcome. That was the promise. Jesus fulfills the promise.
The death of Jesus is for the salvation of the whole world. All the offspring of Eve are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. And so, our young catechumens are also saved by that sacrifice. They were joined to the sacrifice and given salvation at their baptism. On that day, others spoke for them. Now, they speak for themselves. We do not honor them today for any promise that they make. We honor the one who saved them in Holy Baptism. Confirmation is not an extra outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a confirmation and celebration of the Spirit giving them faith and working salvation in them through Holy Baptism. They were given salvation when the water was poured and the word of God spoken over them. Now they speak that promise of salvation aloud, they add their “Amen” to the church’s confession of faith. Having been instructed in the substance and promise of our Lord’s Body and Blood, they will enter into that most holy communion. Luther says it is not our intention to give the sacrament to those who do not know what they receive or why they come. They have been instructed in the Word of our Lord. They have confessed that his word “This is my body” is true. It is not symbol, it is not a physical representation of a spiritual truth. When Jesus says “This is my body” he means “This is my body.” There can be no doubt – no calling God a liar. No suggesting that our bets be hedged. It is his last will and testament. This body, about to be sacrificed on the cross and made dead is given to you under the bread – it is the body and blood of God. There are those who question it – how can bread and wine really be the body and blood of Jesus. You may as well ask, how can the body and blood of a person in this world be the eternally begotten Son of the Father? How can Jesus be present in the world as a person walking around teaching the disciples and at the same time be in heaven with his heavenly Father reigning above all the earth? How can flesh and blood be Almighty God himself given for the sins of the whole world? And how exactly is it that God can die on that cross and be placed in a tomb? Such things are too wonderful for us. We can not comprehend the depth of love behind those concepts. So also our reason can not understand how they can be. It must be received by faith. With the eyes in our head we see Jesus a man. With the eyes of faith, we worship God. With the eyes in our head we see bread and wine. With the eyes of faith we know it to be the true body and blood given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Human reason must bow before the throne of almighty God.
The Word of God did not lie when salvation was promised to the whole world through Jesus sacrifice The Word spoken by Jesus at the table on the night he was betrayed is true. Body, blood – not because we wish it or because of our faith, but because of his promise. The word of God makes this miracle a reality. Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him? Who is this that is truly present, distributed, and received under the form of bread and wine? This is almighty God, crucified for you.
Doubt not. Believe the promise. It is for you and your children. For all those who believe on his name. For our young catechumens here today, who join us at the rail, no longer to receive only a blessing and remembrance of baptism, but who now eat and drink – who taste and see that the Lord is good.
Jesus tasted death so that we would taste the life he gives. And today our catechumens partake of this foretaste of the feast to come. In it the body given into death, the blood shed for their sins is offered to them to eat and to drink so that they would be joined to Christ, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood. The atoning sacrifice, the life of God himself that coursed through the veins of Jesus, is now given to them so that they may partake of the life that he is.
We normally don’t do festive things this far into Lent. As we prepare for the events to come this week, some might say the joy of today is a distraction. It is not. Today we rejoice with these two, as part of our preparation for the death of our Lord. It all comes down to those three days. The days between betrayal and resurrection. The three days of passion, suffering, death, and entombment.
Today in the Gospel reading Jesus cried out “My God My God why have you forsaken me.” If we had read the entire account – two complete chapters – we would have heard Jesus saying “If it is possible, take this cup from me.” As he faced death, Jesus was afraid. Ponder that one for a moment. The Lord and creator of the universe was reduced to fear and trembling. He was so terrified that his blood came streaming out of his pores. That is the anguish of spirit he suffered in the garden. And it was nothing compared to the anguish of hell he suffered on the cross as he was abandoned by God. As he was judged by His Father for the sins of the world. No sin you have committed or will commit was left out of the atonement, and so no part of God’s wrath was left off of the punishment. Today, we heard not just of the death of Jesus, but of the judgment day itself.
Through Holy Baptism, Delaney and Rosalind have been joined to the death of Jesus, just as every Christian has been joined to that death through Holy Baptism. Each day is a living out of that joined-to-Christ-and-His-death-on-the-cross of Baptism. For that is what Baptism does. It joins to Christ and his death. The punishment, the judgment for sin is placed on him. And so the victory he won over sin death and hell is given to the little children. Just as it was for you when the Word and Water made you God’s child.
At Baptism, we have adults speak on behalf of the children. They did not speak for themselves that day. Others spoke for them, confessed their faith, and God worked his miracle just as he had promised. There is nothing you can do to earn it, or to make it yours. It is the judicial decree of God spoken over you through the word. “This child is now mine through Holy Baptism.” You were torn from Satan’s grasp.
Today, these two confess that same faith, not doubting but firmly believing in Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, who has redeemed them, purchased and won them from sin death and the devil, with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, and who now reigns as their Lord. Today we celebrate the coming together of the promises of God. The promise made in the garden to our first parents. The promise made in the triumphal entry. The promise made to these two in Holy Baptism, the promise made to all who eat his body and drink his blood with faith in the word of Jesus “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” All of today’s promises come together in the death of Jesus. Today we have heard Matthew’s account of that death. Tuesday and Wednesday we hear from Mark and Luke. Friday we hear from John. Four times the death of Christ recounted for you, so that you would hear the word and believe, and so have life in his name. And then, next Sunday, the promise of life eternal through the resurrection of Jesus. How he overcame death and the grave. It is our promise of eternal life as well.
For now, we continue on this path, to the cross. We invite Delaney and Rosalind to receive the body and blood with us, to taste of that gift, to be joined to Christ and his sacrifice. To take into themselves the blood, reserved for the atonement of sins, reserved for the work of God, and now offered to all who believe in his name, who come confessing the truth of his word that this is not mere bread, but it is the very body of Jesus. It is not simply wine. It is his blood of the New Testament. In these seemingly humble things, heaven and earth collide, and as Jesus has promised, forgiveness of sins is given. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.