The Sermon for Palm (Passion) Sunday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Hoopeston, IL
Rev. James T. Batchelor
It is a good idea to be aware of the context of any form of communication that comes your way. This is true whether you are reading a book or listening to the news on the radio or watching a documentary on TV. Getting the context right is always important. Many unfortunate events have been the result of things taken out of context.
The context of Palm Sunday is that Jesus’ had set His face toward Jerusalem. He had an appointment with a cross. He had come from Galilee preaching and teaching and healing as He went, but ultimately, Jerusalem was the goal of His journey. On Palm Sunday, we remember that Jesus arrived at His goal and began to set into motion the final stages of the plan that would put Him on the cross for the sins of the world.
His last stop on the way to Jerusalem had been the house of His good friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. When he arrived at their house, Lazarus had been dead for four days. When He left, Lazarus was alive again. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. The news spread like wildfire.
As Jesus began the final leg of His trip from the home of His newly revived friend, the city of Jerusalem poured out onto the road to welcome Him. It was Passover and people from all over the Jewish world had come to celebrate in Jerusalem. No doubt, many people were there from Galilee and had seen Jesus perform other miracles. To many of these people, the resurrection of Lazarus was the capstone of the career of this miracle worker who was now coming to Jerusalem. They all came out to greet Him shouting, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Do those words sound familiar? They should. They are the words that we sing every time we prepare to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In a way, we are having our very own Palm Sunday every time we celebrate that holy meal. We too celebrate the coming of the Lord as he comes to totally give Himself to us in His body and blood.
Now, we know why Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. We have the advantage of the 20 / 20 hindsight of historical perspective. We have the written word of the Evangelists to tell us what was going on. Most of the people, who were there that day, didn’t know what was going on. Jesus had taught them that the definition of the Christ is to suffer, die, and rise from the dead on the third day, but until they actually witnessed these things, the people couldn’t grasp His teaching.
There were probably dozens of opinions as to the reason Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. Some of the saner folk might have thought that Jesus was coming into town as a loyal Son of Israel in order to simply celebrate the Passover. Some of the more radical elements of society might have hoped that Jesus was coming to liberate Jerusalem from the tyranny of Rome. There may have been many who received the benefit of His touch – people who had once been lepers, lame, blind, deaf, demon-possessed, but were now healed. They wanted to take another opportunity to thank and praise Jesus. Who knows all the different reasons the people came out to celebrate the celebrity status of Jesus.
There are two things we can say with certainty. The Pharisees were very frustrated and said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” The other thing we can say is that few if any people expected Jesus to come into Jerusalem in order to meet His death.
Now it is not unusual for people to die. Each and every one of us travels closer and closer to death as we make our way in this world. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, death is a very real part of this world for all of us. It is a sign that we are sinners and because we are sinners, we sin all the time. We daily sin much and deserve eternal punishment. Lying, cheating, stealing, unfaithfulness, and even murder are all basic parts of our every day lives. Even when God tries to give us the gifts of His love, we reject them. Sooner or later, each of us must collect the payment for all this sin and that payment is death. So why is it so important that Jesus is entering Jerusalem to die? We all have to die sometime, right?
It is important because Jesus’ death is going to do something that no other death could do. His death is going to reconcile God’s love and His justice. God is perfect and cannot allow sin to go unpunished. That is His justice. He also loves us and does not want to punish us. That is His love. In order to satisfy His justice and His love, God placed the sin of the world on Jesus. Then He punished the sin of the world in His beloved Son Jesus Christ.
In a way that we cannot understand, God the Father forsook God the Son. The Son endured the punishment of hell and satisfied God’s justice for all people. That means that all people have total access to the love and forgiveness of God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is the reason that Palm Sunday is so important for us. It commemorates the beginning of the week that ended with the death that reconciled God’s love and His justice. It commemorates the beginning of the week that ended with the death of Jesus.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in order to go to His death. His death reconciles God’s justice and love and earns forgiveness for all people. If that is the case, why do some people still go to hell?
There is only one reason. They reject the love and forgiveness that Jesus earned for them on the cross. They try to find that love and forgiveness by living a better life, but no one can do that. They try to find that love and forgiveness in Allah, or Buddha, or Hare Krishna. Maybe they try to find that love and forgiveness deep down in their own hearts. By trying to find that love and forgiveness in all those other places, we are telling Jesus that we don’t want His love and forgiveness. We are actually telling Jesus that we would rather spend eternity in hell than spend it with Him. God even has love and forgiveness for the people in hell. They are there simply because they rejected God’s love and forgiveness when He offered it to them.
Jesus did not enter Jerusalem just to meet His death. Although Palm Sunday began the week that ended in His death, the next week started with His life. Although He once laid in death’s dark chains, He now lives. Jesus did not just enter Jerusalem to die, but to die and rise from the dead.
Christ’s resurrection means that His death successfully brought God’s justice and love into perfect harmony. His resurrection is the proclamation of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil. He has opened heaven for all mankind. Only those who reject God’s love by rejecting Jesus will remain outside where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to His death and resurrection almost two thousand years ago on the other side of the world. Obviously, we weren’t there. Never the less, God has provided ways for the reconciliation of God’s love and justice to reach us here in this place and time. The Holy Spirit inspired some of the eyewitnesses to write it down in the Gospels. Jesus gave the sacrament of Holy Baptism to His church. He has given the Holy Spirit to His church so that she can forgive sins in His name. He has promised to be in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Holy Supper. In these ways, the Holy Spirit connects us to the work that Jesus did for us during the eight days that began when He rode into Jerusalem.
When the crowds sang “Hosanna!” they didn’t realize their Messiah would soon die for the sins of the world. Through the Word of God, the waters of baptism, the proclamation of absolution, and the Holy Supper, we know exactly why we sing “Hosanna!”
When we sing “Hosanna” as we prepare to dine with and on our Lord, let us remember that we are celebrating the Lord entering the New Jerusalem of His church to give Himself to us in His body and blood. Say “Amen” to the reconciliation of His love and justice in His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen