March 24, 2002 A+D
St. Matthew 21:1-19; St. Matthew 26:1-27:66
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The borrowed ass, the palms and garments on the path, the complaining, fearful priests and the cries of believers: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”, four days until He is betrayed, five until He washes His disciples feet and leaves His last Testament, six until He dies and the women weep as though He would not rise: this is Palm Sunday.
It was not so much a triumphal victory march as a steady procession to the gallows. But still, despite their murderous rejection, despite the sleepy, weak-willed disciples, despite the angry mobs and plotting Sanhedrin, and, even more because of all that, He rides. He rides on to die, to lay down the Life that no one takes from Him, to make an offering to the Father worthy of all the sins committed in Sodom and Gomorrah, in Hollywood and Fort Wayne, worthy of all the sins of the Holocaust and the World Trade Center attacks, of playground bullies and barroom roughnecks, worthy of all man’s vain attempts at genocide and slavery and abuse, worthy of all the nasty little things that go on behind closed doors in our homes and the secret lusts and desires of all our evil minds. He rides into that city of martyrdom knowing full well what is in store, what it takes to reclaim man again as His. He rides having plumbed the depths of our crimes and staggering demand of exact punishment.
He does not do this for sport. He does not waste His time, pick an obscure and difficult way out of pettiness or boredom, as though He could have done it another way. This is what it takes, what it costs, what is necessary. There is no other way! The Son of David must suffer and die for sins He did not commit so that man is again His and the devil does not win. He rides to children’s praise that day so that He can drain the Cup of wrath for you, in your stead, as your Substitute, to make atonement for your actual, personal guilt. He has broken down the gates of Hell. He has removed the flaming sword that kept us from paradise. He has undone death, robbed the grave, crushed the serpent’s head – by His death. He has opened His Father’s treasury, and named us murderers, liars, cheats, betrayers, adulterers, blasphemers, and cowards – no more, now, by Grace, by Divine proclamation that no one can deny, you are named as His, as Christians, as His heirs. For what else does it mean to be anointed by water infused with God’s Name, with God’s Word and command? It means that He has bought you. You have been transferred, and now belong, to Him, and not to the devil. For you must belong to one or the other.
Thus, we speak of His Passion. We mean by that His intense suffering and death. But that is not what the word “passion” means. It doesn’t mean “suffering and death. It means “obsessive, driven love.” We use it for His suffering and dying because that was driven by intense love that would not let go, that risked all, gave up everything, that died to make us His. He is driven still by love that loves us even without being loved back and which makes no demands. That is Passion. It is His passion for you, His obsessive, driven love for you, that sent Him riding into Jerusalem a week before He picked that Body borne of Mary up again and passed through the stone that held Him in and through the doors that they locked for fear of the Jews to show Thomas His wounds. Now it drives Him in that same Body through the years and down the ages into our midst today. For lo, He is with you always. He rides into our hall, not as some spirit or ghost, some vague recollection or re-enactment, some power of the imagination or special effects and mood alteration. He rides in the Body, the Body bruised and beaten, bloodied and pierced, laid in the tomb and raised up to Life again. That same Body, that actual, real, very, physical Body is placed upon the Paten and then upon your tongue so that you may confess Jesus is Lord, that you would eat what is good, what He wants you to have, what makes you whole, forgives your sin, gives you peace: His Body.
He rides that Passover week to make a Sacrifice, to mark us with Blood that will stave off the angel of death. And the Blood He shed, the Blood that dripped in Gethsemane, that stained the centurion’s spear, that His broken-heart ceased to pump, that Blood marks the doorpost of your heart: your tongue. For it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out. The tongue betrays our evil hearts, our sleepy, expedient faith. To circumcise our hearts, to make them pure, to justify us, to guard and keep us in the Truth, to liberate our tongues of the confession that Jesus is Lord, the Blood of Christ is poured forth from the Chalice upon our tongues and to our hearts. He does what we could not. He makes us pure from the outside in. His Blood is poured not so that you would consume it, but so that it, His Blood, would consume and cover you. Death passes over. You are spared.
He is the Son of David. He accepts worship and praise for He is the God of Abraham. He comes in the Name of the Lord, in His own Name, the Name of mercy who saves His people. He hears the heartfelt prayer of the believer, “Hosanna. Save us now!” And He rides into Jerusalem to accomplish it. That is Palm Sunday. Your prayer is answered.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana