April 8, 2001 A+D
St. John 12:12-19 (Palm Sunday) & St. Matthew26-27 (The Passion)
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
No one ever left one of Jesus’ sermons saying, “Well, that was nice.” Either they hated Him and wanted to kill Him, like the Pharisees, or it changed their lives, like Zacchaeus and St. Matthew the tax-collectors. There is no in-between place, no comfort zone. All would-be fence riding moderates, all those waiting to see which way the wind will blow, they already belong to Satan.
To a certain degree this is the problem of the modern Church: We leave far too many services, hear far too many sermons, and say, “Well, that was nice.” And not only have we done that and liked it, but we have even hungered for it and demanded it. We have said: “Preacher, don’t rock the boat! Just give us a modern version of the old lies. Fill the offering plate with pious platitudes and quaint moral lessons. But don’t hit us where we live. Don’t challenge us. Don’t teach us. Don’t open up the Word of God for us. Our prejudices suit us just fine. Our familiar sins are like family, and you’re not against family are you? Why should we change, be transformed? We like our middle of the road way in the middle of middle-class middle-America. Oh, yes the Pharisees, who we love to hate and look down upon, are our friends. So, don’t ask us to have convictions, or worse, to act on them. And no matter how many times Our Lord and the prophets preached repentance, leave that topic alone. We’ve outgrown it.”
Repent. You have not outgrown it. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, for the hour of salvation is upon us and no man knows when his last hour comes. Repent while it is day, before the night comes when no man can work. Confess your sins. Acknowledge your wretchedness. Be emptied, that you might be filled. Throw yourself upon the sure and certain, the promised and absolute, mercy of the Almighty God. Doubt not but believe. Look to Him and find healing, restoration, revival, and rest. Turn to Him for forgiveness by Grace.
Yes, this life is hard. This struggle against the forces of darkness is tiresome. But the fact of the matter is you’ll never get out of the Church Militant alive. It is either desertion to the dark side, a wearied giving-in, or it is promotion to the Church Triumphant where sin will harass you no more. Thus the blessed Reformer in Thesis #1 of Ninety-Five, “When Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed that the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance and faith are synonymous. Faith is a life-long struggle against the powers of darkness. It is deliberate and on-going strife against temptation. It is falling again and again, being bruised and beaten, but then being miraculously picked up, brushed off, encouraged, strengthened. And, then, sent back into the fray again. Confession and absolution are the constant and consistent rhythm of our lives in Christ. Thus, Our Lord enters Jerusalem on the Sunday before His sacrifice for this very purpose: To recruit us traitorous rebels for His army, to make us strong in Him, to win the Victory for us, to pick us up, bind our wounds, and love away our hurts.
He rides that day knowing full well what is in store, what our rebellion will cost Him. He will drink the cup of wrath from His Father’s hand. He will suffer in the agony of His soul for the sins of the whole world. He who knew no sin will become sin. Justice will be met in Him. The Father will forsake His Son. He will die. And – and never, never leave this part out – He will rise again, triumphant over the grave. Death will die. Life will live!
Again – He rides into Jerusalem in a peasants’ procession. They hail Him as Messiah, the Son of David who comes in the Name of the Lord to save them. They wave their palms, carpet His path with branches and their garments, and rejoice at His coming. He comes as the Prince of Peace to the City of Peace (for just as “Philadelphia” means “the city of brotherly love,” “Jerusalem” means “the city of peace.”) He comes to bring Peace which passes all understanding. And in that place, home of the martyr prophets, in the shadow of the Temple He will make Peace by allowing them to do violence to Him. He will give life by means of death. The Lord of Life will defeat death by submitting to its reign, and in that victory, from that glorious throne of Grace erected between two malefactors, that good death, the reign of Life will begin! Indeed, He dies. But then He takes up His Life again and reigns as the Lord of Life by Life. He lives.
Death is dead. The grave is empty. Praise God!
Now, this conquering Hero over death has not left us on our own. He who rode into Jerusalem, rides still. For on the night in which He was betrayed, the night before He gave His Life, He gave the substance of that Life to His disciples, and to us. Yes, the Blood He shed on Calvary, the Blood that washes sinners clean, He distributes now in the Chalice, and makes you one with Him. You cannot travel across time and go to the cross. How will your sins be washed away in His Blood? This way: He brings the benefits of the cross, He brings His Blood, His Life, to you in the Holy Communion. The Blood that soaked the soldier’s spear, the Blood that dripped into the ground of Gethsemane, the Blood that His broken heart ceased to pump, is in the Cup. Until He comes again, He comes now in this, the very thing He has given us to do. And in this He delivers unto us the benefit of His Cross, the forgiveness of our sins. Thus we proclaim, and participate in, the death of Jesus Christ. His death liberates us from death and Hell. It marks us as His own. The angel of death passes over. We are spared by this Blood. It is the Life substance of the Incarnate One which we drink. He who rode into Jerusalem by lowly donkey and her colt that blessed Sunday before His death, rides again today. He rides into our midst by the lowly means, in common things, in bread and in wine.
With this celebration we embark upon our holiest observance, our holiest week. May it be unto us a call to repentance and to life, a blessing, a bestowal of God’s Grace, a godly remembrance and proclamation of how just much He has and does love us.
Oh Christian, rejoice! Death is dead. Life lives. The grave is empty. Praise God! Our Hallelujahs draw nigh. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen, Pastor
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana