Lent 6 2012

Palm Sunday
St. Matthew 21:1-9
March 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The date palm was among the earliest cultivated trees. They are characteristic of oases and watered places and their fruit is edible. The judge Deborah rendered her decisions under a palm tree and the Hebrew poets counted the palm as a symbol of beauty and prosperity. Palms were used in the construction of the booths for the festival of booths and carved images of palms were used, by Divine command, to decorate the temple.

Not everyone in Jerusalem may have known all this. Whether they did or not, it seems likely that at least some of those who cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David “ were confused about what was happening or where Jesus was going. But the saints in heaven, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, were not.  St. John, in his vision of the Apocalypse, sees palms in the hands of those who have come through the great tribulation and been washed in the Blood of the Lamb. They take up palms to identify with Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem as a Sacrifice. They rejoice to see the real victory, not a military hero or a great visionary, but the Sacrifice who rode on to redeem them despite the terrible cost.

Palm branches represent an oasis, water and food, rest and shelter, in a barren and hostile place. This is what God gives in the Temple and His Word: He gives refreshment, rest, safety.  Jesus is the Temple built without hands. He abides in the hearts of the faithful. He enters into them through His sacrificed, yet risen, Body and Blood. So the saints in heaven decorate themselvesd like the Temple on earth, with palms, for they are the place of the Lamb’s gracious Blood, the Temples of the Holy Spirit.

This is why we can also take up palms. We are yet in the great tribulation. We are still attacked by the devil, the world, and our fallen nature. Yet we are one with them, the great cloud of witnesses, our brothers who have gone before us in the sign of faith. We, too, are Temples of the Holy Spirit. We, too, identify with Our Lord’s victory in death. So we take palms.

That doesn’t mean every one of us has understood this perfectly, either now or in years past. We might yet be confused or only dipping our toes into the waters rather than swimming. In that, we are like some of the crowd on Palm Sunday, even the Holy Apostles themselves. We may not fully understand the significance of palms or kneeling or the chants. But that is okay. The Kingdom comes by grace not understanding. You have a lifetime and beyond to enjoy and learn these things.

But worse yet, we may not fully understand what the Lord Jesus has done for us in allowing them to do those terrible things to Him. We may not understand why He rode that Sunday and how He answered the cry, “Hosanna.” We can never fully solve these mysteries here on earth but we do well to apply our hearts to wisdom, to contemplate these holy things. Let us do then and thus prepare for Holy Week.

First we need to remember that Our God, the Lord Jesus, rode to His death on the cross as a Man. He took up our cause and has taken our very nature to the cross. Human nature, fallen and corrupt, was under the wrath of God. It was impossible for men to find favor with God in this state.  The Scriptures teach that “all by nature are children of wrath (Eph 2:3),” “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified (Rom 3:20),” and “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God (Ps 9:17).”

This is what the Christ took up: our flesh of wrath. He took it that He might do and suffer what was impossible for us. He carried it, our nature, through His earthly days as a life of penance. He carried it in agony, suffering in all the ways we suffer, until He submitted, at last, even to death. In Him, our sinful nature died and rose again. It died on the cross and was buried. Yet that death was its new creation. In Christ, it satisfied its old and heavy debt. For in Him, it was without sin. He had kept it pure. He had kept the Law. Thus, when it had been offered up upon the Cross, and was made perfect by suffering, it, our nature, in the Christ, became the first-fruits of a new man, and was restored to its place in creation and beyond.

He did not sin: the Law was fulfilled. He was not a child of wrath. But then He allowed the Law to do to Him everything that the Law demanded of Law-breakers. He was declared a child of wrath and not spared any of Hell’s fury or sin’s shame. Again: the Law was fulfilled. It  had nothing left to accuse us with. It was spent all upon Him. Our nature, in Christ, was clean once again. He was declared a sinner. He  paid the wages demanded by justice. And you are declared righteous and holy and receive the wages of mercy.

Thus, St. Paul writes, “If one died for all, then all died (2 Cor 5:14),” “our old man is crucified in Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed (Rom 6:6),” and “together” with Christ “when we were dead in sins, He quickened us, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6).”

We are now members of His body (Eph 5:30), from His flesh, and from His bones: “for whosoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood, has eternal life.” “For His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed;” and “he that eats His flesh and drinks His blood dwells in Him, and He in him (Jn 6:54).”[1]

This is why the angels and perfected saints rejoice this week and hold their palms. Let us do the same and mingle our praise with theirs.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[1] The section that begins ““Human nature, fallen and corrupt, was under the wrath of God, “ until the footnote is modified from a sermon by John Henry Newman found in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 6 (London; Oxford; Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1868). 79-80.

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