Lent 6 Palm Sunday 2020

Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020 A+D
St. Matthew 21:1-9

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

What were the people on their way to the Passover afraid of? Something spooked them. They cried out for rescue. Was it the Roman soldiers or the priests? Were they afraid of running out of money or having to cross borders to get back home? Did they fear for their loved ones and what the government or their neighbors would do to them? The ancient world was much more hostile than our world. Their lifespans were short. Brutality was common. Sickness was rampant. Death and disfigurement were ubiquitous. Everyone had lost many significant people. They had plenty to be scared of. They were certainly in need of rescue.

It doesn’t matter exactly what it was. It could have been several things at once. And it could be that each of them had unique fears and that some of it was irrational. They did not know the future, but they rightly understood that it was dangerous. The future is always dangerous for mortals and for sinners. Whether they fully understood what they were saying or not, they did the right thing: they cried out to Jesus to save them. We do well to follow their example.

Everyone of us is afraid these days. Some are afraid that they will die either from the virus itself or from the healthcare system being overwhelmed or from some other piece of infrastructure, such as our water supply or our toilet paper supply, failing due to the virus or the panic caused by the virus or by bad government response to the virus. The toilet paper thing seems crazy, but fear of death is legitimate. We should fear death. We should avoid it and we rightly seek to postpone it. We were not intended to die. We were created for life. We only die because of sin.

But we are Christians. Jesus died for us as one of us. He has transformed death into a passage. We pass through death and into life. Death itself is evil, but God uses it for good and physical death is not the worst possible thing. The worst possible thing is spiritual death, unbelief, which leads to eternal death. Even before this current crisis, we were dying. So be afraid of death, but do not worship life. Fear God above all and trust in Him and His love. Be careful. Be wise. Be responsible. But don’t be terrified, don’t be foolish and selfish. Even if you die, you will live because Jesus who died lives. Cry out to Him, Hosanna, Son of David. Save us. He has and He will.

Others are afraid their loved ones might die. It is painful to lose loved ones. We were not created to outlive our children, to bury our parents, or to carry on as widows and widowers. But we are Christians. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. He carried on without Joseph. We know that our loved ones who confess Christ will not be separated from us by death forever. Even now we join with them in the Holy Communion while we endure in this life. There is only one Church in heaven and on earth. We will all rise from the dead on the last day. God the Holy Spirit will give eternal life to us and to all who believe in Christ. We will see our loved ones who confess Christ again and they will never be taken from us.

So be careful. Be wise. Be responsible, but don’t be terrified. This life is temporary. Its span and its goodness is passing away, but God’s promises and our bonds in Him are eternal. The greatest evil here is not that we have to endure sorrow on earth or that we will have to carry on for a time without our loved ones. The greatest evil is that our loved ones die apart from faith.

And what of that? Does that give us some fear? Indeed! But they are lost to us already. We don’t have the union with them now that faith brings. Our love is not full for and with them. It can’t be. The solution isn’t to keep them alive in this living death at all costs, but to witness to them, to pray for them, and to trust in God’s mercy. He is working all things together for good to those who love Him. Hold Him to His Word. Be diligent, compassionate, and evangelistic. Don’t make excuses. Be a Christian and place your loved ones into God’s hands while fulfilling your vocations. Cry out to Jesus, Hosanna, Son of David, save us.
Others are afraid that this crisis will bring suffering. Maybe they aren’t afraid of dying, but they fear the trauma and pain of dying because of the virus or they fear the loss of proper medical care and capacity. What is it like to deliver a baby in the trauma units in Italy right now? This is understandable fear. Pain is not good. But we are Christians. There are things worse than pain, than suffering. In normal times, we fast to train our bodies to endure suffering, to subdue our passions. We are not ruled by physical desires. We belong to Christ who has bought and won us with His Holy Passion and resurrection. We trust in Him. We wait on Him. Pray to be relieved of or spared suffering, but do not be terrified. Be wise and careful and compassionate. Be prayerful and hopeful and faithful. Cry out to Jesus: Hosanna, Son of David, save us.

Still others fear the long term consequences of this crisis. They are afraid of what it might do to the economy or to our rights under the law and personal liberty. We might never again enjoy the sort of luxuries that we have come to expect and taken for granted. Maybe we won’t be able to eat meat every day. Maybe we won’t have professional sports to entertain us. Maybe we won’t be able to retire or even to keep the money that we earn or have easy access to health care but will have to wait in line and be evaluated according to our value to society. Maybe we won’t have the right to due process or the freedom to move about at will without authorization from the government or the right to peacefully assemble and speak against the government. I understand. I dread the thought of any of those things happening. But we are Christians! We don’t live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus didn’t die for our prosperity or luxuries. Nor did He suffer injustice and slander simply so that we might have an enlightened government.

God’s people have suffered and endured tyrannies and persecutions throughout history and still do today in many parts of the world today. Their sufferings are difficult for us to imagine. We are soft. God has been gentle in His chastisements against us. Despite the horror of Stalinist Russia or the crisis in Rwanda or the Diocletian persecution, God sustained and blessed His people. He did it in prisons and while they were starving or being tortured and even as their children were torn away from them. He will do no less for us. He is also our God despite our softness. He who loved the Pharisees and reached out with the Gospel to Tax Collectors also loves us. He knows what He is doing. He is working all things together for good to those who love Him.

So don’t be terrified of what could happen. Be wise. Be careful. Be diligent. Seek justice. Pursue kindness. Embrace freedom and goodness, but do not fear those that can only kill the body or think that the body and happiness are all that matter. Jesus lives. Our liberty and luxuries are greater than the world knows and more lasting. If God is for us, who can be against us. If you know enough to not give your son a snake when he asks for bread, how much more does your heavenly Father know what is good for you?

Whatever you’re afraid of, the answer is the same. Jesus lives. The Lord will provide. Cry out to Him: Hosanna, Son of David, save us! He rode to Jerusalem fully aware of His fate. He didn’t shrink from His duty despite the pain, the injustice, the indignity. He rode into the city that He might be dragged out again, bound to the cross as our Paschal Lamb – the cornerstone rejected by the builders. This is the day that the Lord has made. It is the day of love, of rescue. We will rejoice in it. For His mercy endures forever. This does not pass or fade away. His Word and His mercy, His promise and His love, endures forever.

Let us apply ourselves to this eternal truth more than ever before. Let us cling to His Word and hope. Come what may, health or sickness, prosperity or tribulation, God is for us, is one of us, has ridden to Jerusalem to make us His. From now until our last breath may the cry, “Hosanna, Son of David, save us” never be far from our lips.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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