Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
28 “After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, Why are you untying it? you shall say, The Lord has need of it.’ 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ 34 They said, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ 35 They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. 37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ 40 But Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!’ 41 When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.’” (NASB)
Our Lenten journey for this year is just about over. But it is not yet over. This is the first day of Holy Week and as such it bears two names. Today is both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and the hymns for Palm Sunday reflect the joy of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. “Ride on, ride on, in majesty! Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry.
0 Savior meek, pursue Thy road, With palms and scattered garments strowed.”
As Jesus rode to Jerusalem, the people who lined the road sang, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” The Gospel of Matthew includes an additional lyric “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) You also sing that word in our closing hymn this morning. “Hosanna, loud hosanna, The little children sang; Through pillared court and Temple The lovely anthem rang. To Jesus, who had blessed them, Close folded to His breast, The children sang their praises, The simplest and the best.”
The word “hosanna” means “save now.” The people in the Gospel lesson and you this morning are literally singing, “save now the Son of David.” The celebration of Palm Sunday invokes images of palm branches and clothing being place on the road in front of Jesus as He rode toward Jerusalem and the joy of the King’s arrival.
Then there is the other name for this Sunday, “Passion Sunday.” This title takes Christian and non-Christian alike to the sole purpose of Jesus’s visit to Jerusalem. After all, if the people were singing “Save now the Son of David,” they must be needing a saving of some sort. The question is “what did the people who lined the road “near the mount that is called Olivet” have in mind when they were singing; “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And “save now the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” What did they think they needed to be saved from?
It is that “save now Son of David” part that gets the short end of the stick these days. The few Christians commemorate this day often treat Palm Sunday as an opportunity to emerge from our Lenten darkness, our spiritual depression, and our struggles with temptation, sin, and calls to repentance so we can focus on happier Christian themes. A very many Christians see Palm Sunday as a warm up for the “big event,” Easter.
Contrary to popular practice, Palm Sunday is not is a pep rally for Easter Sunday. It is not a replacement for church services of Holy Week: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday services, all of which focus on absolutely essential events in the salvific work of Jesus Christ. No one is saved by the ride into Jerusalem. No sins are atoned for because the people greeted their King with songs of praise and honored Him by laying palm branches before Him.
Jesus did not instituted the Lord’s Supper, which brings about the remissions on sins on the ride into Jerusalem. Jesus did not shed His blood and die on the road by Mt. Olivet. These things were yet to come and Christians are intend to follow Jesus into Jerusalem. They are to follow Him into the temple and the temple cleansing. They are to follow Him into battle against the peddlers of works-righteousness. Christians are to follow Him through the events of the night in which He was betrayed, and arrested. They are to follow Him through His trials and torture and suffering to His death on the cross. Then and only then are they to reach the gloriously wonderful resurrection of Easter morning.
Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday ought to be a theological and liturgical balancing act. On the one hand, this morning’s service need not be dominated by doom and gloom or the shadows and darkness of a Good Friday Tenebrae Service. Our hymns for this day are joyous and proclaim the arrival of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
On the other hand, this Passion Sunday remembers the day that Christ Jesus paraded into Jerusalem for the purpose of finishing the work for which He came into the world in the first place. Six days after riding into Jerusalem, Jesus would lay down His life as the all-redeeming sacrifice for all sinful people. Passion Sunday is the day Jesus enters Jerusalem to do battle for us against sin, death, and the devil Himself.
Imagine the scene. Jesus sits at the head of His little ban of disciples. Behind and in front Him is an ever growing celebratory crowd. Just before ordering His disciples to go and find the donkeys, Jesus had performed His greatest miracle to date; the raising of Lazarus, after Lazarus’s body had been in the tomb four days.
Jesus was the hero of common folks. He was the miracle worker from God and people thought He was going into Jerusalem to face off against an arrogant and unpopular religious elite. Jesus was the Son of David. That meant He was the Promised Messiah and there was no way He was going to lose. Jesus they thought would emerge victorious and soon life in this world would be so much better for them all.
It was against this backdrop that the crowd lined the road near “near the mount that is called Olivet” and sang “Hosanna to the Son of David”– “Save now the Son of David.” The people wanted saving, but saving from what? From Roman occupation? From a life of squalor and oppression? From a life of pain and sorrow? From a life of second-class citizenry?
There are many people today (admittedly not as many people as there was in the past in this country) sing praises to the Son of David. A lot of these people flock to modern, contemporary religious campuses (that’s what they call them– campuses– not church buildings) and cry out for the Lord Jesus to do this or that thing to make life better for them. “Save now the Son of David” from a boring life. “Save now the Son of David” from my duties.. “Save now the Son of David” from financial struggle. . “Save now the Son of David” From family troubles or from an illness. . “Save now the Son of David” from depression and anxiety.
We too, cry out our hosannas. But what exactly are we crying out for? What are we asking to be saved from? From a bad day, sickness, and aches and pains that come from the normal aging and dying process? “Hosanna! Save us, Jesus from low attendance and offerings. But that is not what Jesus is riding into Jerusalem to do. It was a pretty small congregation that had gathered at the foot of the cross. The disciple of John and a couple of the women. We all cry out for salvation from this or that thing, as if what is happening to us is unique and worse than what is happening to my neighbor.
This kind of “crying out” reminds me of what St. Peter wrote to Christians in his epistle. 1 Peter 4:12-13 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” Suffering, especially as a Christian is simply the normal operating procedure.
Yet, there is still great joy and celebration on Palm Sunday and in the Christian life because of what is to come. When confront by the Pharisees to silence the crowd, “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!’ On the other hand, Jesus indicates that the people do not understand what is going to transpire and why. 41 “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.’”
Before the week was out, every one of those people, including Jesus’s own disciples saw Jesus’s arrest, suffering, and crucifixion as total abject failure. Their Shepherd, the Son of David was struck down and the flock was scattered. Many Christians skip over the events of Holy Week. They give little thought to it and no time in church services hearing about what Jesus said and did for our salvation.
In other words, they are ignorant “of the things which make for peace” between God and man..
A King on a cross, they did not expect. They wanted something more glorious and splendid. Instead, the Son of God, the Son of David did something greater. He “humbled Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The events of Holy Week are no longer hidden. The events and the reason for them have been revealed in God’s written and preached Word. So we have a distinct advantage over those Christians who lined the road on the first Palm Sunday. We know that Jesus was marching into Jerusalem on that first day of the week for the purpose of bringing His Father’s plan of salvation to completion. We know that Jesus won the victory over the devil. He took us back from the evil one, from sin, and from death and set us free to be people of God. We know that peace—God’s peace, the peace that surpasses all human understanding was realized in the bitter sufferings and death of Him who was holy and without sin. We know that while the week began with a great parade, songs, and joy ended on a bloody cross with Jesus’s gruesome death and the forsaking of His heavenly Father. This is the week wherein the kyrie ought to be first and foremost in our hearts and minds, and mouths. “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”
Palm Sunday was a fulfilment of that which was written by the Prophet Zachariah 9:9 “Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey.” Jesus understood what Palm and Passion Sunday was about. He was the only One who saw clearly what was on the road ahead– “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Matt. 23:37)
Palm Sunday is a bitter sweet Sunday. Joy and sorrow. So also Holy Week. For the things Jesus would do for and give to His church for us and for our salvation were made during Holy Week. Jesus is still coming to us in the meek and lowly forms of the Word from the mouth of a sinner, ordinary water, and ordinary bread and wine. The crucifix, the written and spoken Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper is our Palm Sunday joy and peace. These are the things that make for our peace.
Here in places like this church is Christ! Here are His unconditional and absolutely free gifts of grace, mercy, and peace that surpass all understanding! Here is the true and complete answer to our “hosanna!”
This is the week Jesus won victory over sin, death, and the devil. This is the week Jesus bought you back with His holy innocent and precious blood. And that which Jesus has purchased cannot be taken away.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Peace in heaven; peace on earth; peace in Christ and because of Christ.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.