Palm Sunday – April 5th, 2020 – John 12
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Palm Sunday is a day that tends to bring with it great expectation – all our Easter festivities are getting closer and closer. Soon there will be the candy, the eggs, the pretty dresses and hats (don't forget the hats, ladies). There's that whole Spring is in the air vibe normally. There's anticipation. We can understand anticipation, especially when we think of Palm Sundays past. Now, ponder for a moment that first Palm Sunday. We hear, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, 'Hosanna!'” Can you imagine in your head the excitement, the thrill? First off, these folks were already traveling to Jerusalem to be in Jerusalem, at the place, for the celebration of the Passover. Celebrating Passover itself was a big deal – it was a feast, literally. It would be the giant family cook out, a dinner as looked forward to as any celebrations we have. But then, these folks weren't just going to have any feast – they were in Jerusalem – they had made the trip, and they were there for the entire week of preparation. This would as grand as traveling to the Final Four when your team is there, or the Super Bowl – that's the level of excitement these folks would be having.
And to top it off – Jesus is there. And we all have heard all about all this great stuff that Jesus has done – healing, casting out demons – why just two days before He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Why, this should be the biggest, bestest Passover feast ever. And the crowd went wild!
And the crowd was shortly to be disappointed. Okay, maybe not sorely disappointed – Jesus in Holy Week does some things that are nice. Nice. Not thrilling, but nice. Turning over the money changers tables – that's neat. And Jesus out argues everyone in Jerusalem – He puts the scribes, the Pharisees, the Saducees, everyone in their place. But then, He starts preaching warnings about how things are going to go lousy for Jerusalem – how there will be trouble and strife – abomination of desolation and woe and all that. And to boot, He doesn't even do any miracles on Holy Week – no major healings, no giving everyone bread and fish. He just... preaches. And they are good sermons... a bit scary, but good. And the week goes on... and it's just more preaching. And there's no more signs. Well, come on Jesus, aren't you going to do anything else? No. And by Friday, when the Chief Priests and the Pharisees shout for Jesus to be crucified, most people there go along. At least that would be something interesting to see. After all their anticipation, after all their expectation of something showy – meh.
And here we are on Palm Sunday... and let's face it, this is probably the most low key Palm Sunday any of us can remember. Not a single kid waving a Palm to be found. No fanfare. We don't even get to sing the Palm Sunday song in the liturgy – no “sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord, truly blest is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” And by in large, we're stuck at home. And those plans for Easter celebrations that we had – maybe traveling, seeing the grandkids, seeing mom and dad – yeah, that's just not going to happen this year. The candy for the egg hunt – it hasn't been stuffed – it's sitting back there in the Shepherd's lounge, just waiting. (No, I haven't gone and started snacking on... though the Kit-kats are tempting.) Things just aren't what they are normally cracked up to be this year.
You realize what this does – while I'd rather have the normal slew of stuff going on, we have been given by God this year a chance, a rare chance for a bit of understanding, a bit of empathy. The people of Jerusalem who were so excited for Jesus on Palm Sunday were just disappointed... and this year, perhaps we can understand that disappointment a bit better. Or consider the Chief Priests, the villains of the whole Passion story – the meanies who want to kill of Jesus. They were worried that the people would riot and revolt, and that Rome would do reprisals. In normal years we can be tempted to poo-poo them and their fears – oh silly Caiaphas, you should have trusted God more. They figured Rome might come and kill 20, 30 percent of the population, slaughter children. How anxious and nervous have we been over this virus that might take out 1 or 2 percent of us? Do you perhaps now have just a touch more sympathy for them, a bit more understanding of how fear could drive them?
Jesus understood what was happening that Palm Sunday, that Holy Week. That's why He weeps over Jerusalem, that's why He is silent before the Chief Priests, that's why He doesn't summon a legion of angels to destroy those abusing Him. That's why He calls out, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Jesus saw clearly the power, the impact, the twistedness of sin. He saw clearly how sin blinded people, how fear drove them, how it ruined everything. Instead of rejoicing in the day that the LORD had made, and a wondrous one at that – everyone was lost, trapped, wanting something else, something they figured would be better. Because that's what sin does – it warps the way we view things, so that we cannot see the blessings right in front of our eyes because we're wanting, lusting after something else, something we think would be better.
And so Christ Jesus went on into Jerusalem, and He went to the Cross. He did so to rescue us from sin, to give us life, to open our eyes and fix them upon Himself – come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith! Jesus dies and rises – and the way we see the world is changed, is shifted. Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord His children sever! Jesus Lives, the Victory's Won! Death no longer can appall me! The plan of salvation unfolds and we are redeemed! And that Palm Sunday no one but Jesus saw it coming. And still, Jesus made sure that it happened. For you. To redeem you and win you your salvation. So that you would see and know in all times His love for you.
Man, this is a weird week. This is going to be a strange month. But you know what? It doesn't stop Jesus from being Jesus for you. It doesn't stop Christ Jesus from being your Lord. It doesn't undo your Baptism in the slightest. And while we get to have a little fast from the feast for a bit, we will be gathered to the Lord's Table again, and when we finally get to sing This is the Feast we might just belt it out with a bit more gusto – even you stubborn men who don't sing. Christ Jesus is still our Lord, we are still forgiven, and all His promises still ring true. Because Jesus isn't distracted by silly expectations, nor driven away from His task by fear. Nor is Jesus ashamed of us in our weaknesses – it's because we are weak that He came to be strong for us. And He is – even now.
And so my friends, know that you are in Christ Jesus, that you are forgiven, redeemed, and strengthened by Him for life now and everlasting life. And His Spirit will work in you, to make you see, to give you His fruit of patience, and peace, and joy and love and all the rest, even now. Because none of this junk we see is bigger than Christ Crucified, and none of this stops Jesus from being your Lord in the slightest. In fact, the same Jesus who has promised to work all things, even this crazy April, to your good – will do so. God grant us hears to hear the Good News of our salvation, eyes to behold with wonder the blessings of body and soul that He still gives us, and lips to sing forth His praise in our homes now, together again soon, and with all the saints for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +