4/14/2019 Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday The text is the Passion Narrative – Luke 22:14-23:56.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, as we begin Holy Week, we do so with the story of the passion of our Lord. This story is not new to us. We hear this love story every year as we should not, we must not, we cannot ever forget what Jesus has done for us, and what he continues to do for us, and will do for us forever.
For three short years, Jesus has shown the depth of his love, his compassion, his mercy. He has courted the people by healing the sick, casting out demons, performing all sorts of miracles and sharing God’s word with them, and now, the story is almost over.
The day begins with a high note. It begins with laughter and joy. It begins with a parade as people line the street to Jerusalem in order to get a glimpse of Jesus. It begins with the waving of palms and shouts of “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” These are words of excitement and joy. They are the accolades shouted by the crowd on the first Palm Sunday. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
But, quickly, this day turns dark as there are no wedding bells to come, but the soulful sound of a death knell. The crowd of followers which had gathered to strew Jesus’ path to Jerusalem with clothing will soon be hiding in fear as the happiness and cheering of that first Palm Sunday parade will change into wails of grief and despair.
This is not how we envision a love story to end. And this is not what the people who gather around Jesus on Palm Sunday are expecting either. They have come for a variety of reasons – some to be healed and to be touched by the miracle worker; some to hear the word of God; some to get a glimpse of the man they admired; some to honor Jesus; some to satisfy the whims of parents and friends; some, out of curiosity, to watch the spectacle, like those who stand on the sidewalk as a presidential motorcade passes. And among those who gather are those who come to spring the trap…those who want to get rid of this troublemaker in their midst. But, no one comes expecting what Jesus already knows – that he must suffer and go to the cross and die in order to take our sins upon himself to the grave.
Jesus does not go to the cross to convince God to love us. Jesus willingly endures the agony of the cross because God already loves us and wants desperately to save us. So, as the shouts of “Blessed is He who comes in the name of Lord” turn silent – Jesus does what he must do. He willingly goes with those who come to arrest him. Jesus goes willingly, without resistance, into the hands of those who will slay him.
From the garden to the interrogation room, like a scene from Law and Order, Jesus, armed with the truth, faces his adversaries who try to maneuver him into incriminating himself. But, Jesus has no intentions of dying on their terms. As they bring charges against him, Jesus makes no effort to defend himself.
The death of Jesus is graphic and cruel as Jesus endures the worst that one human being can do to another human being. He is beaten and mocked. He is ridiculed and spat upon. He who is without sin, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, is treated like the worst sinner ever to walk upon the face of the earth. And what of the crowd that had greeted him with shouts of “Hosanna?” And, where are his closest disciples? They betray and abandon him in his hour of greatest need.
The physical pain he bears on the cross is unimaginable, as is the pain of humiliation, the pain of betrayal, the pain of abandonment. And yet…Jesus takes it all, for his purpose is clear. His love is stronger than death. They may scourge him with pieces of metal tied to the end of leather thongs to the point in which his back is laid open like a plowed field. They may crown him with thorns. They may force him to carry a cross bar through the city until he collapses under the weight of it. They may hammer nails into his hands and feet and leave him gasping for each breath until he suffocates. They may do all this and more, but Jesus will not take away from his love for us. Jesus takes it all, for his purpose is clear.
Innocent and blameless Jesus goes to the cross. He is obedient to his Father’s will, not just to the point of death, but by dying in a macabre public spectacle. He goes to the cross because God love us that much. Jesus goes willingly to the cross for us so that we may be blessed in the shedding of his blood.
This is the eternal love story of our Lord. We are blessed by a Lord and Savior who gave his all for us. So, today, as we gather, we can shout, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” For we are blessed by Him who loves us so much that he gave his life for us all.
May we boldly bear witness to his name and remember the sacrifice he made for us. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.