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Party's Over!

April 05, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this Palm Sunday comes from our Gospel text where Matthew writes, “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

You may or may not remember last year, when Pastor French announced that this year we would be following the historic One-Year Lectionary instead of the Three Year. Some people asked what the difference was between them; our answer was that some of the readings are different, perhaps not lining up with the particular day or festival we’re celebrating. You might have noticed it thus far through the year, but if you didn’t, I’m willing to bet you’ve noticed it today.

No, I didn’t read the wrong gospel lesson. It’s not a typo. In the One Year Lectionary, this is the gospel lesson for the Sunday of Passion Week: Jesus’s final hours, from His trial before Pontius Pilate, all the way through His death, to the centurion’s incredible recognition that they had crucified the Son of God.

If you’re like me, this probably took you aback! This is Palm Sunday! This is supposed to be a day of celebration! This is supposed to be the day when we celebrate, with all of Jerusalem, the triumphal entry of the Lord’s Anointed into the city gates! We’re supposed to continue crying out, “HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD! HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!” It’s a happy day, a festive day, as palms and cloaks are strewn in Jesus’s path as He rides into Jerusalem in high, kingly, Davidic fashion, fulfilling the words written by Zechariah, author of our Old Testament text. It’s a day to party, seeing Jesus rightly hailed as the King we know Him to be!

But by the time of our text, the party’s over, and the “Hosannas” are a mere memory. By the time we join Jesus, it’s Friday morning, and He’s already coming before Pontius Pilate. The Last Supper has already ended, His time among the dark trees of Gethsemane is over, the disciples have deserted Him, Judas has betrayed Him, the Sanhedrin has judged Him, and now, He stands before the Roman governor on trial for His life. He’s questioned by Pilate, and Barabbas is released. He’s scourged and mocked, then led out of the city to Golgotha to be crucified. He’s nailed to the tree, darkness comes over the land, and after crying out several words, He yields up His spirit. The temple curtain is torn in twain, the earth quakes, all of creation seems to be coming undone, even as the righteous dead come out of their tombs, and we hear a curious confession from a Roman soldier, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Not much of a party. Not exactly the jocular atmosphere you would expect on Palm Sunday. Hosannas seem to escape us – and not just because we are currently worshipping at a distance. There are no more palms or cloaks. The party … is over, and if you’re like me, you might be wondering why our forebears chose this text as the most fitting, appropriate text for our Palm Sunday observances.

Well, I have yet to find the answer, but the more I’ve thought about it, this text is exceedingly appropriate for Palm Sunday. Even in our festivities and our jocularities, we know what comes at the end of this week. We know that the crowds who hailed Jesus as David’s greater royal Son … will sing a different tune come Friday morning.

That’s always been the reality, the sobering reality coming into Passion Week. The jovial, festive nature is all too quickly replaced by the terrible knowledge that soon … Jesus would be betrayed, suffer, be crucified, killed, and buried. At Christmas, I had said that the shadow of the cross hung heavily over Jesus’s manger, knowing the reason He took on human flesh. Well, on Palm Sunday, that same shadow lies heavy over the palm-and-cloak-strewn streets.

Jesus entered into Jerusalem as He did, knowing full well why He was doing so. Before entering the city, He told His disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” No doubt, on the day of His triumphal entry, the disciples thought that, for the first time, Jesus was wrong. After all, the people that day loved them! The crowds were excited to see their rabbi! There was no way that He would be delivered to the Sanhedrin, mocked, flogged, and crucified, let alone, rise on the third day! Any such thoughts would be gone by Thursday night, as they saw their rabbi, for what they thought was the last time, being taken away by the Temple guards.

They didn’t know, but Jesus knew. He had known all along that the “Hosannas” would soon give way to shouts demanding His crucifixion. He knew the palms and cloaks would be replaced by spitting and mocking. The donkey that bore Him in such kingly fashion would go away, and Jesus Himself would bear a roughly-hewn, heavy cross through the Jerusalem streets all the way to the Place of the Skull. Jesus knew this party would not last … and that’s the remarkable thing. He still went through with it. Knowing the incredibly gruesome, brutal, savage, unspeakably painful suffering and death that awaited Him, Jesus still rode through those city gates on the back of a donkey.

That’s why I think this text is most appropriate for Palm Sunday. Jesus knew all this would happen, and He did it anyway. He willingly went to His death, suffering the pangs of hell that we deserve … out of love for us poor, miserable sinners. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is an appropriate text for us today, my friends, because it shows the intentionality and the love that God has for us. It shows the lengths to which He would go, the cost He would pay, sparing no expense, to atone for our sins. Jesus knew what would happen to Him in a matter of days … and still, He rode that donkey into Jerusalem.

While this is a sobering and somber thought, there is still reason to celebrate this day, to raise our “Hosannas” on high. We know that the Son of God was crucified for us, making atonement for our sins, and because of Him, we are forgiven and justified before the Father! More than this, we also know the rest of the story: we know that the crucified and killed Son of God … did not stay dead! We know that Good Friday didn’t have the final say, and the grave was not the final resting place for our Lord! That’s the present reality! Somber and solemn though our remembrances will be during this Holy Week … we know the rest of the story. Even as we face Good Friday in a few days, we do so knowing that Easter morning is not far off! A blessed Holy Week to you all!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.