Palm Sunday, John 12:12-19
Read the Bible text here: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+12%3A12-19&version=ESV
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In the blessed Name of Him who comes in the Name of the Lord.
We wouldn’t do it that way, but we would do it. If our team wins, if our candidate wins, if our troops win, if we want to celebrate a hero or a winning sports team, we wouldn’t put them on donkeys – maybe there would be limousines. We wouldn’t wave branches – we’d wave flags or banners or signs. We wouldn’t put branches and our clothes down on the ground before them – we’d rather roll out a red carpet. And along with our shouts and acclamations we might add horns or perhaps even a marching band. But you see, we would do it, if not in the same way, we know what it is to celebrate someone who comes with victory and makes us glad they won, because in some sense by their winning we feel we won, too.
But we don’t have a parade every day. And many times we hold a parade we’re not celebrating a person or group at all. In fact, many times we have a parade and we’re celebrating an idea – like the Fourth of July Parade which celebrates Freedom and our American identity. A Veterans Day parade might have real Veterans. If one of the Michigan basketball teams had won the championship at the end of March Madness, then there might have been a lot of celebrating here, too – maybe a parade, even.
Does the Lord Jesus get a parade? That’s what Palm Sunday seems to be about. Do the crowds come to acclaim and adore Him? Yes, and more frequently than you may think. Every Sunday God’s people are still streaming in procession from their homes to the sanctuaries where He comes to meet with us. Every worship service is a celebration of His victory and an acknowledgement that He is King.
We sing the Lord’s praises in hymns and songs and psalms. In our Communion Liturgy, just before we hear the words of institution which consecrate the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of the Lord, we sing the Sanctus. It has two parts. First, we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” with the angels as they are depicted worshipping God in Isaiah chapter 6. Next, we sing, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” We echo the crowds of Palm Sunday as they welcomed the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem. We welcome the Lord who comes into our midst. He comes to us, not riding a humble donkey, but riding humble elements of bread and wine. We sing His praises in His welcome and we join the great crowd of Christian faithful who have always exulted in the Lord and in His victory.
Once again this Thursday we will have the Holy Supper and Jesus will come to us in this humble and holy way. Once again on Easter we will greet our risen King with those words: “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Only today do we bear the Palm branches with us like they did in days of old, but truly every time and in every way the Lord comes to us, we have cause for celebrating and rejoicing.
We greet Him with Hosanna. Hosanna is an ancient Hebrew word which means, “Save now!” We find it as a prayer in the Psalms. It also became the way to greet a king. “Be our Savior!” we cry out to Jesus and, of course, He is our Savior. He comes among His people with help for all our needs. He forgives our sins and He gives us His Holy Spirit to renew our lives.
When the crowds that first Palm Sunday yelled their “Hosannas,” they were honoring Jesus as their coming king. It was a gutsy celebration to hail Jesus as a king coming into His capital, Jerusalem. Jerusalem at that time was occupied by soldiers of the Roman empire who had installed their own governor, Pontius Pilate, to control the area. It was a gutsy celebration when the religious leaders in Jerusalem didn’t accept or endorse Jesus either – they didn’t think of Him as a king or a prophet but an imposter and a pretender. But St. John the Evangelist writes that Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead had convinced the crowd. They had seen and heard enough to know for themselves and to say it aloud: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
Jesus was coming in the Name of the Lord – that is, He was coming with God’s authority and to do God’s work. They couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. In the stories we tell our children, the fairytales all end happily once the prince comes to save the day. Well, Jesus wasn’t just a prince but a king, and a king who could raise the dead by calling them forth out their graves! Things were coming to a climax and there was joy in the air that first Palm Sunday. Good things from God were about to break forth in unexpected bounty because King Jesus had come.
So the crowds gave the Lord a royal welcome, but the Lord himself knew where the week was heading. In five short days, the Lord Jesus would find Himself hailed as a king again, but this time in the judgment halls of Pilate and the court of Herod. The Roman soldiers would mock Him, putting a royal scarlet robe on Him, crowning Him with a circle of thorns, thrusting a reed into His hand. In dripping sarcasm and with vicious laughter, they bowed before Him, saying, “Hail! King of the Jesus” and then they took Him out to enthrone Him – not on a golden chair but on a cross. By Pilate’s orders, the charge of insurrection stood above Him in the words of His true title: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
All of this the Lord knew; He had predicted it. It was why He came. He was answering their prayer: Hosanna. Yes, He would save. He would save His people from their sins. He had come to be King of the Jews and King of the whole world, come to enthroned in the hearts of all humanity. Coming in the name of the Lord, He was enacting God’s good will for us all: that our sins should be forgiven by His blood and that we should be brought into His kingdom of life and light and love.
This is why the praises of Jesus still continue and echo on week after week in our worship. If our Tigers had won the World Series last year, we’d still be proud, but we wouldn’t be talking about it much anymore. The Allied Victory in World War II is still something we’re grateful for, but V Day is May 8 and it passes without much notice. Armistice Day, which ended World War I, has become Veterans Day and the bright light over our nation’s victory a hundred years ago has dimmed to a forgotten ember. But the Lord Jesus receives His songs and praises, week after week, and we still gladly gather to Him.
Unlike those other victories which bore their fruit and the world moved on, the cross of Christ and His victory for us there continues to bear its fruit, day by day, until life everlasting. In those other earthly victories, the world moved on to other conflicts and more trouble – the “War to End all Wars” had to be renamed World War I because it was followed by WWII, which was followed by the Cold War, with intense hostilities in Korea and Vietnam, which was followed by the War against Terrorism with intense hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Lord Jesus came in God’s name to accomplish a final, divine victory with peace dividends He’s still giving out.
Our Lord has won. His cross defeats our guilt. Our sins are buried in His grave. Our death is conquered by His empty tomb. Satan has been defeated and we have been restored to the side of God. The praise goes on for as long as the victory lasts – forever. If we turn to the end of the Bible, to the Revelation of St. John, we can peak into heaven and the glory to come. We can overhear the praise on the lips of the saints. St John writes what he sees and hears there: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
And so until we get there with those palm branches in our hands, we keep coming back to the Lord who keeps coming to us. In the waters of Baptism, He’s coming to us to wash us clean and make us His own. In the Word of the Scriptures, read and proclaimed, He’s coming us with grace and wisdom and power to live in His peace. In the Holy Supper, He’s coming to us with His Body and Blood to nourish us and strengthen us in lives of faith and love. We keep needing the victory of our King. He keeps coming to impart it to us. And we’ll keep praising Him: Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Blessed be Jesus, our King.
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