Lectionary Series A; Palm Sunday
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Gospel Processional Reading: John 12:12-19
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hosanna! It means, “Save is now!”
Under normal circumstances, we call out to God to save us now on countless occasions. We call out to God to save us when we are stressed out about work, finances, family. We call out to God to save us now when we are distressed about a decision we have to make that will change the course of our lives or perhaps the life of someone else. We call out to God to save us now when we are incensed with anger because of something someone did to us or said to us to cause us harm and we just can’t get past it. We call out to God to save us now because there’s something we need to be saved from and we can’t do what needs to be done. There are indeed countless circumstances where we utter our Hosannas, for God to save us now.
Scripture is filled with instances where God’s people called out to Him to save them now. There were the Israelites who were stuck against the Red Sea who called out to be saved when the Egyptian army advanced upon them in chariots. Then again, they cried out to be saved now when there was no food and water in the wilderness. There were the lepers who cried out to Jesus for mercy, to be saved now as they faced being left as outcasts. And then there is Peter, in my favorite Bible text, when he took his eyes off of Jesus while walking on the water and began to sink and drown and then called out to Jesus to save him now. There are indeed countless circumstances where people in Scripture utter their Hosannas, for God to save them now.
Today is Palm Sunday. Today is that day that Jesus fulfilled His promise to enter into Jerusalem to do the unthinkable. And as He did so while riding on the back of a donkey’s colt, He was met by a crowd…a crowd that had come together in Jerusalem because of the Passover. It is thought that there may have been as many as two million people (Josephus) who had come to the city and its outer regions for the feast.
In a day and age where mass gatherings have all been cancelled, a stay at home order is in place, and social distancing is in effect, it is especially difficult to fathom that many people present in one place. To give you an idea of how many people that is, for those of you who have been to the outdoor mall in Washington DC, imagine standing at the Washington Monument, and looking toward the Capital building, and having it be completely filled with people. Then turn and face the Lincoln Memorial, and having that entire area filled with people as well. That would be a rough estimate of how many people may have been in the area for the Passover.
And as Jesus came in toward the city, immediately the word spread like wild fire through the large crowd about the sign Jesus had done. This was the man who had raised Lazarus from the dead! So without hesitation, they grabbed their cloaks and laid them on the ground and cut down branches from the palm trees and waved them in the air, all to pay homage to their coming king. And upon their lips, they shouted “Hosanna!” “Save us now!”
But the salvation they sought was not the salvation Jesus came to deliver. He was no worldly king with an agenda to overthrow the reigning Roman government. He did not enter in with bands of armies and an entourage of great power and might. Instead, He came in peace.
The Prince of Peace was entering into the city of Jerusalem to deliver to all people of every generation, the peace that passes all understanding. He was coming to fulfill the shouts of “Hosanna” by saving us from something far worse than what may stress us out, distress us, or leave us incensed.
Many of us are crying out our Hosannas at a time like this in our world where we are cut off from each other in our homes, just begging for an end of this pandemic’s oppression. In many ways, we probably feel like Peter who was drowning in the depths of the sea, crying out to be saved, but wondering at the same time if there will ever be a hand to reach out and save us.
I especially think of doctors and nurses and all medical professionals in countless forms of medical facilities at a time like this. And let me say on behalf of all of us: “Thank you!” Thank you for the great care that you give while serving on the front lines of this pandemic. We appreciate you, and we are praying for you and those to whom you give care as well as your families. No doubt you are crying out your hosannas more than we could ever imagine right now.
It is at a time like this that we all see just how vulnerable we are. None of us are invincible, and all of us are in need of help. All of us need to be saved. But it’s much more than even a pandemic that we need to be saved from. For this pandemic and all other forms of turmoil are evidence of sin’s presence in our fallen world. And what we all need more than anything is to repent and receive salvation from sin, from death, and from the devil himself. All of these foes are stronger than us and could easily cause us to spend eternity in the depths of hell.
So when we shout out our hosannas, this is what we are to cry out for. We cry out for our God to save us from drowning in the depths of hell itself. And just like He did with Peter who was drowning in the depths of the sea, so Jesus does with us. In our baptism, He reached down from heaven with His hand and He pulled us up to safety. And not just any hands, but with His hands that were pierced on Calvary just to save us…for that is why He came in the first place…
You see, Jesus came into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna, to shouts of save us now, and He did just that, because we couldn’t save ourselves. He did the unthinkable as the shouts of Hosanna quickly turned into shouts calling for His crucifixion.
It is as the hymn “My Song Is Love Unknown” says: “Sometimes they strew His way, and His sweet praises sing; Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King. Then “Crucify!” is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry.”
Oh what a difference a few days makes. That’s probably what we are thinking as well. It is simply unbelievable to fathom just how fast the changes have come across our land. It was just three weeks ago, and we gathered here in the house of the Lord for worship. It feels like months as we are now forced to stay in our homes, with businesses closed, schools not in session, church services remaining cancelled. It is simply unbelievable just how fast things change.
And so it was in the city of Jerusalem as well. Jesus began the week fixed to the back of a donkey. By the end of the week, His body was being fixed to a wooden cross with nails in His hands and feet. It is simply unbelievable. How could this be?
It came to be because Jesus came to do the will of His Father who sent Him. Remember His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but Yours be done.” And the will of His Father was for His Son to die. “For God so loved the world He gave…He gave His only Son…”
Jesus went to the cross. Your cross. My cross. He went and died your death and mine. He saved us by doing what we could not do. And the very “Hosanna” that we cry is much like the cry He let out to His Father when He cried out “Why?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” But His cry got no reply.
No reply. That is what our cries of “Hosanna” will never have to face. For our God did come to save us. In a world of stresses, distresses, pandemics and more, our God does not leave us to drown in the depths of hopelessness and despair.
Our God has reached down from heaven in the person of His Son and grabbed ahold of us and He has promised to never let us go. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. He is our Lord. He is our King. And to Him, and Him alone do we shout our Hosannas, and He loving answers and saves us. Because that’s what a Savior does.
We may look around us and ask where our God is in all of this. We may wonder if He has abandoned us, and left us to drown in the depths of despair. But, my brothers and sisters in Christ, nothing could be further from the truth. The message of Holy Week is that God faithfully fulfills His promises.
It is just as we heard in our text: Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt (John 12:15).
Fear not! These words from the prophet Zechariah have their fulfillment on this day: Palm Sunday. Everything Jesus said He was going to do, He did it. When He set His face toward Jerusalem, he was not deterred in any way. Pressing through the crowds, carrying His own cross, crying from that tree, He did what His Father sent Him to do, and He did it for you.
And He did it not just for your last day, but for all your days, because your crucified and resurrected Lord comes to you today. He hears your shouts of Hosanna! And with His presence here today as His Word penetrates your ears and your very lives, He calms your fears, and He quiets you with His love. For you are His beloved children and He is Your loving Lord. And so we say, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.