Sermon for Palm & Passion Sunday - Matthew 21:1-9, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 27:1-54
We have processed and so it begins. The start of Holy Week, the most important time in the church year. Nothing else compares. Not Christmas. Not summer vacation. Not MEA weekend. Holy Week. We begin with the story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Christ riding on a donkey and entering to throngs of people actually making the sound we as children of God should make each day.
The Entry of Christ being the foretaste of the feast to come. The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, into the world, into your world, beginning and ending with HOSANNA, which means, “Save us, now!” Not tomorrow, not next week or next year. NOW! In fact, when we come to the table, we sing it - Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. You come to the table each Sunday and we reenact the entry, saying to the Lord, Save us, now. Announcing his entry again, not only into the world, but into our mouths. Our beings. Our hearts. NOW!
From this great procession, where we march, and we sing, and shout for joy, we then hit this somber tone. Taken from Matthew and Zechariah to Calvary. From the entry of the Savior to throngs of cheers, to the entry of the Savior to condemnation. A Savior who comes to a people who will kill him.
For centuries we have read the passion narrative from Matthew on this Sunday in order to turn our hearts and minds towards the cross. Towards a bloody, naked Jesus who died to take away your sin. Now meditate on that for a week. See how the Easter egg hunts go. Looking out next Saturday at the hordes that descend on Nevis willing to run over a child to win a bike at the great hunt, makes you want to ask – Jesus died for this? Well, yes. Yes, he did.
That is what is strange about this whole scheme of God. Of Death and resurrection. We know the story. We hear it every year. Even every Sunday. It has almost lost its power for us though. “Ok. Jesus died for me and rose again. Whatever. Pass the potatoes.”
In it all, with or without our faith, Christ stands as this sleeper agent in the world. He has gone around doing some nice things. Healing the sick, teaching and preaching, raising the dead. Doing amazing works of power and glory, and now it is as though his Mission Impossible wrist watch has gone off and it is time for that one last mission. No more parlor tricks, now to the finale. Save the world. Having left behind what was normal for him. Godliness. Holiness. Christ enters into your world, your humanity. A world full of sin and strife. He jumps in feet first with no thought to rectifying you, to transforming the world into a better place, but to actually come to you in death for the purpose of life. To come to you in the sin that sends him to the cross, not avoiding sin but embracing it, that you being dead might rise again in him.
In fact, as Philippians actually tells us, Christ comes in obedience to you. You say “Crucify,” he says, “OK.” You say, “Away with him.” He says, “You can try that.”
Even death gets its words in. Death saying, “I want to kill you, Son of God, that I may rule.” Jesus says, “Take your best shot, but you will be disappointed.” Jesus relinquishing the quintessential life, the God-life, because he had to. It was the only way to save you from yourself. From your sin. From death. Christ’s entry into Jerusalem being his death march until he might rise victorious for you. The situation for us being bad enough that God himself had to die. Not because we are inherently lovable or priceless, but because the price to be paid to death was the death of life himself, that life might be given to you. Christ giving up everything of who he is, that he might gain you. Another child of God.
The words we read from Matthew this morning are called the Passion. Passion is an interesting word. It was used by the ancients to mean an experience of something. Eventually only an experience of suffering. That is the verbal use.
As a noun, Pascha, we get the Passover, God passing over the Israelites in his work to save them out of bondage in Egypt. This eventually became the word for the Easter festival. The great Passover of our sins. The great Passover of Christ from death to life. The Passover of ourselves from death to life.
But Passion, in our minds, is more an idea of lust. Desire. Wanting something or someone. So, for us to call our reading today, the story of the passion of Jesus Christ, it just seems weird. Until we realize that this passion is a suffering, but also a desire by God to reconcile his people. To bring them back. To turn them from all other gods, including themselves, to dwell with them forever.
In just a moment we will have the passion illustrated in a baptism. Little Fynnegan will be brought to the font and I will baptize him into the name of God. Into the death of Christ. Burying him in Jesus. Making his life all about Christ’s death and resurrection for his sake. Him dying, Christ rising and carrying Fynnegan with him. Quite literally, we will bring Fynn to his execution that he might be raised in Jesus. Being a child, you would think, “O, why baptize him? He can’t show faith.” But that is the point. God stepping in to grab the obstinate, the wandering, the least of all the world to grant them life and salvation. Even when they don’t know what is going on. Besides, Fynn does have faith. Faith like a child. Trusting that his parents will feed him. Clothe him. Sustain him. So too should we, our heavenly Father who does such things for us, and we so often forget him.
Holy Week should be the Passion of Christ crammed down your throat. Sin brought back into your face with Maundy Thursday being Christ needing to wash you. Needing to feed you regularly from his table because our sin can overwhelm us. Good Friday being good because it is that day that Christ took all the sin of the world upon himself and killed it. Easter Eve being a time of anticipation. A time to reaffirm the promises given. Easter being the day of victory in which Christ rises to prove to you that he is Lord of heaven and earth. Lord of your sin. Lord over death. Lord of you.
If you think that doesn’t matter to you, live a little more of life. Be struck by the sins of the world. By the sins of your neighbors. By your own sin. Once your sin becomes real. Once you see the ingrained death that comes through all those transgressions, then Christ’s passion for you as sinner becomes the sweetest news ever. The sweetness of Christ being that he died for you knowing that the world would say you aren’t worth it. Yet, you are because he says so. Thanks be to God. Amen.