Sermon for Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010

John 12:12-19 (Palm Sunday—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

March 28, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Palm Sunday Gospel recorded in John 12:

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

            You said it, but did you really mean it?  Did you really mean it when you said “I’m sorry” to your spouse?  Did you really mean it when you said “I love you” to your son or daughter?  When you said “I hate you” to your brother or sister, did you mean it?  When you labeled your co-worker a moron to some of the others in the office, did you mean it? 

            So many times we say things and do things without thinking it through to its logical conclusion.  It doesn’t take a husband or a wife very long to know when you are sorry and repentant and when you are just mouthing words.  Children can readily tell whether our “I love yous” are genuine.  In our anger we say and do things without thinking too.  Perhaps in the moment we think we really do hate that person, but the reality is that we have succumbed to anger and we don’t hate them.  Your co-worker might not have it together all the time, but neither do you.  Do we really want to be calling them names and do we really mean to say that they are the names we choose?  In the same light, when we pray—do we really mean what we are thinking or asking God in prayer when we pray “Hosanna”?  

            In our Palm Sunday Gospel a great crowd went out to meet Jesus with palm branches and a prayer.  Their prayer is just one word, “hosanna.”  Hosanna is a Hebrew word that literally means, “help” or “save us now, I pray.”  The crowd is praying to Jesus the words of Psalm 118, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!  O Lord, give us success!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 118:25-26)  The people are acknowledging Jesus to be the promised Messiah that Psalm 118 talks about.  The Psalmist praises God that God Himself has become his salvation: “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118:21-24)  Didn’t we just hear Jesus last Sunday in our Gospel lesson say that He is the stone that the builders rejected, as He quoted this Psalm in the hearing of the scribes and the chief priests?  But does the crowd mean what they are praying?  Do they understand what they are praying?  Perhaps that’s the bigger question. 

            The crowd came out to meet Jesus on that first Palm Sunday because He was coming to Jerusalem.  They wanted to meet Him for no other reason than that they had heard from witnesses that Jesus had called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead.  The crowd couldn’t stop talking about the great miracle that had taken place.  If Jesus could raise a man who had died and was in the tomb four days, could He not also save them?  But what is it that they wanted salvation from?  Someone who could bring a dead man back to life would certainly be able to deliver the holy city of Jerusalem from the oppression of Caesar.  The people were expecting imminent national liberation from the Romans.  They were waving palm branches, a Jewish national symbol, which even appeared on their coins.  They were waving their “flags of independence” at Jesus as they cried out to Him, “Save us, now, we pray.  You are blessed because you come in the Lord’s name.  Be the one to save us now since you are the King of Israel.”  But they had their own clear ideas of what the King of Israel would do militarily and politically, none of which Jesus would accomplish.  He was not that kind of Messiah or King. 

            He rode a donkey, not a war-horse, into Jerusalem to show the city its true way of peace.  Had Jesus so wished, he could then and there have led a band of willing freedom fighters against the Roman fortress.  But Jesus had no intention of doing what the crowd was looking for and what the religious leaders feared.  Jesus was going to save them—all of them, the whole world of them—but not from a political enemy.  Jesus came to save them all from the spiritual enemies of sin, Satan, and death. 

            So Jesus comes.  He seeks you.  He finds you.  Jesus comes to save you from your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  Jesus comes to save you not with military might or political power.  He comes to save you not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  This is what it means when you bring your hosannas to the Lord.  This is what it means when you pray to God to save you.  You are asking Him to be the Savior that He showed Himself to be on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  Jesus comes.  He seeks you.  He finds you.  He listens to your cries for mercy and salvation.  He covers you in His blood, washing you clean from your sins, rescuing you from Satan and death. 

            Each Sunday morning when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we hear these ancient words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praying you and saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of pow’r and might: Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.  Hosanna.  Hosanna.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.” 

            It is the prayer of God’s Church asking that He would come to us just as He promises He will in the very body and blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Before we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, eating and drinking our Lord’s truly present Body and Blood with the bread and wine, we pray, “Save us now, O Lord.”  We pray the words of Psalm 118.  We pray the words that echoed that first Palm Sunday.  We ask God that in this Sacrament, according the Jesus’ very words of institution, that we might be saved from our sins by the forgiveness that we receive as a result of Jesus’ giving His body into death on the cross and shedding His blood to make us clean.  “Save us, O Christ, according to Your Word.  Save us from our sins, from death, and from Satan’s power because you come to us with Yourself—Your Body once crucified, Your Blood once shed

            That’s what we are asking, what we are saying, what we are singing when we pray that the Lord would save us.  Jesus went to the cross and to the grave so that you and I would receive forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation from all our sins, from death, and Satan’s power.  Jesus rose again from the dead as the King of kings and Lord of lords who still humbly and gently comes to us in the feast of His Supper, in His Gospel Word of Absolution, and in the waters of Baptism.  He comes through these means of grace in order to give us salvation from our spiritual enemies.  Christ comes with forgiveness and life everlasting for you.

            Today your Savior Jesus Christ comes again to you.  He comes as the Crucified Savior and the Risen Lord.  He comes to save you.  He comes to forgive you.  He comes to give you life.  So meet Him again this day in by faith and sing your hosannas! 

             “Hosanna in the highest!”
    That ancient song we sing;
For Christ is our Redeemer,
    The Lord of heav’n our King.
Oh, may we ever praise Him
    With heart and life and voice
And in His blissful presence
    Eternally rejoice!  Amen.