This Sunday is the start of Holy Week. It is Palm Sunday. Many churches will pass out palm branches to the kids and do something special to celebrate this event. I know we are a few days early but I would like to talk about Palm Sunday. This is a celebration of the triumphal entry by Jesus into the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. The writers of the gospels tells us that a huge crowd has gathered to see Jesus. They have picked fresh leaves from nearby palm trees and are laying them down at the feet of the borrowed donkey that Jesus is riding. People are taking off their cloaks as well and spreading them on the ground. It is making this multi-colored carpet for Jesus to ride on. But not everyone in the crowd was happy. The pharisees saw all of this and were upset. It wasn’t what people were doing that were making them upset, but what the people were saying. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. It made the pharisees so upset that they actually tried to get Jesus to stop the crowd from saying this. Why did this bother the pharisees so much? These teachers of the law knew that this blessing came from the Hebrew scriptures in Psalm 118. We read portions of it earlier in the chapel service. They knew that this passage talked about Israel’s savior. The stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone. We see the construction of our new high school so we get a sense of how important it is to get all the early pieces set straight. The cornerstone of the building was the building block that had to be perfectly square so that all the other stones of the foundation would be square and straight. Builders would be very selective to find the perfect stone. Psalm 118 says that Jesus the cornerstone was rejected because He wasn’t the cornerstone people were looking for but by God’s marvelous work, Jesus becomes that stone that all of time and history are aligned to. Psalm 118 goes on and says “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” The salvation and success that Psalm 118 proclaims is not some thing. It is a person. The Messiah. It is clear that the crowd, drawing from Psalm 118, is declaring Jesus the Messiah. This is why the pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke them. To shut them up. Here is what Jesus tells the pharisees, “I tell you that if these should keep silent,the stones would immediately cry out.” Jesus IS the messiah. He has come to save His people from their sins. And according to the crowd, this was a problem.
The people wanted a messiah to save them. That wasn’t the problem. It was how Jesus was going to save them. They wanted a warrior messiah to march into Jerusalem, part the waters, open up heaven and earth and swallow the gentile Romans up, never to be seen again. Instead, what they got was, by Friday, a beaten up, roman prisoner, mocked by scribes and pharisees, held up as a big joke, the “king” of the jews. The cheers of this crowd that cried “blessed is he” would soon by cries of “crucify him”. I wonder what Jesus was thinking as He was riding in on a donkey, hearing the roar of the crowd, knowing full well that in a few short days they would be yelling for His death.
I am afraid that these Easter stories have become so familiar that we hear them and then like a good holiday story, we put them away until it’s that time of year again. I guess, if you and I were to be honest, we really don’t want to think too hard about these stories because there is a deep, dark truth that lies in them. Here it is. You and I are characters in this story. We are in that crowd. Our voice can be heard among the mob of people. We like to hear our voice ring with “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, but we shudder to hear our voices cry out, “crucify him!” In the hymn How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, verse 2 reads:
Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there, Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished
We don’t believe that we would do such a thing. It was just those people back then who would praise Him on Sunday but by Friday want nothing to do with Jesus. We have to humbly realize that in our sin, we can easily praise Jesus with our lips on Sunday but our hearts can be far from Him by Friday because we want to be the king of our lives.
In a minute we are going to sing O Sacred Head Now Wounded. It was based on a poem that describes the pain that Jesus had in seven parts of His body during crucifixion, one part for each day of holy week. The author of the hymn took the part about the head of Jesus and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the music for it. In verse two it goes:
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain:
mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe (give something in a very nice way) to me thy grace.
This is the great exchange. Jesus took my pain and death that I deserve and gave me grace and mercy instead. Even when it is my voice mocking him. My transgressions, my wrong things that are causing him to suffer, and my sins holding him up on the cross. In spite of all of the that, Jesus offers love, forgiveness and eternal life. The amazing message of Easter is that Jesus did not come to suffer and die for the righteous, but for sinners like you and me.
The upcoming holy week is not just full of stories that we dust off from last year. You and I are a part of that story. We are in the crowd on Palm Sunday. And we are in the crowd on Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. But may our voice be heard this year, like the disciple Thomas, when confronted by the wounded savior, that we humbly say, my Lord and my God.