I’m uploading the 2nd service today. Call it 5 years in and I’m starting to get a handle on this Palm & Passion Sunday. The gospel according to John is also starting to grow on me. Or maybe I should say that the last six weeks reading John in the midst of events has opened it up in ways I did not completely see before.
The question of John 12, of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ talk immediately after, is what is glory? There is the temporal glory of the parade, and the eternal glory of the Father. This sermon asks us to consider our lives in light of “things temporal and things eternal”. As a great prayer says “may we so pass through things temporal that we do not lose the things eternal.”
This Sunday is one of those pageant days. The start of Holy Week starts with a palm parade into the sanctuary for us today to the strains of All Glory Laud and Honor ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/442 ). But then with the readings it takes a turn toward the end of the week with a full reading of Luke 23 which is the trials before Herod and Pilate, the cries of the mob, and the crucifixion. At least the way we do it the hymns are key. The Pomp of Palms and the cries of Hosanna give way to the tumult of the streets and Pilate’s vain weaseling captured so well in No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/444 ). After the crucifixion Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/435 ) sing what has happened for us. And as we turn to go back out into the world, or to walk our way through Holy Week once again, we remember the end point with Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/441 ). “Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take O God thy power and reign.” I’ve left in the recording snips of those hymns. It really is a liturgical day that is tough to capture just in a recording. We are recreating the week in an hour. The sights, and sounds and emotions.
Something I have been struggling with thematically with this day is how to preach it. Growing up this was just Palm Sunday. The Passion was for Thursday and Friday. But given the loss of piety, the reality was that many people would skip from the Triumphal entry to Easter Resurrection without even breezing past Calvary – a tragedy. So the reading was smashed into today. But what joins the Palms and the Passion? That is something I’ve been searching for. And I think this year I understand something I didn’t in previous years. It is the mob. Even more acutely in Luke, both are the will of the mob. Both are expressions of desire revealing the division of the ages. I’m leaning a bit on Rene Girard and his mimetic desire here. But it is a story captured fully in scripture. And it is one I see played out more and more. And it is the choice we have. He’s the King. We can crucify our desires and accept his grace, or we can let the mob rule. Anyway, I don’t know how well this walks outside of the liturgical framework, but I like it.
Biblical Texts: Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday Matthew 21:1-17, Matthew 27:32-66 Full Sermon Draft
Have you ever been in a situation where you knew exactly what was going to happen, what was going to happen was a travesty but the desires of everyone involved are just too set in stone? Every action and reaction is a cruel inversion of the claims of those doing them? That is Holy Week. The desires of the Galilean crowds, the desires of the Jerusalem priests and the desires of Rome are locked into a danse macabre . The thing about the dance of death is that it reveals all of our follies. All of our false pieties and crass ambitions are laid bare and open for us to see. Those groups dancing 2000 years ago desired messiahs not very much different from those we often desire. Jesus exposes them, and defines what the messiah is. The sermon explores our false messiahs and how they tyrannize us, and the freedom the true King offers us.
Worship note: I’ve left in a bunch of music this time. The hymns for Palm Sunday are probably the greatest in the hymnal. Between the palm and passion lessons the choir sings a pretty arrangement of the Palm Sunday Hosanna. The Hymn of the Day was LSB 444, No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet, a modern hymn which keys off of Pilate’s ironic words in the gospel of John “behold your King”. Truer words were never spoken that came off a tongue so false. The closing hymn, LSB 441, Ride on Ride on in Majesty, also beautifully connects the Palms and the Passion.
Palm Sunday has the best hymns, they even rival Easter in my mind. Since the lectionary (the assigned readings for the day) have pushed Palm Sunday toward the Sunday of the Passion it sets up an interesting dynamic. There is a juxtaposition of the Palm Sunday parade which we re-enact in a small way with the via dolorosa. The hymns capture this changing dynamic. Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (LSB 443) and All Glory, Laud and Honor (LSB 442) are more pure Palms and celebration. But then No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet (LSB 444) starts perceiving the irony of the Palms and another parade. (For my opinion, this is a classic of what hymns are supposed to be – sung meditation. And it does it from a modern viewpoint.) And then Ride On, Ride On in Majesty (LSB 441) ends with the eschatological note. These parades of palms and cross are not the final word.
I don’t have the hymns on the recording. (The sad truth is we just don’t have the equipment for that sort of thing.) But the sermon attempts that sort of motion. It starts off with thinking about what parades are actually about and hopefully demonstrating that these biblical parades are the same as we can understand from our own time. It then moves on to the heavy irony, here defined as the difference between human and divine perception, that covers these parades and all of holy week. In that irony it perceives what Christ has done for us. It attempt to align our perception with the divine. We do that through the moral burden that comes with knowing the divine view, and knowing that we don’t measure up. It concludes with that eschatological view. We accept the moral burden because that is how we live out faith. We believe this is what God had done. And we believe that he will do as promised. So we walk in this parade.
This is the biblical text for the events of Palm Sunday, the start of holy week. The outline is very basic law and gospel. The law consists of identifying where we have gone astray. That happens in the reactions of the crowds. Those who should have known don’t care. This is traced as a pattern in Matthew’s gospel. Those who have some idea never-the-less attempt to pervert the power of the Kingdom to their personal Kingdom. The gospel is simply that the King comes anyway. The King comes, and humbly offers himself to all who believe.
The word peace in the Gospel according to Luke is a big word. This was the First Sunday in Advent and the gospel lesson is often the triumphal entry or Palm Sunday. The theological theme of the that text is the Kingship of Jesus. No different in Luke, but Luke adds this strange cry from the crowd leading Jesus into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! (Luk 19:38 ESV)” Did you catch the strange word? Peace in Heaven. The entire phrase is an echo of the Angels at Christmas, but instead of peace on earth, now it is peace in heaven. And if you do the word study, roughly midway through Luke you find this, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luk 12:51 ESV)”
The peace of God is not a generic peace. The Angels were never singing just “peace on earth”. They sang “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luk 2:14 ESV)” The specific peace is the Kingdom of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The specific peace is one imposed…through grace. You can take it or you can leave it, but you can’t work for it. You can’t earn the peace. The Father just declared it. The war was over on the cross.
The only question is our response. Do we accept the peace, or continue an insurgent war. Which Kingdom do we choose, the Kingdom of this World, or the Kingdom of Heaven. The tyrant Satan or the humble Christ. Choose your prince.
I find it ironic that in an age full of irony with a people tuned to understanding layers of meaning taking place Palm Sunday in some quarters is being transformed into Passion Sunday. Well not at St. Mark in West Henrietta. Since we have been reading from St. John’s Gospel, I took the Triumphal Entry text for this week.
The King comes anyway is a refrain used. Everyone at that first Palm Sunday was clueless. The King came anyway. And truth be told we are usually pretty clueless ourselves. The King comes anyway. He comes in waters of baptism. He comes in bread and wine. He comes in the simple proclamation – do not be afraid, daughters of Zion. The king comes anyway, full of grace and truth. We ask in are prayers that he come to us also.
Our time and culture is one of the customized material goods and a generalized God. What I mean by that is we can have our burger our way and get 300 formulas of shampoo, but there are no limits or descriptions that apply universally for God. The culture believes God is love and that is all. Any attempt to say something even as minimal as God is love in Jesus Christ is too restricting for many today. It limits there “searching” ability. It smack of being religious, but not spiritual.
The problem with this is the revelation of God – and the only way we know anything about God is through revelation – the revelation is specific. It is specifically Jesus Christ. When we go spiritually searching we are throwing ourselves against the hidden God. That hidden God promises and delivers nothing. So we often fill it out, customize, that hidden God to our hearts content. When a church points at the very specific Jesus Christ on the cross, the revealed God, it blows away all those false hidden gods of our own making. Which is why the culture only permits a general God – don’t limit my ability to project onto my own hidden god, to search for my god.
But God has revealed himself and everything that is necessary for peace. The revealed God may be humble and gory and slightly embarrassing, but He came to us, and He comes with a purpose and a promise – to reconcile sinners. Jesus, the revealed God on the cross, is the same revealed God who stopped the coronation to weep over Jerusalem. A Jerusalem that preferred its hidden gods to the very God before there eyes.