Palm Sunday – Philippians 2:5-11
Today, the Lord of heaven and earth comes into our midst, humble and lowly, welcomed by the crowds, but at the same time despised by others. He comes into our midst to offer encouragement and to strengthen you as you stand against the attacks of the devil.
Jerusalem in 33AD? It certainly could be, and no doubt that is our initial reaction as we prepare to enter into Holy Week.
And yet at the same time, Christ Jesus enters into our own midst. He comes to us today, not on a lowly donkey, but in the lowly means of Word, water, bread and wine. He comes to you today and is welcomed with the loud shouts of All Glory Laud and Honor and Hosanna Loud Hosanna, and Ride On Ride On In Majesty. He comes to you as you are about to enter into a week where there will be multiple opportunities to gather and hear the Words of His Passion, and to pray earnestly to Him, just as He prayed to His Father in heaven.
Christ enters into your midst in a very personal sense this week, as even the most secular of stations and outlets will mark in one way or another that this is a holy week, and that Christians around the world view these days as holier than all the rest.
Christ Jesus enters into your midst and announces that He is here, that this is what He has come for; that this is the very essence of who He is.
How do you welcome Him?
The crowds of Jerusalem give us a clue this morning as to how you might welcome Him.
It is true indeed that many wave palm branches and shout Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. And indeed, many men and teenagers lay their outer cloaks along the road, and women hold their young children up to see Jesus as He passes by.
No doubt you can relate. We sing out with gusto the words of All Glory Laud and Honor; we hold forth our palm branches and wave them with great enthusiasm. No cloaks were laid along the aisle, but we have indeed put on our finest to come and meet the Lord in His house.
But if we dig deeper, we discover that not everyone in this crowd shouts out with the same joy. Indeed, some have found themselves caught up in a crowd of which they otherwise would not be part of. How many had other plans, only to be swept up in the commotion? Who is this strange man who approaches on a donkey? Why do we welcome Him? Is what I have heard true?
Well that really depends on what you have heard. For the attention that the Church receives this week will indeed draw in the curious onlooker; but how many will delight in what they see and hear? And how many will be disappointed that the rumors are going to be just that?
Some in this Palm Sunday crowd have already discovered that Jesus is not who He says He is; or more likely not who they want Him to be. The chief priests famously tell Jesus to silence the crowd, only to be rebuked and told the stones also will shout forth His praise.
Sadly, for many, this Holy Week is nothing more than just another week. Not just for those who have never believed, but also for those who have walked away from the faith. Alas, if you cannot come to church this week, if you cannot rejoice in the work of Christ this week, if you cannot bring yourself to hear the Words of Christ’s Passion this week, is there anything that would ever warrant your praise? Or has your heart already been sealed off to the Lamb of God?
That is the crowd that Jesus sees as He enters Jerusalem; that is the crowd that Jesus looks out upon this morning here in this place. A crowd of those who believe, mixed with those who are awkwardly caught up in the moment, and those who would rather bring the whole parade to a screeching halt.
How do you welcome Him?
No doubt you place yourself in the group that welcomes Him with great shouts of jubilation and exaltation; that is after all the expected answer, the answer that the pastor wants to hear; the answer your parents want to hear; the answer that is to be given in Sunday school and Bible class.
You would be less likely to admit out loud that you wound up here by accident, whether it be by marriage, or by invitation, or by hopes of a free lunch afterward. And only the most ardent would argue that their hope in Jesus was misplaced, even if all evidence in their life suggests otherwise.
Most likely you circulate between the three: today you are overjoyed to be here, for this is the Sunday thing to do; but tomorrow, or later this week at one of the midweek services, or even when it comes time for meal time prayer or daily devotions, you may not be so thrilled, after all, the Sunday requirement has already been met.
And when your faith and your daily life intersect, and you know that your baptism prohibits you from one action or another that you really want to undertake, you very well may curse the very Lord you welcomed just a few days earlier.
That is our custom for welcoming Jesus into our midst. Sometimes with open arms; sometimes with a disgruntled handshake; and even with cold eyes, and a grumble of harsh resentment.
But how does Jesus look upon you?
For this, we once again reflect on the crowds at Jerusalem; a mixed bag to say the least, and one that will play a role later this week when the shouts of Hosanna turn to shouts of Crucify Him.
But Jesus continues on anyway. Jesus knows the crowds will turn on Him, and He knows that you will turn on Him, and yet He does not get off the donkey, nor does He immediately ascend into heaven, nor does He abandon you as you gather here in this place; rather He marches on, and continues on to the cross.
Jesus is here to suffer and die, not just for those who never turn from Him, but for those who do turn from Him. Jesus is not just here for those who are holy and righteous, He is here for those who are far from righteous. Jesus is here to suffer and die, so that your sins of falling away, of demanding that He be crucified, of refusing to hear His word, might be forgiven and so that you might live.
Today, Jesus looks over the crowds with the same love and compassion that He has when He gazes upon you, His beloved children. He looks upon you, and He does not turn aside or abandon His purpose, even if that means that the crowds today may not sing the same tune that they will in a few days.
Today, the Lord of heaven and earth comes into our midst, humble and lowly, welcomed by the crowds, but at the same time despised by others. That is the saga of Holy Week, that is the saga of our daily lives. Sometimes Jesus is welcomed with joy, other times with confusion, and other times even with derision.
And yet there is an assurance given to you who stand tall to rejoice and sing praises to this Lamb of God who is about to be slain for your salvation: there will come a day, and it is coming soon, when every knee shall bow, even the knees of those who have nothing to go on but the rumors of who Jesus is, and every tongue confess, even the tongues of those that refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is a member of the Holy Trinity, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
That is what we look forward to. A day when all will recognize Jesus for who He truly is, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the one who has come to save His people from their sins. A day, when all will know the true wonder of Holy Week, which begins today, when the Lord enters into the midst of His people, the devout, the confused and the unbeliever, with words of forgiveness, life and salvation.