For Our Salvation

palmPalm–Passion Sunday 2014
Matthew 21:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14- 27:66
April 13, 2014
St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church, North Port, FL

Almighty God,
Your beloved Son did not rise up in joy . . . until first he suffered death . . .
He did not enter into glory . . . until first he was crucified;
We pray for your mercy . . . and ask that as we struggle to follow in the way of His Cross, we may be transformed in your way of life and peace;                                     . . . Amen.

This prayer is a paraphrase of the prayer we prayed in the Narthex on our way into the church this morning. It’s a familiar prayer in its Prayer Book form. And it’s especially appropriate for this Sunday of the Passion – for Palm Sunday –because it spells out a couple of the paradoxes of Palm Sunday:

  • it contrasts Jesus’ rising up in joy” with his “first suffering death.”
  • and it contrasts “entering into glory” but “first being crucified.”

If you want to refer to the written form of the prayer, it’s on the second page of your bulletin – right above the horizontal line. Actually you can think of that horizontal line – and this prayer – as the threshold you stepped over when you came through those doors this morning. And did you notice what happened when you crossed that threshold? The scene quickly shifted . . .

We were having a glorious time outside – the weather was glorious and the garden has been so lovingly tended in recent days – a really lovely scene for the blessing of the palms. And then with our palm-waving parade, we remembered – we actually acted out – that glorious day when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time:

Matthew tells us that a very large crowd of people had gathered – and that they spread their coats on the road, and cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road – to pave the way for Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city. And they were singing “Hosanna” – like we did this morning – “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

But then, when Jesus crossed the threshold into the city, Matthew tells us that suddenly the whole city was in turmoil – the city was in turmoil asking, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” The city was in turmoil because Jesus the prophet had returned to Jerusalem to face his execution.

And just now we heard this part of the story. . . the passion gospel . . . a story of betrayal and denial, rejection and desertion – pain of all sorts – a story of suffering and death. . .

Wouldn’t it have been nice to just skip that part? Why not celebrate today by waving our palms and singing “Hosanna in the Highest” – and then move right along into next Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, shouting “Alleluia!! Christ IS RISEN!”

But, as you know, Hosanna and Alleluia are not the WHOLE Gospel story. There is also darkness in this story . . . there is pain . . . And in between today’s Hosannas and next Sunday’s Alleluias there is a profound expression of Love at the dinner table on Maundy Thursday . . . and there is grief – and tears of forgiveness – and the working out of our salvation in Jesus’ death on the Cross on Good Friday.

Our salvation – that’s the ultimate significance of the passion gospel – and of these next seven days. In the course of a short week, Jesus goes from being welcomed as a prophet and a king to being tried and killed as an outcast, a criminal, a loser … and all for our salvation.

Jesus endures what he endures, suffers what he suffers, and loses all that he has … for us.

But it’s not because we’re such awful sinners that Jesus has to be punished for us. . . Actually we are sinners, of course – we’re confused – we’re hurtful and hurting all at the same time.

But this story isn’t about God punishing Jesus: It’s not God who greets Jesus as a king one day and then demands his death the next: it’s the angry and volatile crowds. And it’s not God who hangs Jesus on the cross; it’s the religious leaders.

How could this happen? Why did they turn against Jesus?  Jesus came into the world preaching and teaching, healing and feeding – what’s not to like about that?

But that’s not all he does. He also proclaims the coming of God’s kingdom … and he offers forgiveness of sins to anyone who asks for it. And that’s what gets him into trouble with the people and rulers of his day . . . and with us today, as well. We’d rather not admit our brokenness, and our need, and our total helplessness when we’re separated from God. We’d rather pretend that we’ve got it all together – we prefer to continue to live the lie that we don’t need or want anything. And rather than confess our sin and receive Jesus’ forgiveness, we reject him. . .

But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus takes on our humanity – he becomes one of us and takes on our sin – and he does all this to show us how much God loves us:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:

Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.”

The question, then, becomes: what difference does this make to us? Does it matter that Jesus died for us? Will it influence how we response to God – or will it change how we live with our neighbors and the world?

Going back to Paul – in the beginning of his famous hymn to Christ – he urges us to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….”

I wonder . . . Could it be easier to love others since we personally know God’s unconditional love for us? Could it be possible to forgive others since we personally know God’s incredible forgiveness and mercy on us?

However we answer these questions – and however we try to let Christ’s mind be in us – – however we may be struggling in our lives today . . . the truth is this:

Jesus came to us, became one of us, took on our life … he suffered and died on the cross . . . And he did it all so that we could know how much God loves us…

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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