Sermon for Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018
Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, Wisconsin
Rev. Michael Larson
When Alexander the great conquered India, Africa, and Asia he would ride in on his black war horse with trumpets and great fanfare. Caesar Augustus, emperor of Rome, would do the same, especially after military victories where the enemies would be destroyed and soldiers would return home. Caesar would lead elaborate processionals through Rome, showing that he was the protector of Rome – a valiant warrior – and leader. He would be joined by chariots and horses. Trumpets would blast.
Caesar would ride through the city in a purple robe, wearing a crown of laurels. All the crowds would cheer and celebrate as Caesar would ride in victoriously mounted on a chariot pulled by a team of horses.
The only modern-day equivalent we have of any of this is probably the high school homecoming parade. Where a king and queen wear crowns and ride around in the back of a pickup truck. And that’s great.
But today it’s not even that glamorous. No. Behold your king. Our Lord does not ride into Jerusalem, like Alexander the Great, because it certainly doesn’t look that great at all. Christ is not seated on a chariot pulled by war horses. There is nothing of the kind. Behold how your God comes, humble and mounted upon a donkey.
The Mediterranean world in which the Jews lived knew was a royal processional looked like, and well, this didn’t quite measure up.
If anything, today’s scene is laughable or a comedy by the looks of it. But don’t miss it because this is the way Zechariah – the old testament prophet prophesied that the Messiah would come.
In our Gospel this morning Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds shout hosanna, hosanna, which means save us now, save us from our sins. The crowds wave palm branches a sign of refreshment in the wilderness. Palms are a sign of a cool oasis amidst a hot desert.
No God does not come to you, like an Alexander or a Caesar. He doesn’t ride in by force but by grace. He is coming to provide refreshment from your burning consciences. To give you an oasis amidst a wilderness of sin, death, and fatigue.
But he’s no Alexander. He’s no Caesar. Because this king is the ruler of the heavens and the earth. And today on Palm Sunday he is leading his own funeral march. Our king is going to die. You heard our long Gospel text today. The account of our Lord’s crucifixion and death. We have a crucified king. They stripped him, wrapped him in a purple robe like Caesar. They mocked him. The drunken soldiers spit on him. They didn’t give him a crown of laurels but a crown of thorns – and pressed it violently into his head. His blood poured forth as they beat him like an animal. Behold your God.
Like a donkey, He has carried your load. He has carried your sorrows. He is beaten, bruised, and weighed down with the sins of the entire world.
This morning the royal procession was unlike anything the world has seen. There is someone greater than Alexander the Great. Greater than any Caesar. There is Christ. Our acolytes lifted up a crucified Savior this morning – to remind us all what sort of God we worship. A crucified one. And yet raised up to put an end to death.
All things are under his feet. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For all you guys are gals who are doing your college brackets. It’s March madness. You pick the best winning team. But for March madness this year your number one seed is Christ. Go with the guy who’s lowly and riding in on a donkey.
So follow the number one seed. Follow your crucified king to the New Jerusalem – high in the heavens. Open your throats and sing hosanna. And cast all your sins at his feet. He can certainly handle them all.
Behold how your God comes to you. Not with might and power as you might expect. He comes humble and lowly, mounted upon bread and wine. He processes into your hearts through a chalice filled with his love. His body given for you. Blood shed for you so that you can find refreshment and strength for tired and weary soldiers such as yourselves.
Remember the end of our marvelous Gospel text today. Jesus died. The whole earth shook and the temple curtain was torn in two. The bodies of the saints who has fallen asleep. They were walking out of their tombs and processing into the holy city of God. All the people saw this. Even the Roman centurion, the soldier came to believe. And his words at the foot of the cross should be ours as we begin holy week. He said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
For the Holy Church as she embarks on the holiest week of the Church Year, that she may be defended against the assaults of Satan, boldly proclaim Christ and Him crucified, and behold her King coming to her via His holy Word and Sacraments, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For our Christian lives, that we be granted faithfulness in times of temptation, forgiveness when we fall, a humble love for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, reconciliation with those from whom we are alienated, and boldness to confess the faith we have in Christ, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the members of this parish, that trusting in Him who gave Himself humbly as a sacrifice for us, we humbly give ourselves in service to Him and the people of this world. Bless also those serving overseas, especially the Sovitzky family, Deirdre and Temish Christiansen, Rev. Jacob Gaugert and the Cortrights, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all whom our Father has given authority in civil governments, that God would guide their decisions and desires so that life is defended, especially the unborn, the helpless and the aged. Uphold justice and the will of Him before whom all knees will bow is done, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who live without faith in Christ, that the Holy Spirit would call them to repentance and grant them a confident trust in the King who comes in the name of the Lord, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those stricken by disease; for those enduring famine and natural disasters; for those in bondage; and for those who are sick, shut-in, recovering or have any need, especially for Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou, that our heavenly Father would hear their pleas, meet their needs, relieve their suffering and lead them to rejoice in Him who never fails us in our time of need, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who receive the Holy Supper of our Lord today, that they would eat His body and drink His blood in repentance and faith, and be strengthened to love others as Christ has loved them, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who have departed this vale of tears in faith and now sleep in Jesus, let us give thanks to the Lord; that He would shepherd us in that same faith until our last hour, bringing us, with them, into His Kingdom, which has no end, when the last trumpet sounds and every knee shall bow at His name, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.