Monday, April 10, 2017

PALM Sunday (A) 2017

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 21:10
Theme: The Storm Before the Calm

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The cry was, “Hosanna!” It was an exclamation of hope, praise, and expectation. It was also a plea; an appeal for deliverance. “Lord, save!” The burden had become too great. Their hosannas were directed to the right person but mostly for the wrong reasons. This man would change the world, but much more radically than they imagined. Palm Sunday was the storm before the calm. By Friday the followers had fled and the silence of death blanketed the scene. False hopes were dashed, but new beginnings awaited. Jesus, the Christ, would make good on the prophetic promise. Salvation would be achieved.

The constancy of Christ while running the gauntlet of Holy Week stands in sharp contrast to human frailty. Human beings are fickle, capricious; erratic. We change our minds and our moods. Sometimes we don’t even know why, other times our reasons are not very good. Our inconsistencies are a cause of tension, conflict, pain and confusion. But Christ is trustworthy without exception. That doesn’t mean He wasn’t under duress. His suffering was not a game.

Christ faced all the temptations common to the human race. His humanity is not a sham. He did not yield to sin. His perfect obedience secured our perfect righteousness. His sacrificial death opened for us the gates to eternal life. You are accounted holy before God because the Father looks at you through the work of His Son. Believers are grafted into Christ like the branch into the vine, they gathered like the lost sheep into the flock, they are fitted like living stones into the temple of the living God. You are fitted, you are gathered, you are grafted. You are His baptized. He has washed you clean.

Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, not a stallion. He did that as a sign of humility, as a bearer of peace. He was the promised Messiah they had long-waited for. He did come to free His people, not from the oppression of the Romans, but from the bondage to sin. He freed them to serve others without fear of failing to gain God’s favour. Dear friends, it’s impossible to joyfully sacrifice yourself for others if you believe you need to invest most of your effort in gaining merit before God. But we live in and through Christ.

You are called do what is impossible for you, alone, to do: Love your neighbour from a pure motive. But Christ has done it. You must refrain from doing what is impossible for you to actually refrain from: Pursuing selfish ambition. But Christ has done it. These are the blessed paradoxes of the baptismal life. In and of ourselves we are still sinners. In Christ we are holy and pure. When exposed to the light of God's law we are guilty. When sheltered by the shadow of the cross we are free from all accusation. In regards to His Bride, the church, the Scripture says, “…having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word so that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”1 For the believer in Christ every command of God has already been fulfilled. Jesus is our substitute in all things.

Does that mean that we are engaged in some sort of spiritual mind game here, or that the commands or God's law no longer apply to believers? Certainly not! The law is good, and righteous, and holy. God’s commands are for our well-being and the good of our neighbours. We should understand clearly that God is serious about punishing those who transgress His commands. God gives us freedom but we can’t construct moral parameters based on our own opinions or define truth based on our own ideas. If recognition of our shortcomings doesn’t drive us back to Christ for mercy, then self-righteousness (whether we are even conscious of it or not) has commandeered our spiritual lives. Self-righteousness is a kissing cousin to lawlessness. Both are symptomatic of estrangement from God.

But, dear friends, we should also know that following the law will never gain God's favour. Genuine obedience is motivated by the Holy Spirit. The Scripture says, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”2 We are ever, and always, and only saved by grace. The unmerited mercy of God is our refuge and hope. And, indeed, it is a hope that does not fail us. It is sealed by the death and resurrection of God's Son. He lives now to intercede for us before the Father. He lives now to commend the Spirit to His work. He lives now that we might have future life with Him. This life is no longer a burden but a privilege. That’s why the apostle could say today, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who…humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”3

What a remarkable privilege it is to be a beacon of light for someone whose life is shrouded in darkness! What a blessing to be the presence of peace in the life of someone dwelling in chaos! What a liberty to speak the truth to those immersed in falsehood! We know such people and we know that we are among them. Many such opportunities will seem rather mundane, people struggling to cope with the daily challenges of life, hardly exciting or dramatic, but people's lives are changed by one act of love at a time. We have no power to change anyone, but God transform darkness into light.

The first Palm Sunday was filled with excitement. Hopes were high. Palms were brandished. Possibilities were revitalized. This Messiah had captured the popular imagination. He was riding the wave of positive sentiment created by His tender care of the people, His resilience in the face of His opponents, and the undeniable power He had over sickness, sin, and the forces of nature. The cries of “Hosanna!” were not mislaid. Yet, He Himself knew that the excitement would soon collapse under the weight of the looming crucifixion. It was the storm before the calm. The commotion of Sunday would give way to the exhaustion of Good Friday.

Yet, the pleas of “Hosanna!” did not go unfulfilled. The Son of God would rise victoriously on the third day. He did not give immediate deliverance from Roman rule, He gave eternal redemption from sin, death, and Satan’s power. As the apostle says, God “is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”4 God answers our cries of hosanna. Baptism is an answer to the cry of Hosanna. Holy Communion is an answer to the cry of Hosanna. The body and blood of Christ imparts to you the power and presence of Christ. It extends forgiveness to you. It strengthens your faith. It puts your conscience at rest. It fills you with hope.

Absolution is also an answer to the same plea, “Lord, save!” God never lets our petitions go unanswered. He knows exactly what support we really need and when we need it. The Holy Spirit doesn’t mollycoddle us but leads us onto maturity in Christ. That path leads through the cross and empty tomb. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the hightest!”5 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Palm Sunday
9 April, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Ephesians 5:26-27
2 Philippians 2:13
3 Philippians 2:5-6, 8
4 Ephesians 3:20
5 Matthew 21:9

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