Sermon for Palm Sunday – March 28, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
If you see a white panel truck coming down the road blaring a music-box rendition of “Turkey in the Straw,” you know that the ice cream man coming into your neighborhood. You know it is time to cobble together some coins for a fudgesicle!
If you were to see men in black suits and sunglasses and earpieces, obviously working security, or if you were to hear the strains of “Hail to the Chief,” you would know that the President of the United States is near.
If you came upon a red carpet and saw stretch limos pulling up with people getting out in tuxedoes or exotic dresses, you would soon figure out that you had somehow stumbled upon the Grammy awards or maybe the Oscars.
We all understand these cultural cues which tell us who is coming, right?
Today we hear of a grand parade welcoming someone bringing blessings even better than fudgesicles, someone far more powerful than the President of the United States, someone far more important than any celebrity. Today we hear of a grand parade welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem. And while they may not be as easily recognizable to us here today as red carpets and the ice cream truck jingle, there are important cues in the way Jesus arrived that tell us who he is and why he has come.
The first cue is Jesus’ choice of transportation. St. Mark tells us that Jesus commandeered a colt, which is a young, uncastrated horse or mule or donkey. Other gospel writers specifically tell us it was a donkey. Mark points out that this colt had never been ridden. Now this is a subtle cue here, but I find it very interesting that this young, uncastrated, unridden donkey would have let Jesus ride him! Either Jesus did some bareback rodeo before the parade, or this young, still hot-blooded colt willingly submitted to what it knew was the Lord of all creation, the Lord of all creatures great and small. As much as I love to imagine Jesus hanging on for eight seconds on a bucking donkey, I’m guessing it was the latter. Jesus could ride the unridden colt because he was the Lord of all creation!
But there’s more to this mode of transportation – much more. In riding a colt, Jesus was fulfilling scripture. He was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. In an oracle anticipating the coming of the Messiah, the prophet Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Best of all, Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise, through Zechariah and others, that God’s Messiah would come to bring a victory for all people. Jesus was the fulfilment of a promise going all the way back to Abraham, that God would ultimately bless all the families of the earth, reconciling them to himself. Jesus was the fulfillment of a promise that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where God promised an offspring that would crush the head of the serpent, saving humanity from its sin.
Jesus riding this donkey in this parade into Jerusalem sends another cue as well. To ride a donkey in a procession like this sent the signal that you were coming in peace. It was a sign of humility. Roman rulers processed on great war horses, seventeen hands high! These stallions projected power and strength. A donkey sent a very different signal. Jesus was coming in humility. He was coming as a different kind of king. He was not coming to overthrow Rome and restore the political sovereignty of Israel. He was not coming to establish an earthly kingdom, at least not in the way many people thought. He was not coming to establish an earthly throne. Jesus was coming to rule through the ultimate humility of the cross. He was coming to establish peace between a holy God and a sinful humanity. He was coming to be enthroned in the hearts of those who would come to believe in him.
The people welcoming Jesus as he paraded into Jerusalem didn’t yet understand any of this, but they knew Jesus was important. They knew he was coming to do something wonderful. And so they laid their own clothing on the road and spread leafy in front of him, as kind of an ancient near eastern version of rolling out the red carpet. From the other gospel accounts we know they cut palm branches and waved them in the air to honor him and celebrate his arrival.
And the people shouted verses from a song of praise, what we know as Psalm 118. They shouted “Hosanna,” which means “Lord, save us!” They shouted words of blessing upon Jesus from the psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This crowd hadn’t a clue about how Jesus was going to save them, but they already understood that that is what he had come to do, and so they praised him and blessed him.
And it is precisely here in these words from Psalm 118 that this grand parade crosses paths with our own lives as Christians today. In our Christian liturgy we sing these same words! As Christians we’ve been singing these words for two thousand years right before we receive Holy Communion. It is called the Sanctus, or the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and the first part is taken from Isaiah, but then we sing these same words from Psalm 118: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
And that is your cue, indicating who is coming to you in the Lord’s Supper, and what he is doing. It is your cue that it is the Lord of all creation is coming to tame your hot-bloodedness, your tendency to want to get God off your back. It is your cue that the Messiah is coming to you bless you, to reconcile you to God, to save you from your sin. It is your cue that he is coming to keep the promise God made to you in Holy Baptism, the promise that you are his and that his forgiveness is poured out for you again and again in Christ’s body and blood. It is your cue that the true King of heaven and earth has come to you in humility, even the humility of dying on a cross. It is your cue that this King has come to be enthroned in your heart as you receive him in faith and in hope and in joy.
Rejoice greatly, O Zion, O people of God, for your King comes to you today through Word and Sacrament. Triumphant and victorious is he! Thanks be to God!
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church