Pastor Michael Frye:
Having traveled almost forty days on our Lenten journey, in which we have often focused on prayer, confession, and Christ’s journey to the cross, today we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of shouting praises and hosannas to our Lord who was knowingly riding toward his ultimate death on the cross.
That is why this first day of Holy Week is somewhat paradoxical.
The cheering and singing of “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” seems appropriate for the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem because of his gain in popularity over his miracles and teachings.
Yet, the humble way in which Jesus entered the town, even in the midst of the excitement and anticipation, was an indication that Jesus’ expectation of what would soon occur was quite different from what either his disciples or the cheering crowd, or even Jesus’ enemies, expected.
So, how are we supposed to feel today?
Are we here to celebrate his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, or are we to experience the sadness of what we know is about to come?
I surmise that the title at the top of our bulletin this morning: “Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion reminds us that it is both.
The truth of the matter is that we aren’t really sure what to do with Palm Sunday, primarily because we know where it leads us the rest of the week; because we hear in the Gospel lesson the story of Jesus’ being arrested and bound, taken back and forth between Pilate and King Herod, tortured and eventually sentenced to death; marched toward Calvary; nailed to the cross, and eventually is overcome by death.
Why are we summarizing today what we are virtually expected to be following for the rest of Holy Week?
What is the purpose of all this?
The truth of the matter is that Jesus would never have taken the risk to ride into Jerusalem proclaiming a new way life; he would never have confronted the comfortable patterns that the world had fallen into; he would never have endured the cross had he not seen the importance of taking that ride as a reminder to the world that he is indeed a king; not a king from the past; not one whose rise and fall depended upon his own power and influence; not one whose kingdom is only a temporary blip in history; but the King of heaven, whose victory over sin and death has assured us that God’s kingdom reigns forever; that it will never be overthrown or defeated; it will never be replaced by another; that the throne of this king is the life-giving cross upon which was hung the salvation of the whole world.
To understand this about Jesus, let us look back in history at one particular parade into Rome that was recorded by the Greek author, Plutarch:
The Roman General Aeilius Paulus had just one a decisive victory over the Macedonians.
When he returned to Rome his triumphal procession lasted three days.
The first day there was a display of all the artwork he had plundered.
The second day they displayed all the Macedonian arms they had captured.
The third day, they displayed over 17,000 pounds of gold coins, and the humiliated king of Macedonia and his family that had been captured.
He was accompanied by a large choir praising him and his accomplishments.
This was a far cry from Jesus’ humble entry on a young donkey, hardly a picture of power and wealth – yet, as you and I contemplate this, we realize that Jesus was demonstrating a power and authority far greater than anything any king or dictator, or political leader before or since that time has shown.
Jesus has shown us that suffering and endurance are a part of the struggle that we have inherited in the world because of original sin.
Jesus lived that struggle then, and he lives it now with us each and every day, reminding us that no matter what we face or experience in this present age, his victory over the cross and the grave is our victory, as well.
That is why this day of Palms and Hosannas, and this week of solemnly remembering and commemorating Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples, his arrest and trial, his suffering, all of it is so important to us.
It reminds us of the hope that is to come; it prepares us for what lies beyond the grave.
It instills within us the inspiration to hang in there with our own struggles and challenges, knowing that we will come out of them stronger on the other side.
As ones who believe that we have been called to follow Christ to the cross, we come to understand that our call is not merely to bear our own cross as Jesus bore his.
The cross of Jesus symbolizes the suffering of all human beings; therefore, we are to take a stand alongside all those who suffer – not just those who suffer from illness, or tragedy, but those who suffer from injustice, as well.
They deserve to know that there are those who are working on their behalf to right wrongs and set things straight.
It is important to know that in Jesus we have a love that is stronger than death, a love that can withstand all the forces of evil.
I remember having preached my first sermon on this text as a seminary intern in Dallas, Texas, in 1972.
The sanctuary was darkened for the evening service; emotions were running high because of the solemnity of the evening, and I was trying my best to set the tone of the service so the congregation could feel the tension surrounding Jesus’ final moments on the cross.
I made the point that Jesus’ disciples had abandoned him there on Calvary with the exception of John who had stayed with Jesus’ mother; the mob was mocking him; the soldiers were coldly and methodically going about the business of completing the executions; and not one person, not one would dare speak out of behalf of this innocent man and say “no.”
About that time a little two-year-old girl sitting toward the front with her parents stood up on the pew and yelled “NO!” to the top of her voice, startling everyone
in the room, including me.
But it is important for us to note that Jesus didn’t expect a no…
He understood why he was there, what he was doing, and for whom he was doing it.
What appears to everyone else to have been a tragedy was actually Jesus’ triumph.
And it was only by the unlimited grace of God that such a miraculous undertaking was possible.
As we enter this week of the Passion of our Lord, let us faithfully and gratefully observe the unfolding drama as a reminder of our own role as sinners in the suffering and death of our Lord, and as an acknowledgement of our gratitude for what he has done for us.
From triumph, to tragedy, to an unselfish act of grace, we are reminded that Christ has set us free to proclaim his victory in the very way that we live our lives in loving and faithful commitment and service.