Palm Sunday: the free choice
After hearing the great narrative of the Passion of Christ, as a preacher, I always feel superfluous. So I am just going to make a few comments this morning.
In our first reading today, the servant of God that Christians identify with Jesus says through Isaiah, “the Lord God helps me; I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.” And in our second reading Paul clarifies what vindication it is that the prophet was talking about: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We proclaim that vindication today and every Palm Sunday. We say these words each year. Every knee shall bow. Every tongue shall confess.
What I want us to ask ourselves about that is: why today? Palm Sunday is when we walk the whole road of Holy Week in miniature. Yes, there’s still Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to come. But we already heard about Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion this morning. The Gospel we read left us at the point in the story where all we have left to put our faith in is a dead body, still nailed on a cross, with darkness over the whole land. So why, on a day like this, meditate on how Isaiah and Paul proclaim the vindication, the universal Lordship of Christ?
Why not read about abandonment on this day when Jesus was abandoned by those who swore to stay by him? Why not read about failure, when today his power, at least as far as human eyes could see, failed when it was needed most? Why read instead that Christ is Lord today, which must be one of the harder days to believe it? Today Jesus is at the lowest point a human being can go. And yet we proclaim that God has vindicated him by raising him from death, even death on a Cross, and given him the name that is above every name.
But it must have been so hard to believe that then, and it’s still not easy to believe, is it? Not just because he was betrayed and crucified -- we have the benefit of hindsight there; we know the real end of the story. But it’s hard to believe because we can see the world around us, which proves that the suffering and death we saw on the Cross are no exception to the way life goes. Violence is on the TV every night. The powerful still scorn the powerless. Fear and anger seem to have overtaken our political process. People we love, places we love, experiences we love, change or even die. Sometimes dreams we’ve had for our lives or our children’s lives never come true. It’s hard to believe in situations like these.
It’s also hard to believe because there are people all around us who don’t. Living based on trust in a crucified Messiah is tough when most people are acting out a different kind of story. I’m sure every one of you knows countless people in your families or your workplaces who live by all kinds of things other than the message of the Gospel.
But how hard it is to believe something does not change whether or not that thing is true. And Palm Sunday and every day it is true that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is not a theory or an option; it is how the universe works. One day everyone will know it. Not just humans, but angels and devils and oceans and mountains and whales and eagles and planets and stars. The whole universe will bow before him… one day. But we get to do it now. That gracious, merciful invitation is extended to us now, here.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem he commented that if human beings didn’t praise him, the rocks themselves would cry out. That’s because rocks have no choice; they can’t decide to reject God. Only thinking creatures can make that mistake; people, and I suppose angels. And only thinking creatures can do the opposite: give God freely chosen, intelligent praise. Rocks, trees, dogs and stars don't get the chance to choose Jesus. You do.
So if you said Hosanna to him this morning, if you are happy to receive his body and blood at this altar, if you are ready to walk with him through Holy Week and the Great Vigil of Easter, do one more thing for Jesus Christ today. Tell him that he is your Lord and your God. For the first time or the hundredth. It's true whether you say so or not, but God has honored you by giving you the choice to say so.
It's a very big compliment God paid us, giving us the freedom to confess him as Lord for ourselves. Today may be a hard day to do it, but let’s do it anyway. Let’s walk with him through this whole week -- Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil. Let’s go all the way into darkness with him, so that he may lead us all the way into light. Thanks be to God for his glorious Gospel.
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