Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (B)

April 5, 2009

Text: John 12:12-19; Mark 14:1-15:47

Let us Pray: “Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”[1] Amen.

This morning, we had two Gospel lessons, one of them dreadfully long. The first dealt with our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on in majesty to die. The second, the long one, included the whole Passion narrative from the Gospel according to St. Mark, the whole account of our Lord’s suffering and death. Over the past five weeks we’ve sat through a conflation, a harmonization of the entire Passion history from all four Gospels in our midweek Lenten services. On Friday, Good Friday, we will hear most of the Passion account from the Gospel according to St. John. Why do we spend so much time and energy on the Passion, the suffering and death, of our Lord Jesus Christ?

The Evangelists themselves, all four of them, devote more time and space in their gospels to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ than to any other event. From the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to the burial of Jesus, St. Matthew devotes seven out of 28 chapters to the events of Holy Week. St. Mark devotes five out of 16 chapters, St. Luke five out of 24, St. John eight out of 21 chapters! Why is this? Because Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, along with His victorious resurrection from the dead, is the defining moment of human history. And Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, along with His resurrection from the dead, for the forgiveness of our sins, is the defining article of our Christian faith. That is why the Evangelists spend so much time and space writing about these events, and why we spend so much time and energy reading and listening to and meditating upon our Lord’s Passion. These things are true! And in the Gospel accounts we hear the eyewitness testimony of those who were there. These things are for us, for our forgiveness, life, and salvation! And in the Gospel of our Lord’s Passion and death and resurrection, we receive all the benefits of His sin-atoning work.

We began this morning with a bit of divine drama. We held palms in our hands and joined the people of Jerusalem in greeting their King with shouts of “Hosanna, Lord, Save us now!” We processed with our Lord Jesus into the sanctuary singing glory, laud, and honor to our Redeemer and our King. This is a great illustration of what happens every time we hear and read the Gospel. We step out of time and space and join our Lord on the palm-strewn road. We step out of time and space this morning to witness the events of our Lord’s Passion. In hearing the Gospel, we have a front-row seat as our Lord Jesus Christ rides on in majesty to die for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, for our salvation.

Listen, then, as the chief priests and scribes whisper among themselves how they might stealthily arrest Jesus and put Him to death. Watch as Jesus reclines at table in the house of Simon the leper to have His feet anointed with costly perfume, in preparation for His burial. Watch, beloved, as Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money bags, who often helped himself to what was in the treasury, money meant for the poor, and who was among those indignant that the perfume was not sold and the money given into his keeping, seeks out the chief priests and scribes to help them with their wretched plans.

Watch as the disciples gather with Jesus in the upper room for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover. Watch as Judas departs into the outer darkness to do what must be done. Woe to him. But watch what Jesus does for the other disciples, as He takes for them bread and says, “this is my body” (v. 22), wine and says, “this is my blood” (v. 24), and it is, because Jesus says so. And it still is, as often as the disciples of Jesus Christ eat this bread and drink this cup until He comes, because Jesus says so.

Watch, beloved, as Jesus and His disciples sing a hymn and go out to the Mount of Olives. Watch as Jesus earnestly prays to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, His soul sorrowful unto death. Watch as Judas arrives with an armed crowd to arrest Jesus, betraying Him with a kiss.

See now as they lead Jesus before the High Priest. They accuse Him and convict Him of blasphemy. He only tells the truth. They spit on Him and strike Him and mock Him. See as they hand Him over to Pilate. See Barabbas go free. Hear the shouts of the crowd, “Crucify him!” (15:13). Watch as the soldiers lead Him away and clothe Him in royal purple, press a crown of thorns upon His head, place a reed for a scepter in His hands and then beat Him with it. Watch as they worship Him in mockery. Watch as they lead Him out to crucify Him.

Behold your beaten, bloody, crucified King enthroned upon the cross. Behold the thorny crown, the nail pierced hands and feet, the pierced side. Hear the mockery of the crowds. Behold the darkness over the whole land. Behold, and do not turn away. It is an ugly sight. It makes us cringe. It is an offense. It is a scandal. God hangs in the flesh upon a Roman cross. It is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. It appears as though the devil has won. So far is it from what we expected when we jubilantly welcomed our triumphal King, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. But even so, we must not avert our eyes, beloved, from His true triumph. Upon the cross extended, Jesus Christ has brought an end to sin and the tyranny of the devil. He has paid the price for that awful load of this world’s transgression. He has bought you back from hell.

This is good news! This is the Gospel! Jesus Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins. Here is the central event in human history. Here is the heart of the Christian faith. You are reconciled to the Father on account of the holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Since this is true, surely we can spare a few extra minutes to hear about it. For the Gospel is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit delivers the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father and all the benefits of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ through the Word, the Word read, the Word preached, the Word in the water, the Word in the Supper. This is all gift. This is all free to us. God has done it all. The Father sent His Son to win our salvation. The Spirit brings the salvation of the Son to us in the Word.

And so we sat through a dreadfully long Gospel lesson, yet there is really nothing dreadful about it, for by it the Holy Spirit brings the cross to us, brings Jesus to us, and gives us faith in Him. Now we need not fear the power of sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has conquered these as He bore our sins on the cross. Let us then, by the help of God, be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him, that we watch and pray this Holy Week. Let us keep this sacred time. And in so doing may we be prepared joyfully to keep the Paschal Feast in sincerity and truth, even to the Day of our Lord’s Resurrection. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008) p. 151.

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