Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (A)

April 13, 2014
Text: Matt. 26:1-27:66

            Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, a sacred time for Christians to ponder deeply the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ for us poor sinners.  We call it His Passion, a word that literally means suffering.  And this is the day when we hear the whole account in one sitting, or standing as the case may be.  It could be you felt your first twinge of impatience when you opened the bulletin and saw the nearly 6 pages of Gospel lesson awaiting you.  Yes, the service will go a little long this morning, so be prepared.  You may spend ten extra minutes in the pew today.  Gasp!  You don’t have anything better to do.  There is nothing more important than this.  God has given you the gift of time for this very purpose.  Repent.  And listen.  The Lord is speaking.  To you.  And His Word to you is unimaginably good.  Because here He tells you how He took your place under God’s wrath and the curse of sin.  Everything you hear Him endure in the Passion narrative rightly should have been endured by youYou should have been accused, arrested, and tried for capital crimes.  You should have been mocked, beaten, scourged.  You should have shouldered your own cross to the place of a skull, been nailed to it, and lifted up for hours upon hours in the darkness of God’s forsakenness.  You should have suffered hell.  You should have died.  But you won’t.  Not you.  No, you’ll live.  You live now, and you possess the very Kingdom of heaven, because He did all of this in your place.  Not because anybody forced Him.  It was the Father’s will, but the Father didn’t force Him.  Pilate, the Jewish authorities, and the Roman soldiers had no authority to do it, and could not have done it against His will.  No, no.  He did this willingly.  Because He loves you.  He loves you with amazing, self-giving love, love that only comes from God.  It is unknown among mere men.  That’s what St. Paul writes, “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8; ESV; emphasis added).  While we were still sinners.  While there was nothing good in us.  When we didn’t even want it.  While we were the perpetrators of it, nailing Him to the cross by our sin, marching happily into hell, He did this for us, for you and for me, to make us His own and give us eternal salvation.  Frankly, I don’t know how, after hearing this Holy Gospel, we can contain our alleluias.  At the very least we ought to be able to stifle our yawns, still our shifting feet, and sing a hearty Hosanna in the Highest.  For this Holy Gospel makes all the difference between eternal life and eternal death.
            I know, it’s a war within us, though, a war between the Old Man, the sinful flesh, and the New Creation in Christ Jesus.  “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).  The Old Man can’t stand to hear this stuff.  The Old Man will sit for hours in front of the television for March Madness, but before a Word of the Gospel is read, he’s ready to bail.  But beloved, that’s not who you are anymore.  The Old Man in you has been drowned in Holy Baptism, and you crucify him daily in repentance.  Christ Jesus, who was crucified for you and is now risen from the dead, raises you to new life, as a New Creation in Himself.  And as a New Creation in Christ Jesus, you love to hear again the Passion of our Lord.  You rejoice to hear of your forgiveness and salvation in Christ, and to receive it fresh and new and ever more abundantly in the hearing of Christ’s Word and the Supper of His Body and Blood.  So let me let you in on a little secret.  That impatience you may have felt when you realized this is the Sunday with the two exceptionally long chapters of Gospel reading is a dead giveaway that this war between the Old Man and the New Creation is being waged full-throttle within your heart, mind, body, and soul.  The issue isn’t your impatience with a long Scripture reading at all.  That’s just a symptom.  The issue is the struggle between faith and doubt, the daily death of the Old Man and the daily emerging and arising of the New in Christ.  Holy Week, with its longer readings and extra services, has this way of bringing the struggle into focus.  Because the Old Man chafes every time he has to hear, yet again, about Christ crucified for your sins.  He hates it.  Well… Kill him.  Crucify him.  Repent.  Return to your Baptism.  Take this bulletin home and treasure it all week long.  Read the readings again.  And again.  And again.  And when you start getting tired of them, read them again.  Because that means it’s working.  Old Adam is dying.  And Jesus is breathing the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, into you. 
            Let me tell you something, guys.  I know a thing or two about this struggle, only I know about it from the other side of the pulpit.  All the services.  All the sermons.  All about the exact same thing.  And what good does it do?  Does anybody really listen?  Does it really help anybody?  Does it change anyone?  Or is it all for not?  Notice, though, that in every single one of those questions, I’m looking at me, I’m looking at you, and in so doing, I’m not looking at Christ crucified.  These are lies of the devil designed to take my eyes off of Jesus.  My eyes are not on the Good Shepherd with His pierced hands and feet and side, who speaks and we hear His voice and we know Him and we follow Him.  And if my eyes aren’t on Him, your eyes won’t be pointed toward Him in the preaching of the cross. 
            This is why we need Passion Sunday.  This is why we need Holy Week.  To set our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).  We need to hear the Passion narrative like we need oxygen and water to live.  We heard it from St. Matthew’s perspective this morning.  We’ll hear it from St. John on Friday.  And we’ll hear a lot of Scripture in between, and in the Easter Feast, all of which will focus us on Christ crucified for our sins, Christ raised for our justification.  Pope Francis recently handed out pocket sized copies of the Gospels to a crowd of thousands in St. Peter’s square.  He said that Christians should keep the Gospel with them at all times, and read it daily.  Though I vehemently disagree with the Pontiff about many things, I’m totally with him on this one.  Because the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  So, in answer to my questions of struggle and despair, that’s the good it does.  It saves you from hell.  It delivers to you the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life.  And that’s a pretty big change, if you ask me, from death to life, from Old Man to New Creation, from sinner to blessed saint and child of God.  Does anybody listen?  I guess that’s not really up to me.  It’s up to God.  But there is something you can rejoice in, beloved.  The Spirit didn’t bring you here today for nothing.  You may resist it.  You may wish you hadn’t set your alarm clock this morning, conveniently missing the extra-long Sunday.  Perhaps you allowed your mind to wander during the Holy Gospel.  Maybe it’s wandering right now.  But the Spirit is knocking this living Word of Jesus into your ears and mind and heart and soul in spite of you.  Because He promised His Word never returns to Him empty, without accomplishing what He desires (Is. 55:11).  That’s not an excuse to not pay attention, by the way.  That’s the Old Man, after all, who must be crucified.  It’s simply a testimony to the grace of God that He pours out on you in His Word, which you cannot achieve by your own reason or strength.  The Holy Spirit does it in the Word.  He brings you to faith in your crucified Savior.  And He keeps you in that faith through the precious means of grace here in the Church.
            And what a beautiful thing the Lord speaks to you here today.  His body is anointed for burial before the fact by a grateful and devoted woman.  He is sold-out by one of His closest disciples.  He gives His Church the Sacrament of His Body and Blood for our forgiveness.  He promises that when His disciples fall away, even if they deny Him, He will raise them up.  He is sorrowful unto death in the garden, and His disciples cannot stay awake to watch with Him even one hour.  Apparently even seeing the Gospel take place firsthand is enough to make you sleepy.  Our Lord prays that the cup of suffering may be taken from Him, but if it is the only way to save us, He’ll do it.  Not as I will, but as you will, dear Father.  And so it must be.  Judas arrives with an armed crowd and betrays Jesus with a kiss.  Still, Jesus calls him “Friend” (Matt. 26:50).  He is arrested and tried before the Sanhedrin.  Peter denies Him three times and weeps bitter tears.  The Jews hand our Savior over to Pilate and the Romans.  The crowd, whipped up by the chief priests, demands blood.  “Let him be crucified… His blood be on us and on our children!” (27:22, 25).  Unwittingly, they proclaim this very Gospel.  That is precisely what will happen.  The murderer, Barabbas, and you and I, go free.  Jesus is scourged and handed over to be crucified.  He is nailed to the wood and lifted up that His blood be on us and on our children, to cleanse us from our sins.  He is reviled by pious and criminal alike, enshrouded in heavenly darkness, forsaken by God, for you and for me.  An eternity of hell packed into 6 miserable hours.  For you.  And having accomplished all, He cried out with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.  The consequences were literally earthshaking.  The curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the rocks split, the graves flew open and the bodies of many saints popped out, risen and alive.  And you… you were restored to the Father.  I guess that’s worth a few extra minutes of your time, right?  Rejoice, dear Christian.  Christ has made you His own.  And listen.  In the Holy Gospel, the Lord is bespeaking you righteous.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              



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