Grace Episcopal Church
The Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) [A]
Isaiah 50.4-9a Psalm 31.9-16 Philippians 2.5-11 Matthew 26.14-27.66
May the Lord be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart
that I may faithfully and truly proclaim His holy Word. Amen.
Jesus is put on trial for being a “false prophet,” a blasphemer, and yet it is when He is seized and put on trial that His prophecies are fulfilled. While He is true to His word, Peter is false, and Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s denials is fulfilled when Jesus is Himself answering charges of being a false prophet.
On the Cross Jesus is derided as described in Psalm 22, and His last words are the opening line of Psalm 22. He is offered wine mixed with gall, as described in Psalm 69. Throughout all of Matthew, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and prophecy is a recurrent motif, and it is about this that we will sing, in a few minutes, in our offertory hymn, in which we sing, “Fulfilled is all that David told in true prophetic song of old; how God the nations King should be, for God is reigning from the tree” (The Royal Banners Forward Go, Venantius Honorius Fortunatus, no. 162, The Hymnal 1982).
The words of the hymn—and this is one of the oldest hymns we have, from the sixth century—speak of God’s reign, of His reign from the cross. How unworldly is that image; how against expectations. And that is precisely the point, the mystery, of God coming to us while we were yet His enemies, and giving His Son to pay the price of our own sin. The hymn continues, “Blest tree, whose chosen branches bore the wealth that did the world restore, the price which none but He could pay to spoil the spoiler of his prey.” The image and the reality are unworldly because they do not meet any of our expectations, but God’s. Those who hail Jesus as king cry out Hosanna! to Him because they think He is coming as the powerful Messiah, the anointed king who will restore the kingdom of Israel, kick the Romans out, and bless the people with a new age of prosperity and power. Those who hail Jesus with Hosannah! (many of them) will be the same people who will within the week cry out “Crucify him!” and “We have no king but Caesar!”
Why the change in what the crowd cries out? The change relates to expectations, to whether the people are receiving what they hope for, rather than what God has in mind. Where does this leave us? Expectations are defined in how they relate to where our hearts are, more than to what we think should happen.
Here we are on Palm Sunday. We have entered the church nave singing “All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King!” (Hymn 154) We have sung that our praises are to echo the praises of the angels, and in the canon of the Eucharist we will do that. If our hearts are focused on praise and worship, if our hearts are open to receive our Lord and to allow Him to rule, then our words are genuine. But, if we’re just going through the motions, and our hearts do not burn within with the fire of the Spirit, then we won’t recognize who God is because He won’t meet our expectations. That’s what happened in the people who cried “Crucify him!” They were ready to celebrate the arrival of someone whom they thought would kick the Romans out, but when it became clear that the house He was going to clean was not the house of Jerusalem but the house of their own hearts, then it was all too easy to first say “Wait a minute!” and then to join in with those who wanted to get rid of this trouble-maker.
We have to be open to Jesus, rather than focus on what we want and how He might accomplish this for us. Our song giving glory to Jesus must be from the heart. This will only happen when we open our hearts to receive God, and when expectations are defined by Jesus’ own words, “… not my will [Father], but yours …” (Luke 22.42) We’re not here to welcome God into our lives because of all the great things He has done, is doing, and will do for us. We’re here because we are grateful, and are to offer thanksgiving and praise for the fact that God loves us so much that He has given His only Son for us (John 3.16). Our expectations have been exceeded, that while we were yet sinners God gave His Son to die for us (Rom. 5.16), and when we realize this and live it, then we will give all glory, laud, and honor to our Redeemer, King, not this day only, but every day of our lives.
This is a shorter than normal sermon. (No cheers!) It is shorter than what you have come to expect. This is in part because we have had very long readings, with the entire Passion according to St. Matthew. But it relates, as well, to letting the Gospel speak for itself. As you have listened to the passion story, have you placed yourself in the crowd, and thought and prayed about how your expectations—today—relate to what God actually intends and does? Let God rule in your hearts from the tree. Look upon the cross and see God coming to you, not as the One who comes to do your will, to fulfill your expectations, but as the One who reveals to you a truth and a love that exceeds any expectations that any one of us can have. Let the praises you sing remain throughout the time of Jesus giving us His new commandment—that we are to love one another (Maundy Thursday). Let them remain, watching in vigil with Him in the garden (our vigil from Maundy Thursday into Good Friday). Let them remain with Him on the Cross (Good Friday), in the grave (Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter), that the praises you sing on Easter (at resurrection) will be the praises of joy that all expectations have been exceeded.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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