By Paul Koch –
Once again, we have made it to the beginning of the most fantastic and profound week in the church year. A week of unique movement and excitement, a week of great devotion as we move from somber reflection to joyful celebration. Today, our church started the worship service outside the sanctuary and processed into the house of our Lord signing, “All glory, laud and honor to you, redeemer, king, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.” Today, we recall the great triumphant entry of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem all those years ago. The reason we make a big deal about it is because he entered that city for a distinct reason. He didn’t come just to be celebrated and revered. He came to make a stand to face his opposition, to be betrayed and suffer and die on a cross. The same people who shouted “Hosanna” will ultimately be found shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him!”
Think of the rituals that accompany our worship throughout this week. There is the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, recalling our Lord’s willingness to be betrayed into the hands of evil men. There is the darkening of the church on Good Friday as we meditate upon the suffering and death of our Lord. We hear the ancient reproaches of God as we recall the ramifications of our sins and the cost of our salvation. During the Easter Vigil we enter a dark church with candles as we hear again the great testimony of God’s intervention to redeem his people through history. Some of these rituals are relatively recent in the history of the church, and some are from ancient times. They highlight the unique nature of this week. At the core of our worship is something more profound than our personal preferences or cultural norms. At the center there is something unavoidable; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Look, even the Pharisees get it. They watch the fanfare. They see the crowds pour out to welcome Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. They see the palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna!” They know that this Jesus is not going to just go away. So, they must formulate a plan to deal with him. He is upsetting the power balance. He is challenging the status quo. He is shifting the focus away from the old system to something new and something different. Perhaps they are afraid of what it will mean: they may be out of a job if this keeps up. Or perhaps they are truly concerned about the truth and purity of doctrine: so they see this guy riding on a donkey into Jerusalem as a dangerous heretic who will lead the people of God once more into false worship. In any case, they say to each other, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” The arrival of Jesus is unavoidable.
Today, you are called to join in the parade to celebrate the arrival of our Lord. You, unlike the original Palm Sunday crowd, know where this is going. You know how the rest of this week plays out. Jesus cannot be avoided, and you are called to celebrate the arrival of your King. The Word of God became flesh and has dwelt among us, he has come to proclaim hope and life and salvation to you. He sets the captives free and heals the brokenhearted. And today, he calls you to join in the parade, to lift high your palm branches and give thanks for the arrival of your Lord. He has come to bear your sins, to suffer and die in your place, to secure for you life eternal. And so, you are to rise up, to bind together, to join in the happy throng that shouts
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the Son of David!”
But this begs an important question for us. Just how is it that Jesus arrives in our lives today? Certainly, we don’t go looking for him to come riding into our city today on a donkey, welcomed with palm branches and shouts of joy. But still, he does come. In fact, we might say that he comes in equally low and unimpressive ways. The arrival of our Lord in Jerusalem on a donkey wasn’t exactly the arrival of a conquering king. It wasn’t a symbol of power and authority but of humanity and peace. And so, his coming today is one of humility and peace. He doesn’t arrive in your life with a loud trumpet blast and a powerful miracle, at least not for the vast majority of us. No, he comes humble and lowly. In fact, he often comes without any fanfare at all. No shouts of joy, no great testimony of his arrival. Yet, he still comes.
Often, he comes into your lives though the means you would rather not admit. Perhaps you were taught the faith by one whose failures to live as a Christian are only too apparent. You wonder then if this could really be the truth, this sort of an arrival for the Son of God isn’t much to look at. Or perhaps you are like me and you don’t really have a great story of our Lord’s arrival in your life, no big “A-ha” moment. He’s just sort of always been there. From your baptism as a baby to your young life in the church, to your confirmation day and beyond, you just knew he was there. His Word and his sacraments were just a part of your life, and so he was present. But now you are tempted to go searching for something more, some more profound arrival that you can point to and say there it was! There was the moment I joined in the parade and shouted, “Hosanna!”
But we soon learn is that we don’t dictate to our Lord how and when he will arrive or what that arrival will look like in our lives. We may have longed for some big moment, some flash of light and powerful testimony to share will others. But, we may have to settle for faithful parents who raised us in the faith directing us to the gifts that would lead to assurance rather than doubt. The point is, this moment has been unavoidable for you. The arrival of our Lord, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the promises of life and salvation given through the events of this week, have been focused to this moment right here. To this time and place. It may be lowly, it may not look like much, but it is the gift of Christ for each and every one of you right here, right now.
And it must be dealt with. It is unavoidable. Christ your Lord sees you. He knows who you are. He knows your sins and failures. He knows your regrets and your sorrows. And he says to you this day. “I forgive you all of your sins. I love you and will willingly let go of all that is rightfully mine. All my glory and honor, all my sinless actions and wonders. I will give them all to you. And in exchange I want what you are hiding. I want you sin and your shame, I want your failure and your weakness, I want your filthy rags in exchange for my robes of righteousness.
Everything this week holds, everything our rituals and traditions point us toward, in the end it is about the unavoidable arrival of Christ in your life. It is about that moment when you have nowhere left to hide, and your only hope is the mercy of God. And there our Lord gives to you just that. He gives mercy, he gives life, he gives salvation through his life, his death and his resurrection. And he gives it freely and recklessly right now, today.