Palmarum (Palm Sunday)
St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Here we are already. It's Palm Sunday, already. It seems like we just began Lent not too long ago and we're already at the beginning of Holy Week; the “home-stretch” of the Lenten season. Easter's so close we can almost taste it.
But not yet. Patience. There is yet some preparation to do. Jesus is leading us somewhere else first.
In Holy Week, / we are led to someplace / we'd rather not go. We're being led through Jesus' bitter suffering, to His bitter death. You, O disciple, / must also follow Him now, stay with Him even now, especially now, as His Passion (His suffering) / becomes most intense.
Remember, Lent symbolizes our own journey through this world. Luther once commented that the whole life of a Christian is a life of repentance. Jesus Himself preaches, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” Your life in this world must be a life of repentance because it is a life filled with sin.
So, repent. And keep on repenting.
But you must know, repentance is not enough. Hear me rightly, repentance is good and necessary; Repentance gets rid of sin, because “when we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” And that is good and necessary, because sin is a problem for you; sin separates you from God; sin makes you insane, addicted, and unholy. But as terrible / and as problematic as sin is, / it is not the main problem. Death is the main problem.
This is what Holy Week teaches us. If you stop at repentance, you stop too soon. As hard as repentance is, there is something yet harder: / Death. “Remember, O man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That's not the easy perspective of the broad and easy life. Returning to dust means death to your physical body; it means decay. It means hurt. That's hard.
As I looked back at last year's Palm Sunday sermon, I read through the story that I told you, which I can't help but tell you again. I've never heard a story so helpful in illustrating what Jesus' death means for us. Here's what I said last year:
I saw a video recently of the pilot who was supposed to fly one of those airplanes that slammed into the World Trade Centers on Sept 11, 2001. The most chilling part about it, for [that pilot], was that, when he replayed those videos, he could see, on the tv screen, where he could have died. He would hit pause and stare deeply into the black hole in the side of that building and think: “that was going to be where I died.”
Dearly beloved, Good Friday is like that. In Words and Pictures, Good Friday is a look into the black hole where we could have died.
Perhaps that's why Good Friday is so hard for us. We have the same chilling experience that that pilot had; we see our death.
And the great thing about it, is that we weren't the one's suffering. We didn't die in our death. Jesus did. And so, more than anything else, more than repentance, we need Jesus. If we have Jesus, we pass over eternal death / to eternal life. Without Jesus, eternal death still awaits. Jesus is our life and our salvation. He is the only way to the eternal Father, because He is the only One who was powerful enough to defeat the greatest enemy, the main problem for humanity; He defeated death.
And that's what we really need: we need death defeated / in us also. And death was defeated in you, already. “Or do you not know / that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The same death / that defeated death. And you share in it. You have died with Jesus. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also / live with him.”
And so you do. Through Jesus' death, you are united to His very life, the life of God, divine Life. How? Well, Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
The Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. That's talking about you, dearly beloved.
That's the real end of your life's journey; and yet, / it will really only be the beginning. That's the end of the Lenten journey, too; and yet, Easter is really only the beginning.
So, you, come along with us; come along with the Church. Do whatever you can to join us for this holiest of weeks. Come, follow Jesus again to death. Let's die with Jesus! So that we might live with Him, now / and unto the ages of ages. Amen.