[Palm Sunday Gospel - John 12:12-19] “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!’
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
HOMILY – PALM SUNDAY MEDITATION ON THE WORD
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him.” As we meditate on the events of Palm Sunday, let us first hear what had been written about these events, several centuries beforehand, by the prophet Zechariah:
[Zechariah 9:9–12] Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
God’s people had had many kings who fought many wars. Now a king was coming who was declaring peace – an end to their warfare. The chariot and the warhorse and the battle bow will be cut off – and this king will speak peace to the nations.
What did this mean? Did this mean the war to end all wars? Did this mean peace through dominance over other nations? Jesus, riding into Jerusalem, was certainly a king. But of what sort?
The palm branches being waved by the crowds signified victory over God’s enemies. But the donkey on which the King rode signified peace, not war. Peace, victory, with no war horse to win it. How would it be won?
How will your peace be won? What is your concern? What makes you anxious? What is the topic on your mind or on your tongue all week? What are you waiting to hear more about on the news? For what headlines – or for what memes – do you scroll through Facebook or Twitter feed?
The crowds who gathered to see Jesus – walking before Him and following after Him – on Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, had perhaps a better understanding of why Jesus came than what we often give them credit for.
Were they looking to make Jesus an earthly king? Were they thinking in terms of earthly-national victory? Some of them, sure. But our Palm Sunday text from John 12 says these crowds gathered to see Jesus because they had heard about what event? What miracle?
These crowds had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead: “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he (Jesus) had done this sign.”
That crowd gathered with palms on Palm Sunday because they heard Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Now, for twenty centuries, the Church has gathered, sometimes even with palms, because we have heard that Jesus raised Himself from the dead – and that His death was a death for us.
Those crowds back then gathered with victory palms and shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” – which means, “Save us, please! Save us, now!”
“Hosanna” is a plea of desperation – “Save us, please”. But with Jesus, whose very name means “God saves” (Jesus/Yeshua – “Yahweh Saves”), this plea had become a shout of victory.
This Jesus, riding in as a king of peace, had shown He even has power over death. He was able to save. He had power relevant to that innermost fear – that I am a sinner who is due to die.
The conscience knows this, and this is the inner source of all my outward desperation. I am a sinner. I am due to die. I will face God. This is a frightful thing.
But Zechariah told us to rejoice. “Rejoice greatly…Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.”
Rejoice. The warfare of my sinful heart against God is being ended. The King of Peace is making peace with the guilty, with us who are worthy of death.
How? Why? Because of the blood of His covenant: “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.”
Jesus, the only righteous one, who had the power over death, was riding into Jerusalem to die. Not to die in glorious battle in the Holy City, but to die in shame for the shameful outside the city walls – outside the camp where the unclean dwelled.
The death Jesus rode in to die was a death of atonement. A death in your place. A death that paid all you owed and made up for the death you were due to die. By His death, the prisoner of death is freed to live.
Jesus died for man’s sin so that by His shed blood man’s sin is forgiven. This is the covenant, the agreement, that God makes with sinful man – “My Son will die in your place.” And now He has.
Rejoice greatly, O children of God. The one who has power over death has taken care of you. He has made peace between you and God by His death on the cross. Now, having been raised, death no longer has dominion over Him or over His – and you are His by your baptism.
What is there now to fear? Nothing. Your “hosanna” cries have been transformed into shouts of victory. Let your anxieties, therefore, be turned into thanksgiving - thanking Christ for what He has done.
When we can finally gather together again, brothers and sisters, as one crowd – whenever that day will be – we will rejoice together all the more in this peace that Christ has given. Amen.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keeps your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.