Palm Sunday 2021

Psalm 118: 19-29

Palm Sunday is one of our most iconic Sundays of the year: the visual of the procession, our Lord on a donkey, children singing, palms being waved and strewn on the path. Perhaps it’s the only time Jesus received praise worthy of a king!

We heard earlier from  John’s Gospel that the crowds in Jerusalem had heard how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, in front of many witnesses! The celebration was so great that Jesus’ notorious foes, the Pharisees, said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing.  Look, the world has gone after him.”

But this Sunday is a challenge to enjoy. How is it that we can celebrate with the crowds today, and yet on Thursday, on the Holy night of the Passover celebration, Jesus is then arrested, crucified on Friday, and laid to rest in the tomb?

Often assumed that the crowds flipped on Jesus, praising him today, and turning on him before the end of the week. But that’s an unfair assumption. Specifically, here in John’s Gospel that we heard from, if you peek ahead to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, you won’t find anything about these crowds joining the cries of “Crucify him, Crucify him!”. It was all the work of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who were jealous of him. They may have gotten a few to follow them, but there’s no reason to believe all of these shouting “Hosanna!” would so quickly turn on this one they are proclaiming to be their promised king!

Even if the crowds indeed did not flip on him, this Sunday still can have a sort of hollow feeling to it. What’s the point of praising Jesus like this if he is only going towards his death? It’s almost as if these crowds should have revolted against the government for Jesus’ sake, and placed him on the throne in Jerusalem. 

No doubt the crowds would have gladly followed him in this way. But it isn’t what God gave Jesus to do. Jesus is called the King of Israel, but that does not mean to be king in Jerusalem, or Judea or Israel, or even over Ceaser and the Roman Empire. Our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world as we know it. 

So it is good that the crowds welcomed their king today. And it is not a mistake that Jesus didn’t make it to a throne or palace in Jerusalem. If Our Father wanted Jesus as an earthly monarch, he could have had him born to a wealthy and royal family from the start. The crowds were faithful in their praise for Jesus, it would just be some time before they all knew what their king had come to do. Our Gospel text from John told us that his disciples did not understand all of this when it happened, but afterwards, they recalled how everything that happened to him, including this famous Palm Sunday procession, was written and foretold in the prophets.

We should enjoy Palm Sunday for what it is then. The king came to his people to save them, and the people responded in faithful praise. 

I find that our Psalmody this morning, from Psalm 118, help us greatly to understand how to appreciate this day, even with our Lord’s  imprisonment and death so near. We prayed this Psalm earlier, but I want to quickly consider them again and they relate to us on this day. 

Open to me the gates of righteousness,

    that I may enter through them

    and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;

    the righteous shall enter through it.

Who is Jesus but the gate to our God. He is the way, truth, and life. He is the door, the narrow way, that we who have been made righteous by faith in his death for us may enter through. This gate has come to us in the Palm Sunday procession.

The Psalm continues

21 I thank you that you have answered me

    and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone.

God has answered his people on this day with salvation through Jesus. The people have accepted him, but the unbelieving religious authorities and Pharisees, those who should have been helping build God’s church, they rejected him. Yet Jesus, this stone they the builders rejected is the cornerstone of us all. It is through the very act of his rejection and his death that he can be our foundation.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

    it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

This day is marvelous in our eyes, because we would never think to let our King die for us. We would be like Peter, rebuking our Lord for talking about his coming death. Only our God could work this plan of salvation. It is marvelous then, and on this day that our Lord rides into the city of his death, we do not mourn, but we give thanks and rejoice that he will come to  suffer for us.

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!

    O Lord, we pray, give us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

    We bless you from the house of the Lord.

That’s the english translation, but we know it better in Hebrew actually, Hosanna! Save us! That is what the people cried that day, and that’s what we as his people continue to shout in faith today. In fact, we sing these words every Sunday in preparation of our Lord coming to us in the Holy Supper in the words of the Sanctus. In that sense, we celebrate Palm Sunday every time we gather at the Lord’s table here. 

27 The Lord is God,

    and he has made his light to shine upon us.

Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,

    up to the horns of the altar!

The light has come to us in Jesus. He is the final festal sacrifice. He allowed himself to be bound and placed upon the altar that was his cross. It is a gruesome sight, one that we would turn our face from. But our cries of Hosanna today on Palm Sunday are answered in Jesus becoming this sacrifice. 

And our Psalmody concluded:

29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;    

for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let today, Palm Sunday, remain a day of praise and thanksgiving. It does not need to be a day of mixed feelings for us. We’ve spent these Lenten Days preparing for our Lord’s Passion. We’ll give due attention to Jesus offering himself to us on Maundy Thursday, the night when he was betrayed. We’ll grieve his death in our place on Good Friday. But today it is right to rejoice in his coming.

It is good that the crowds praised their coming king, even if they did not yet understand how he was coming to save him. We may know more today, but our praise for him is still the same. Hosanna! Save us Lord!