By Paul Koch –
Zechariah is a prophet of God called to speak his Word to the first generation of returnees from the Babylonian exile. His preaching was to purify this remnant that returned to Jerusalem and to aid in the rebuilding of the temple. So here they come, they return to a home that was taken from them, to a home that had been ransacked and destroyed. And what words do they hear? “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and saved, humble and riding on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). The call from the prophet is one of joy and celebration, why? Well because the king is coming, the king that will rule from sea to sea and he will bring peace and hope and restoration. And yet this king wouldn’t come when they began the rebuilding of the temple, he wouldn’t show up when it was done either, no this long awaited king who comes humble and riding on a donkey doesn’t come for over 500 years.
And so when the Gospel accounts take up this text as Jesus rides into Jerusalem they are not only showing how our Lord fulfills Old Testament promises they are reminding us how this moment is the fulfillment of hundreds of years of expectant hope and desire. As they returned to rebuild the temple this great promise was only a beginning; generation after generation came and went before the palm branches were cut down and the cloaks laid on the road and the shouts of, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” echoed in Jerusalem.
And yet even as our Lord triumphantly enters into the city this is not a destination, an end for him. It is as it is for us, a beginning. For the cheers and celebration as Zion rejoices greatly in the coming of its king does not hold up for very long. The journey must go down through the valley below. You see he comes to rule, to bring peace, to bring restoration and freedom to his people. But he does not come to bring freedom from the Romans or deliverance from trial and suffering and sorrow. No, he comes with righteousness and salvation he comes to give peace and set the prisoners free – but it is freedom from the just and condemning Law of God, freedom from their bondage to sin, death and the devil. His journey must go through the city to the place of the skull, to Golgotha. His journey moves from the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest,” to “Crucify him!” In order to set us free from he who knew no sin must become sin for us.
So as we see this moment through the eyes of the children of God in Zachariah’s day we see, we see it in a grand and cosmic scope, and so we know that even now we have not reached a destination but are beginning a journey. Not just a journey through the remembrance and meditation of Holy Week but a journey in which this message of peace and restoration lives within us, within the church within our life together. For as we look out across that valley and see the empty tomb of Easter morning we know that the life of church doesn’t end there but has just begun.
We are a gathering of individuals form a variety of walks of life. We all carry with us different expectations and hopes and dreams. Some gathered together because they are Lutheran, they always have been and always will be. Then there are those who come regardless of what name is on the sign, they come searching for something more, something more real, more genuine. Some sit in the pews and just go through the motions, not giving much thought to what we do or say; some hang on every word and challenge them with their hearts and minds.
One thing that does unite us is our sin, we all come here as sinners, we come having failed to live as we should as we know our God would have us live. But even here we are not all in agreement, some think their sins aren’t that bad – not much worse than anyone else anyway. And then there are those who are completely broken by their sin, acutely aware of their failings they gather here feeling too low and unworthy to receive the gifts of God.
And here we gather, confused, broken, comfortable, fearful, searching, longing, and sinful. And we hear together the ancient cry, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold you king is coming to you.” And come he does, he rides humbly into our lives in Word and Sacrament – he comes to you this day to bring peace and forgiveness and restoration. He gives you freely of himself; he gives you life and salvation. But the journey is not done; the Word of grace given to you binds us together to carry the mission on until that more glorious day to come. The peace that you have received from your humble King now resides in your mouths to speak to others.
Today let us begin to speak that Word of peace to others, let us be agents of his mercy and love in this world. What we learn from Zechariah is this is just the beginning, onward we go, on into our various lives, on into this world, on to declare, “The King has come, he has come to die and to rise for you! For your freedom, for your peace.”