Death-Bound Glory

By Paul Koch

PALM-SUNDAY

During our honeymoon in Aspen, Colorado, my wife and I went on a five day trek in the Rocky Mountains.  Now, I grew up doing a lot of backpacking. I hiked often in these local mountains here and in the Sierra Nevada’s, but the views I saw in the Rockies made the rest pale by comparison.  As we made our way through one pass we could look out in the distance and see the next peak to be tackled, standing proudly in the distance.  In between the summits was a valley; sometimes it would be full of wild flowers and tall trees, sometimes it would be blanketed by low hanging clouds.  But we knew, no matter what, the journey to the next peak went down into the valley below.

Today is one of those moments: a mountain top experience, if you will.  Today is Palm Sunday. Today the church sings, “All glory laud, and honor to you, Redeemer, King!”  Today is a mountaintop of triumph as our Lord rides into the city of Jerusalem to shouts of, “Hosanna in the highest!”  There in the distance, we see the next peak. We see the next moment of glory and praise. We anticipate the next day of festal celebration when we come here on Easter morning to sing of our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil.  But in between lingers a valley which is clouded in darkness and tears.  And our Lord chooses to walk into that valley.

The arrival of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem is tremendous. It is filled with joy and celebration.  The whole city is astir at His coming.  He enters, seated on a donkey in fulfillment of Scripture, as the prophetic king long promised to the children of God.  People began to take off their cloaks and spread them on the road. Others took palm branches and did the same.  There is no ignoring His coming. Something big is about to happen, and so they parade Jesus into the city shouting out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  Now, “Hosanna” is a fascinating word. It’s a liturgical word of the church. It’s a word of the faithful which means, “Save us now.”  What a glorious moment! They cry out for their own salvation. They cry for the saving acts of their king who comes to them, humble and riding on a donkey. Rightly, then, they should lay their cloaks on the ground. Rightly they should parade Him triumphantly into the city. But they weren’t prepared for the valley. They didn’t understand the cost of such salvation.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

Everyone seemed so eager to give Him praise, but they didn’t anticipate this road to His glory. It didn’t end on this day, but went through the valley. His glory would be most visible, not on Palm Sunday, but on Friday afternoon.  It is what they asked for. It is the reason for His coming. He is going to save us all.  In His faithful saving act, His glory is truly on display. Such glory is bound up in death itself.  In a broken and battered body, in a bloody and tear-filled cry of dereliction, we behold the great glory of a King who dies for the sins of His people.  But down in that valley, no one likes to sing, “All glory, laud, and honor, to your Redeemer, King.”

What we behold this day is the wonderful working of our God who does His great deeds under the form of opposites.  Remember when St. Paul said, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, event things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.”  God flips everything over on its head.  The way to glory is not found in parades and the praises of men but in his death on a cross.  This week that lies before us, Holy Week with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, is a vivid reminder of the way of salvation.  It is not found in what the world considers wise, strong, and lofty; rather salvation is a death-bound glory.

Now, this shouldn’t seem all that strange to us.  This working of our God, this unique and amazing way in which He brings His gifts to us, has been a part of each of our lives.  It is an amazing reality in the life of the church and in our worship together each and every week.  It is nothing short of a miracle. We witness it every time God breaks into our reality, in this very place. I mean aren’t you all just breathless in anticipation and excitement when we behold with our own eyes the glorious and mighty working of God, close enough to touch?  Truly, there is no place that I would rather be than in the midst of His gifts of Word and Sacrament. We are where God is at work, where we find the Almighty, Himself, working His great deeds of salvation.

baptism

You see, we’ve been on this journey before. We know that the path to glory lies through the valley and through death itself. We are privileged to witness, here, another death-bound glory when an older gentleman is chosen by God in the waters of Holy Baptism.  With a simple washing and a simple Word this child was born again.  We witness His work here, when a little girl is brought by her parents in obedience to our Lord’s Word to the waters of Holy Baptism, in an act that the world would scoff. Outside they would say it is empty superstition or meaningless ritual, yet in that moment Satan was driven from her heart and the Holy Spirit declared her to be the property of the Almighty God.  For Baptism is a death, it is a drowning of the old sinful self and a rising up of the new life in Christ.  St. Paul said that when we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death.  If we die with Him in a death like His, then we will also rise with Him.  Glory goes through death to life eternal.

Throughout this week we will journey again together through death to life.  The cries of “Hosanna!” will be answered by a sinless Son of God that dies a criminal’s death for our redemption.  As we rejoice in the washing of death and resurrection, so we will recall our own baptismal gifts.  For we are all dying to live. We are dying to our sinful selves to live a new life in Christ alone. It is a life of hope and strength, a life of blessed confidence and assurance.  Holding firm to such gifts, let us enter again down into the valley still singing, “All glory, laud and honor, to you Redeemer, King!”

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