By Paul Koch –
Palm Sunday is a day of great motion and transition in the life of the church. It marks the beginning of the greatest week of observance and celebration as we go from our Lord riding triumphantly into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” to being unjustly condemned with shouts of “Crucify him!” And it is this very movement that is important. We aren’t simply recounting something that happened a long time ago because we like to think about old things or find beauty in the stories of ancient times. No, this is a journey that we will recreate because is it impacts our life here and now. It has ramification for how you understand who you are and what the purpose of our faith is. In many ways, this ancient journey is still going on.
So, we started with a procession of palm branches. It was the welcoming of a king. As John tells the story, you get a real sense of the groundswell of emotion and excitement as Jesus enters into Jerusalem. There was a crowd that had been with him when he raised Lazarus from the dead and the word had gotten around about the significance of this man. He wasn’t your ordinary run of the mill rabbi; he was something more and in an impromptu moment they begin to celebrate his arrival in their midst. The growing crowd cries out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” His opposition falls to the background as his popularity soars and they rightly confess that the whole world is going after him. David’s royal son has finally arrived. He is not greeted with by the religious leaders or the governing authorities but by the people, the people who long for the healing and hope that he brings.
But that fanfare, that celebration changes swiftly. We turn quickly from the procession of the palms to the passion of our Lord. The story of his betrayal and condemnation as he is passed back and forth from the Sanhedrin to Pilate and to Herod and back to Pilate. How quickly the goods times fade away as the opposition finds ways to get their claws into our Lord. The arrest him in the middle of the night and try him immediately. They are relentless in their mocking and beatings. They will not stop until he is completely destroyed. Pilate tries to end the debate, to release our Lord but he is swayed by their persistent cries of “Crucify him, crucify him!” And so, he is delivered over to die. Whipped and beaten and mocked he is taken to the place of the Skull and crucified with two common thieves. Even one of them insults our Lord with his dying breath.
It is a big change from the hope and excitement of the triumphant entry to the blood and horror of his passion. And standing here this day we know that that is the journey we will be taking. Just one week from today we will be celebrating our Lords victory over sin, death, and devil in his glorious resurrection. But the path to get there, the road ahead of us, goes down into the depths of hatred and doubt and darkness. But it is important that we go there. it is important to not just celebrate the highs but to endure and press through the lows. For we learn something about our God down there. we learn something powerful through our holy week journey.
I have officiated a lot of funerals throughout my career. And I would say that perhaps 90% of the time Psalm 23 is read. It may seem a bit overused or a bit cliché, but it is hard to pick a better Psalm when you are faced with the striking separation that comes with the grave. They are powerful words and they always sound better in the old King James version, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). The valley of the shadow of death, that is where we are going this week. Though it is a week full of our Lord’s gifts, those gifts come right in the midst of the worse of our sin. There is betrayal and injustice and scheming and lies. There will be heartbreak and loss and suffering. And laced throughout it all there will be plenty of deafening doubt.
Can this one really be our Savior? Would he really go to such lengths for a fallen people? Why would he suffer and endure all that for me? It doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t seem right. Why would God give up his own Son?
During Holy Week, we often take a long look in the mirror. Somehow his love, his sacrifice, his constant movement forward without complaint causes you to reflect upon your sin and shame. And what you will find, over and again is that the actions of your Lord are not based upon your merit, your worth or value. He doesn’t go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death because they greeted him as a king on Palm Sunday. He goes out of love for his Father; he goes out of love for you. During this week you will hear again how he is relentless in the giving of divine gifts. On Maundy Thursday, the night on which he was betrayed, he will give his own body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all your sins. On Good Friday he will endure the horrors of mankind’s hatred as he is brutalized and crucified so that the debt might be paid in full. On Saturday we will gather in vigil as he who died for our freedom turns back the hands of the grave for you. And then one week from today we will rejoice in greatest celebration of the church as victory bursts forth from the tomb.
So, our week together will be marked by the movements of our Lord as he goes all the way down into the darkness to bring you up to his glorious light. For we are reminded once again that though we walk through a valley of our own, though you know suffering and pain and doubt in your life, you do not go into the valley alone for he is with you. He who has suffered already, died already, and risen already is your Lord. he is your champion and he goes with you. And so, there is great cause for us to remember the words of the prophet, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
Fear not, brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ. Fear not, for your King has come.
Soli Deo Gloria