Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

Text: Luke 19:36-37
As he rode on, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road went down the Mount of Olives, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen.

Ride on in majesty!

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Our thoughts turn to the coming days ahead when we will celebrate Good Friday and Easter. 
To help us in our meditation this morning, we will sing the Palm Sunday hymn “Ride on, ride on in Majesty”  at various points during this message.  (Tune: Winchester New in Together in Song 348 or Puer Nobis Nascitur could be used). 

So let's begin by singing the first verse.

Ride on, ride on in majesty;
hark, all the tribes hosanna cry!
O Saviour, meek, pursue your road
with palms and scattered garments strowed.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ hour of glory.  Jesus says in John’s Gospel, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12.23).  In a strange sort of thing to say, but the events of Good Friday do glorify Jesus, even though his death on a cross as a criminal is surrounded with the shame, the beating, the taunts and mockery, the nakedness, and cruel suffering that is all part of a criminal’s punishment and finally being pinned to a cross.  His grave is a borrowed one and he is placed there hastily and quietly.

In spite of all the indignity, suffering, extreme agony to the point of death, Jesus was determined to ride into Jerusalem because at the end of it all great things would be achieved for all people.  And so we see a strong, determined yet humble and meek man riding a donkey into Jerusalem.  This is the week Jesus will be glorified. 

“Ride on, ride on in majesty! ...  with palms and scattered garments strowed”.
There was a festive mood.  A king was arriving.  Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  The crowds shouted praises and blessings as the procession and the crowd moved along the streets.  They spread their coats on the road for the donkey to walk across; they waved palm branch banners – in fact waving anything they could lay their hands on.  They glorified a king but the man on the donkey knew his glory would be something quite different.

Let’s sing verse 2.

Ride on, ride on in majesty;
in lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.

On Friday he died, crucified outside the very city that hailed him with shouts of joy – hardly a glorious moment.  But in truth, the king had come for this special purpose – to offer up his life as the perfect sacrifice, laying down his life so that people would no longer have to a face the awful prospect of God's judgement of death on human sin.  He came to release forgiveness into the world.  He came to make the way open for us to enter eternal life.

This is Jesus’ greatest gift to us.  This humble, this lowly king is riding into town to die. 
This king who in a few days is cruelly treated;
this king who is hanged upon a cross with criminals;
this king who appears to die like any other man,
has given to each of us a precious gift that no other man or woman could possibly give.  He has died in our place, he has taken upon himself our punishment for sin and forgiven it, he has freed us from death and assured us of a place in heaven with him.  His own resurrection proves it.  As the hymn says: In lowly pomp he rides through this cheering crowd his triumphs now begin, o’er captive death and conquered sin”.

 As the angels looked down from heaven that day, the same angels that had announced to the shepherds that a Saviour had been born for all people, they must have known what suffering and pain and death lay ahead of Jesus.

Let’s sing the next verse

Ride on, ride on in majesty;
the wingéd squadrons of the sky
look down with sad and wondering eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.

Jesus, welcomed as a king on Palm Sunday, is crucified the following Friday with a mocking title over his head, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.  People of his time saw him only as a poor misguided creature.  The Jews branded him as a trouble maker, a danger to their own religious way of life, the Romans saw him as a nuisance because they were trapped into compromising their sensitive system of justice.

When you read the Gospels, the crucifixion comes as no surprise.  Jesus had spoken about it many times. Jesus knew that while the crowds were shouting “Hosanna”, his enemies were plotting and planning his extermination.

The angels must have looked down with sad and wondering eyes” at the terrible condition the human heart.  They could see the evil in the hearts of humanity and the pain that this was about to bring on the Son of God.  One wonders if the angels might have gone to the heavenly Father and pleaded to rescue his only Son from the hands of such wicked people.  There was not an evil bone in his body and yet they could see that evil will take control of this innocent man, and there was nothing they could about it. 

With the eyes that only the heavenly have, they could see you and I in the crowd that day waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!”.  We were there in the crowd shouting “Crucify him!”  We were there at the cross mocking and ridiculing.  The angels see us as sinners among all the other sinners of Jesus’ time.  The sin of the people of Jerusalem put Jesus on the cross.  Our sin put Jesus on the cross. 

“The wingéd squadrons of the sky” look down they see Jesus hailed as a king by a misguided crowd and then nail to a cross as a misguided man.  As the angels look down with sad and wondering eyes” they feel his pain but also celebrate his victory as he makes the eternal sacrifice for all humanity.  It was a sacrifice that had been planned by our heavenly Father from the beginning of human history.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who gives his life to save us all. 

Let’s go on to the next verse.

Ride on, ride on in majesty;
your last and fiercest strife is nigh;
the Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem where he will face humiliation and crucifixion.  And yet he is truly Lord and King who rules in a kingdom without end. 

Our second reading from Philippians this morning expresses this beautifully.   He made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant ... he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross.   Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ...   and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord....   This king on the donkey is the Lord.  He is your Lord.  He is my Lord.  What shall we do with this king?

The people of Jerusalem weren't too sure in the end.  One day they shouted “Hosanna” and a few days later they shouted, “Crucify him!” The chief priest and his council didn't know what to do with him.  Pilate was at his wits end to try to find a solution to his problems with Jesus.  All of them failed to realise that Jesus truly is a King, not in the same sense as a ruler in the world, but a king nevertheless who calls us to follow his leading, and to give him our total commitment.  Palm Sunday has been traditionally a day of the year when Confirmation Services have been held for that very reason.  Candidates declare their loyalty to Christ their Lord and King.  Palm Sunday is also a good day to re-examine our commitment to Jesus and his Church.

Let’s sing verse 5.

Ride on, ride on in majesty;
in lowly pomp ride on to die;
bow your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, your power and reign!

As we enter this Holy Week it’s a good thing to ask ourselves where we stand in our relationship with our Lord.  Does he rule our lives? Is he truly the Lord of our lives, Lord in the sense that he directs our actions, our words, our thoughts.  He is Lord of every aspect of our lives, not just a small part but every part, our family life, our work life, our church life, our leisure life.

Some things that we are doing now wouldn't change, but the reason for doing them would change.  There are some things we would stop doing, and there are other things that we can take up, all because Jesus rules our lives totally.

This is serious stuff that often we don't take seriously enough.  We are good at giving all kinds of excuses.  But Jesus is our Lord now.  As Saviour he has committed himself to us, and in response, it’s fitting that we commit ourselves to him.

This Holy Week is a good time to recall the great love of Jesus, in that while we were yet sinners, he died for us.  This is a good time to humbly ask God for forgiveness for a lack of commitment to our Lord and to determine that nothing shall stand in the way to being more like Christ every day, to following Christ more closely in every action and relationship.

The writer (Henry Hart Milman 1791-1868) of this Palm Sunday hymn could see both the humble Jesus riding on donkey as well as the Jesus who rules with power and authority.  Today let us welcome Jesus into our lives with shouts of "Hosanna!".
He is our Saviour from sin. 
He is our Lord and King, the ruler of our lives. 
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!

 Let’s sing the first verse again.

Ride on, ride on in majesty;
hark, all the tribes hosanna cry!
O Saviour, meek, pursue your road
with palms and scattered garments strowed.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th March 2016

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