On Palm Sunday is where it all comes together. Connections are being made, but the hardest one of all to make is with you. It's hard to make and even harder to maintain. Many Christians are like the Borg of Star Trek. The Borg have to plug in once a day to regenerate; most Christians don't plug-in to the things of the Faith once a day but once a week, if that. What if the connection lasted all year, applied all week, helped every day?
Our text has connections to the end of the world. It opens with, "When Jesus had said these things" What things? When Jesus had said the Parable of the Pounds which is about a nobleman going away to receive a kingdom and returning to judge how His servants managed His goods. The parable is about the kingdom of God and how Jesus was going away but was returning to judge how everyone used Word and Sacrament while He was gone.
The Holy Spirit means for you to connect that parable with our text. We know this from the words "when He had said these things," and the words "went on." Both the nobleman in the parable and Jesus "went on." Jesus going up to Jerusalem is the beginning of the Nobleman going away to receive His kingdom from which He will return to judge. Can you see that this text connects all the way to the end of the world, to your end? This week you're supposed to be thinking about Jesus and how He meets His end, and your end and how you will meet it and Jesus.
Our text has connections not just to the end of the world but to the very beginning of the Gospel. The song the angels sung the night Jesus was born is echoed here by the crowd. They both sing of God's glory and His peace. Only Luke reports both. And Luke, along with John, are the only two that report the crowd calling Jesus "king." When Jesus was born the Magi came seeking the One born King of the Jews. About 33 years later, we find Him riding into Jerusalem to claim His throne. But His crown will be one of thorns, the marks of His reign nail holes, and His official title nailed on the cross where He is crucified.
For Lent we don't sing the Gloria in Excelsis, the song of the Christmas angels. This song of praise is in the liturgy to lift us out of the doldrums, the humdrums, the dunning sadness or sameness of our day to day life. Though we're not singing it this week, it's okay to hear echoes of it. Yes, we're on our way to glory to God in the highest because "Thou that takest away the sin of the world" is riding in to save us. We don't have to remain tied to this earth where sin, death, and devil reign. We can rise to heaven because God in heaven is at peace with us and His glory, therefore, must be on our side.
But the Gloria in Excelsis is not the only song we hear echoed this week. We hear The Sanctus from the Communion liturgy too which we don't forego, not even during Lent. "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord," we sing. And if you can't see on the Communion altar the One they saw and sang to on that donkey, you've missed the connection. Every single Sunday is a mini-Palm Sunday of sorts.
Our text has connections not just to who Jesus is, but what He came to do. Although no one whips, spits, nails, or stabs Him, this text is about the holy Jesus suffering in place of all sinners. Our text is 13 verses long. Almost 7 of those verses are devoted to the donkey, or in Luke's case a donkey colt. There's the command to get the donkey, getting the donkey, putting Jesus on the donkey, and Jesus riding that donkey. This Sunday is called Palm Sunday but only John even mentions the palms. All the Gospels mention a donkey. It might be called Donkey Sunday. And while palms are the main feature of our processional, in the early Middle Ages Germany had a wooden donkey on wheels as part of theirs (Study of Liturgy, 461).
Yes, a donkey not palms is the main connection with this Sunday. Doesn't the Old Testament lesson make that plain? The work of the One riding into Jerusalem on a donkey is to bring righteousness and salvation. If you think you need anything less than these, then the message of the Law has yet to reach your soul. If you think have enough righteousness and salvation on your own, repent. All your righteousness is filthy rags says Isaiah.
The same is true if you think you need more than the Righteousness and Salvation that comes riding to you on a donkey today. If you think you need health, wealth, or happiness then you don't see these mean absolutely nothing without the righteousness and salvation Christ brings. And having these what of health, what of wealth, what of happiness, what of the 10 thousand other things a person might need? Having Christ's righteousness the ruler of all things and events sees you as holy, beloved, special. Having Christ's salvation you're never going to die, not ever, and whatever you might lack in this life in comparison is not enough to fill a thimble let alone the bucket that everyone carries around now and needs to tell you what they plan to fill it with.
The donkey-ridding Jesus takes away your need to defend yourself, excuse yourself, to begin every other sentence with "I'm sorry." That's how His taking away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem applies to you. They didn't need them to defend themselves anymore because King Jesus brought peace. All the battle bows can be broken because God has shot every one of His arrows of wrath and judgment into the donkey riding Jesus. That's what Scripture says, Psalm 38:2, "Your arrows have pierced Me." Lamentations 3:12 says, "He drew His bow and made Me the target for His arrows." The donkey riding Jesus proclaims peace to all nations because His rule is one of forgiveness because God no longer can see the sins that were put on Jesus and carried away.
Last week I pointed out we display Christ crucified more often than we do Christ riding on a donkey, but symbols can become so familiar they cease to remind or teach. You couldn't look at a donkey anytime this week and not remember what rode into your life on the back of one. I dare say very few people anymore ask you about the crucifix you wear around your neck, but if that was a little brass donkey this week, they sure would.
This text connects us to Judgment Day, Christmas Day, and our day to day life, but above all it must connect to us. You know how frustrating it is when your electronic device says it's lost the connection. How much more so to lose one's connection to the things of God? Can you hear me now?
In the text the Pharisees think the crowd is blaspheming for calling the donkey riding Jesus "King" and the Blessed One who comes in the name of Yahweh. They order Jesus to rebuke them. Jesus responds that if they are silent the very stones would cry out. Make a firm connection between the power of God and you.
John the Baptist declares in the opening of this Gospel that God can make children out of stones if He wants to. See what a miracle conversion, believing in Jesus is? If you're a rock, an island with no connection to the Land Mass that is reality, that is to the Holy Trinity, you can do nothing to move towards God or even want God. You're not even a poor man made out of muscle and blood. You're stone, inanimate, spiritually dead stones. But God can make a true, dear, beloved child out of you. It's all His work, all His miracle. You don't have a part, portion, role. You're acted on.
Don't believe me? He made the rock Peter cry out in living faith, didn't He? Peter cried out, "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God" and Jesus told Peter the rock, that flesh and blood, let alone inanimate stone, hadn't revealed this to him but His Father in heaven. And He has revealed it to you as well. The Father in heaven has spoken to you by Word and Sacrament saying Jesus is the answer to the sins you can't forgive yourself for or others won't forgive you for. The Father in heaven has revealed to you that Jesus is the answer to whatever ails you in body and soul.
He who rides in on a donkey is here not to give you everything your heart desires but everything your heart, your soul, your self needs, and pledges to give you the very desires your heart is to have. Get that? Just like you're doomed to frustration if you ask questions that God doesn't answer in Scripture, you're doomed to sadness, moroseness, agitation if you desire only what God has nowhere promised to give. Therefore, since you're made of stone and can't change what you desire at will for what will does a rock have God promises to give you what you should desire: Jesus blood and righteousness. Jesus washing and rebirth. Jesus peace that goes beyond what anyone could ever understand.
Peter, the One Jesus miraculously converted into a crying rock, goes on to say in his first letter to us that God for Jesus' sake has made us living stones to praise the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Look at the bulletin cover. You see there not just a donkey but a stone. The donkey is to connect you to the Jesus who rode in on it this week with righteousness, salvation, and peace for you. The stone is you. See the stone opening a mouth that stones aren't suppose to have and praising King Jesus for rescuing it from darkness.
You know where this week is heading: to where the sun will fail and darkness will reign for 3 dread hours, but Jesus bears that darkness so He can call you into the marvelous light of Easter where a stone that can't be moved is and so opens up an eternity of blessing for rocks like us.
The Lord wants you connected all this week. Yes, take your palms home; put them behind crosses and pictures of Jesus, but take your bulletin home too. Put it somewhere you will see it. Stay connected to the donkey that brings the Jesus that makes rock hard hearts like ours cry out in joy, in righteousness, in salvation. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20150329); Luke 19:28-40; Zechariah 9: 9-10