Sermons That Work

Hosannah or Crucifixion?, Palm Sunday (A) – 1999

March 28, 1999


RCL: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14- 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Truly, this was the Son of God. (Matt. 27:54)

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. Why is it, then, that the Gospel speaks of crucifixion, and not triumphal entry into Jerusalem?

Stop and think for a moment. On the first Palm Sunday, our Lord came into Jerusalem hailed by the people as the Son of David, the One who comes in the Name of the Lord.

Five days later, that same crowd of people, just like us, is crying, “Crucify him!” How fickle we humans are! We accept what we imagine our Lord to be, but reject what he really is. Even Peter, Prince of the Apostles, reflects this same fallen nature. He had said to Jesus, “Even if others turn on you, I will never desert you.” Sadly, Jesus says to Peter, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

We all deny Jesus in our lives. In our Baptism, we promise to reject Satan and his works and to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Yet we continually fall into sin, choosing our own will rather than God’s will for us. In every sin, we deny Jesus, and tragically, sin is a daily part of our lives.

How does Jesus respond to our faithlessness? He first prays to God that we may be his, and that we not be lost. He then faces the reality of his impending death, praying that this cup of suffering may be taken away from him. However, he remains totally committed to his Father’s will. “Not my will, but thine be done.” Even after his betrayal and torture, as he is crucified, he prays,” Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

Jesus then takes upon himself the sins of all people who have ever lived, or who will ever live in the future. He who has never known sin, who is perfect in every way, feels the slime and corruption of sin and selfishness, reaching every part of his soul, cutting him off from the light of his Father and surrounding him in darkness and death.

We know sin only too well. In fact, we have become inured to sin. For most of us, sin is so much a part of our lives that we don’t even feel bad about “little” sins at all. But Jesus is never inured to sin. The enormity of all the sin of every soul in the universe is too horrible for us to even grasp. Jesus grasps the ugliness of sin, and cries out the words of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In our own separation from God, we often feel forsaken. Yet we are never alone. Jesus is always with us, even when the cost of sin is death.

Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death. Jesus pays those wages for us. Having taken my sins and your sins into his own pure soul, having felt the separating effect of sin, he then pays its price, and dies on the cross.

Think for a moment: my sins, your sins, our sins – they nail Jesus to the cross. They caused the shedding of his innocent blood. They lead directly to his death. Jesus, truly the Son of God, dies on the cross to pay the price of my selfishness, my sinfulness.

How can we respond to this unbelievable outpouring of love and compassion? What can we say in the face of such a sacrifice? While human words are so inadequate at a time like this, the words of the third stanza of Hymn 169 come to mind:

In thy most bitter passion my heart to share doth cry,
With thee for my salvation upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well beloved, yet thank thee for thy death.

Here is the real meaning of Palm Sunday; not the all-too-human triumphal entry, soon to be forgotten like a ticker tape parade for human heroes, but the entry of Jesus into our sinfulness, the greatest sacrifice ever offered. This can never be forgotten.

Yes, we may have joined the crowd to shout, “Hosannah!” but we would also have joined the same crowd to scream, “Crucify him!” Let us pray that we can then join with the centurion in proclaiming, in awe and humility, and even joy, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”

Ah, keep my heart thus moved to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well beloved, yet thank thee for thy death.

Amen.

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