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Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday

“The Joyous Cry of The Faithful”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus   

John 12.12-19

02 April 2023



There isn’t much to compare with a parade on a national holiday like 4th of July or when the troops come marching home. The band plays “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and people are visibly moved by the soldiers marching home from victory. We have goose bumps as the crowd shouts “USA! USA! USA!”

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was a parade of sorts. In the Greek Synopsis of the Four Gospels, which is a volume containing the parallel Gospels side by side, the titles of each section are given, in Latin, German, and English. The Latin title is:

Ingressus triumphalis in Jerusalem

The English has:

The Triumphal Entry

And the German, typically understated, has:

Der Einzug in Jerusalem, that is simply, “The entry into Jerusalem.”

Most English translations of the Bible call it “The Triumphal Entry.”

The Evangelist John tells us why there was a big crowd waiting for Jesus:

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. [John 12.9]

The people were indeed ready for a welcoming parade. Here came the miracle worker Jesus who had fed upwards of 15,000 people, cured many of their diseases, driven out demons, and most spectacularly of all, raised a man from the dead. This man would no doubt be there, so the crowd gathered in anxious anticipation. But Jesus didn’t come like any king they knew. He didn’t come as a brass-helmeted soldier, clad in a flowing scarlet uniform with a broadsword strapped to his waist and a shiny shield on his arm. He wasn’t riding a spirited stallion war horse.

Jesus came riding on a donkey, a borrowed one at that! He wasn’t accompanied by the usual retinue of officials and soldiers marching in step. Instead, he had a band of ragged looking disciples with him. How could he be Israel’s king? The crowd at the feeding of the 5,000 men were ready to force him to be king but he would have none of it.

Yet, the people acclaimed him the King of Israel! Even though he didn’t look the part the people spread their cloaks on the road for him. They cut down palm branches and waved them as he passed, palm branches being the symbol of victory. It was a paradoxical scene. A paradox is “any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.” Jesus didn’t look like a conquering king.

Even so, they wanted a conquering king, and a conquering king is what they would get, and therein lies the paradox. A king who rides a borrowed beast of burden; a king who enters the holy city as humbly as one could; a king who made no pretense. It reminds me of the scene in the movie Patton where General George S. Patton lands in North Africa. The Germans had the newsreel of all of the many “takes” the cameraman makes of the renowned general. There is no question that he is a famous military figure who is feared by his opponents. Then there is the single take of General Omar Bradley coming out of the troop carrier carrying his own gear, with the privates, corporals, and sergeants obscuring him. The German military was taken aback by the humility of General Bradley. He looks like an ordinary soldier.

Things were not what they seemed to the crowd in Jerusalem. Military conquest was not what Jesus came to accomplish at Jerusalem. He did not come to lead a great revolt against the Romans. Jesus came to win the redemption of the world by his death on Good Friday, a criminal’s death on the cross. Even Jesus’ disciples did not understand.

Most significant in our reading are the words which the crowd shouted:

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”

This cry of Psalm 118.25-26 was sung on the high days of the feasts of the Passover and Tabernacles. It soon found a place in the Church’s celebration of the Sacrament.

“Hosanna” is a Hebrew word that means, “O Lord, save us!” The crowd was shouting to Jesus to save them. How interesting that our Lord’s name, given by the angel through Joseph was “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” [Matt. 1.21]. And here the people are calling for Jesus to save them. “Hosanna,” “O Lord, save us!” There is dramatic irony in this, a term used in the theater which occurs when the meaning of the situation is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play. In this divine drama the crowd shouts the truth without knowing it.

Jesus would indeed save us! He would save us by his death He would conquer sin, death, and hell by engaging the ancient foe on the cross. Jesus would act in a way contrary to all military intelligence: he would surrender to the will of his enemies. He would allow them to arrest him, beat him, scourge him, and crucify him. But in so doing he would win the victory over them forever. In our Epistle Paul said that Jesus “humbled himself” all the way to death on the cross. Jesus would stoop to conquer. He would outwit the old evil foe and win the decisive victory over him. That was not understood by the crowd nor even the disciples.

The crowd cried out the right words. There was nothing untrue in them. They simply did not understand the deep paradox of them. They did not know the kind of king Jesus was nor what kind of saving he had come to accomplish. But we do. We know that he came to save us from sin, death, and hell by his suffering, death, and resurrection. We know that he came to Jerusalem for exactly this purpose.

Every Sunday we repeat those words of the crowd in the Sanctus, that chant that praises Jesus as our Savior who comes to bring us salvation in the mystery and wonder of the Sacrament of the Altar:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Sabaoth. Heav’n and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he, blessed is he, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. [LSB, p. 195]

Six times we chant that word “Hosanna,” “O Lord, save us!” Luther placed his German Sanctus after the Words of Institution to emphasize the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar. This is precisely where our Lord comes to us! Here he comes to save us over and over again with his true body and blood. Interestingly, most of the Reformed churches removed these words so as to deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. In other words, they say that Jesus does not come to us in the Sacrament, that  he does not come to bring salvation in his true body and blood. Yet, we confess that he indeed comes to us—and is really present!—in his body and blood for our forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness of sins, Luther reminds us, there is also life and salvation!

The singing of “Hosanna” should not be confused with the omission of the Alleluia during Lent. This cry of “Hosanna” becomes “The Joyous Shout of the Faithful!” because in the Sacrament are the fruits of our Lord’s Passion. Here is the proper entrance to the solemnities of Holy Week. We call this day Palm Sunday, but we have the old Lutheran tradition of reading the Passion account of our Lord’s suffering and death. It is exactly what has been anticipated in the Gospel reading at the Procession with Palms. It is the account of our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and hell. It is the story of our deliverance, our salvation.

“This Joyous Shout of the Faithful” comes during the singing of the Sanctus, the musical highlight of the Service of the Sacrament. Even on the Sundays in Lent the organ is played loudly and joyously. It is indeed a shout! And there is yet another fitting Lutheran custom that of making of the sign of the cross at the third “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” This action provides our physical response to the awareness of God’s grace in Christ and the fact that our Lord indeed comes to us in the Sacrament to save us. It is a joyous thing.

Hosanna!” “O Lord, save us!” What a fitting word to use today and every Sunday as we continue to receive our Lord’s true body and blood for our salvation. Little did the crowd realize that their appeal, their “Hosanna!” would be fulfilled by the death of Jesus. But we do! And that death is what we celebrate and remember as we hear our Lord’s words in the Institution of the Sacrament,

“This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me . . .This cup is the new testament in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

May your Holy Week be truly blessed as your king comes again to save you! Let your “Hosannas!” become “The Joyous Shout of the Faithful!”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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