From our first Gospel reading, Matthew 21: 9… The crowds that went ahead of [Jesus] and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”  And from our second Gospel reading, Matthew 27:20, 22… Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed… Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Things are not always what they appear to be. 

It may not be possible to find better examples of this truth than we find on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday.  Things were not what they appeared to be.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on what we call “Palm Sunday” is also called his “Triumphal Entry.”  It certainly was triumphant… but not at all in any way that people had expected or anticipated... or even wanted!  When they shouted “Hosanna!”- which means “save us!”- they were looking for Jesus to finally dispense with all of the weird stuff he had been saying and doing and get down to the real business of the Messiah!  It was time to save Israel from her enemies and restore her to peace, power and prosperity.  In other words, it was time for this “Son of David” to start acting like his forefather and start kicking some Roman… rears!!

Make no mistake about it.  Palm Sunday was not at all what it appeared to be; at least not on the surface.  The people throwing the parade and shouting “Hosanna!” were expecting violence and death.  But they were expecting Jesus to be the perpetrator, not the receiver; the victor, not the victim.  They were expecting Jesus to save them.  But not from sin or death…from the Romans.

Later that week people were shouting something different.  Incited by their leaders, they were shouting “Crucify him!”  And this time they do get what they are asking for.  Well, sort of. 

Yes, Jesus gets crucified.  And on Good Friday it appears that the bad guys win.  The religious leaders who had concluded that Jesus was a very dangerous fraud who posed a very real threat to their religious way of life, got what they wanted.  They got rid of Jesus.

And it would appear that the devil got what he wanted.  Jesus was dead! But things definitely were not what they appeared to be. 

On Good Friday we have a tradition of holding a Tenebrae service here at Zion.  I have gone on record saying that I believe that this is the most important church service of the year.  I really do believe that… because the events of Good Friday are the most important events in the history of humanity!  Yes, we tend to pack two services on Easter morning because everyone loves Easter.  But Easter holds no meaning without Good Friday.  I hope that we will fill this place for our one service on Good Friday.

Why is this so important?  Because things are not what they appear to be!  Some people wonder why we call the day on which we vividly remember the horrific crucifixion of Jesus “GOOD Friday.”  It doesn’t appear to be good. 

We gather on Good Friday for Tenebrae, a service of shadows, a service where the lights in the sanctuary are continually diminished until we are sitting in darkness, where we hear the loud cry of Jesus from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” followed by a slamming of the Bible and harsh strepitus on the organ.  We consider that ‘good’?!

What’s good about that?  It is good because things are not what they appear to be!  As horrible and sobering as the crucifixion was, we know that it was part of God’s plan.  We know that on Calvary Jesus was crucified, but Satan got nailed!  We know that it was not the spikes driven through his hands and feet that held Jesus on the cross, but it was his love.  No one was taking his life; Jesus was laying it down, demonstrating what he had said the previous day to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

At the conclusion of the Tenebrae service there is a short verse read.  It comes from the Psalms: “He who sits in the heavens laughs!”  This is followed by a happy little chord from the organ.  Strange?  Yes, definitely.  But we understand that the events of this Friday were good in the purest sense of the word.  They were done for the good of all, and were born from the greatest love of all.  Perhaps one reason that the One who sits in the heavens laughs is because of the ignorance that causes people to miss the point.  Much more likely his laugh is one of celebration.  Mission accomplished!

On this Palm Sunday we gather for a parade.  We gather to cry out to this very same Jesus with the very same words: “Hosanna!  Save us Jesus!  Save us from our worst enemies: save us from sin, save us from death, and save us from the devil!” 

We gather to celebrate because we know that this was indeed a “Triumphal Entry” by our Lord into Jerusalem.  Later this week we will remember-- we will seek to relive-- Jesus’ passion, his painful march to victory.  We will mourn and grieve his death… but only because we know that it is our sin that made it necessary. 

And at the conclusion of this Holy Week we will celebrate with heart and soul and voice the tremendous victory of Jesus over sin, death, and the devil.  We will recall those three vitally important words, “It is finished!” and bask in yet one more awesome surprise: “He is risen.  He is risen indeed!”  Sin has been defeated, its wages paid in full.  And death has been defeated, overcome by the resurrection of Jesus.  And the devil has been defeated, overcome by the most powerful weapon of all, the loving grace of God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, my hope and my prayer is that this week will indeed be a ‘Holy’ week for each and every one of us, a week of recalling, pondering and reliving the meaning of all of these events.  May this be a week of realizing that things are not always what they appear to be.  Thanks be to God!

By the power of his Holy Spirit, may he bless your week with an overwhelming sense of his presence and guide you to an ever-deepening awareness of your need for repentance, and then with an understanding of, and appreciation for, the wonder of his grace, through his Son and our Savior, Jesus the Messiah/Christ.  Hosanna!

Amen.

   November 2018   
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