Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Remember Me When You Come into Your Kingdom

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From Luke’s Gospel we read:

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”   (Luke 19:36-40)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the criminal whom they crucified. Do we ever leave the comfort of praising God in church and find ourselves later in the week taking the Lord’s name in vain?

How could the people change so quickly we ask. In defense of those who got caught up in the frenzy, we must remember that chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty with tyrannical leaders. We see that very clearly today.

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold. We read from Luke’s Gospel:

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded[c] to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”   (Luke 22:31-34)

Jesus understands our weaknesses. He has a plan for us to overcome them when we place our trust in him. It is never too late to repent. With his help we can change. For one criminal hanging on a cross beside Jesus time had run out. Perhaps it was too late for him:

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   (Luke 23:39-43)

This criminal found himself empty. Life had emptied him. He had nowhere to go. He was hanging on a cross. He had no one to turn to but Jesus. He was desperate. He had no time for religion. He was facing death and the consequences of his life choices. He could only say: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That was enough. Jesus made up the difference.

If we are still concerned about what others may say about us, then it is time for us to die to ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus had died to his own will. There was one more thing to do before he died physical:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.   (Luke 23:44-49)

Jesus commended his spirit to God the Father. By doing so he defeated sin, the grave and hell. He followed the Father’s plan. He died for the sins of the people. There was no more price to pay. He paid it all.

Where do we stand today? Do we desert Jesus in times of crisis as did Peter? We are living in a time of crisis where the Christian faith does not have a high approval rating. This may not new for most of the world, but it is for America. Are we willing to put our faith on the line?

At the time of the crucifixion many of Jesus followers deserted him. Others stood at a distance and watched. Maybe we are keeping our distance? Just to avoid any unpleasantries? This is no time for distance between us and Jesus. Distance leads to fear and weakness. It could ultimately our loss of faith.

Jesus won the victory. Again, he defeated sin, the grave and hell. How do we make his victory our victory? By putting our full trust in him. We are no different from the criminal on the cross. We have no other option. It may appear that we have some time left to think about it. But we do not. We have no guarantees for tomorrow. Now is the time of salvation.

Jesus had to restore and strengthen all his disciples. They became the great apostles of the New Testament. What he did for them he will do for us today. Are we willing to die to ourselves? Are we willing to take up our own cross daily and follow him? As we contemplate the Passion of Christ we see the great love that he has for us poured out on a cruel cross. What will be our love gift to him in return?

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Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Palm Sunday, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, The Passion, Year C

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