The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
A Homily for Palm Sunday
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
March 25, 2018
Text: Matthew 27
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
The participatory Gospel on Palm Sunday is a relatively new innovation within the church and being a traditionalist at heart, I typically dislike such things. However, I think this way of presenting the gospel calls to mind for us an important point. It helps us to more deeply participate in the activities of Holy Week. For although we have the privilege of knowing the end of the story, an advantage the disciples didn’t have, we still must walk through the mystery and sorrow of the week in order to get to the resurrection. Without the tears of Good Friday, we cannot have the joy of Easter Sunday, if Christ did not die, he could not be raised from death. If he did not die, we cannot be raised from the dead.
Today, Palm Sunday, we start this solemn week with a grand precession in. Singing “All Glory Laud and Honor, to thee redeemer king!” We remember the crowds that praised the coming of Christ, believing the much awaited king had come to overthrow the Romans and restore the earthly kingdom. We see evidence of this as we read the gospel accounts of His life, we see that the apostles and followers expected some grand show, expecting that the throne of David would be restored to its proper glory.
Of course this hope made the earthly authorities nervous. In Roman occupied Israel there was a tenuous balance of power. The Jewish religious leaders were able to keep their positions, so long as they didn’t cause too much trouble. The Romans tolerated a certain level of religious behavior, so long as the Israelites didn’t act up. Often, those who were seen as trouble makers or rabble rousers were put to death in order to keep the peace.
As the week we remember as Holy Week progressed we see the authorities become more nervous as the followers of Christ became more disappointed until the climax we read about today where Christ, having been betrayed, is put through a sham trial, and the crowds who sang praises to the Lord and acclaimed him to be king now shout out “crucify him,” preferring the freedom of a violent criminal over the freedom of Jesus.
Are we not the crowd? Do we not sing praises to the Lord, so long as we get what we want; then when we are disappointed we turn our back on him?
Altogether too often, when we sin or do wrong, when we carry the fault of something we wish to blame someone else. This behavior is as old as sin. When God asks Adam what happened, we see him blame Eve, and then by extension blame God for his rebellion. We see this within ourselves as we examine the crucifixion of Christ.
In the history of the church, she has often wanted the Romans or the Jews to bear the burden of the crucifixion of Christ. Anti-Semites have used this moment, forgetting that Christ died not only for the sins of the Jews but for the sins of the whole world, regardless of race. A better understanding is that Jesus’s death on the cross was because of our sins. Not because a crowd cried out “crucify him,” not because a Roman governor didn’t want to upset the apple cart, not even because the Jewish authority wanted him to die so the balance of power would be restored.
Christ died to save sinners. Christ died that all that believe on Him might have life. Christ’s death was to save you and me.
We like to forget that it is our sin that nailed our savior to the cross. It was because we so often chose to rebel against the Lord that he had to die, in order that we might live. It is, ultimately our sin in our hearts that cries out “crucify him!” This is the profound truth we are reminded of this morning as we as a congregation cry out: crucify him!
In this simple truth we are reminded that if our claims about Christ are right – that he is God incarnate, that those who stand against him and mock saying “he saved others, surely he can save himself,” are correct, if His goal was to take earthly control, he could have easily done it, he could have easily come down from the cross and smote all the naysayers. Yet, this wasn’t why Christ came, He came in obedience and humility which lead to the shameful death on the cross. Christ’s death – was not the end of the story – but the beginning. It is in Christ’s death that we are made alive.
We must understand this hard truth, when sin came into the world, death came into the world. The death that Adam ushered into the world broke our relationship with God, and lead us to live in dissonance with our Lord and with each other. In order to restore those relationships Christ had to come into the world, Christ had to die on the cross, and Christ had to be raised again.
Now here’s the kicker, certainly the men and women who yelled out “crucify him!” two thousand years ago, certainly the Roman authorities, certainly the religious leaders all partook in the calls to crucify Christ, but when we sin, we call out with the crowds as well – “crucify Him!” It is our sin and the sins of the world that ultimately nailed him to the cross. It is over our sin that Christ’s blood is shed, and it is in that blood that we are made clean.
Our call, therefore, as Christians is to constantly be repenting, to be turning back to the Lord. This can be a hard thing, but it is very good. The monks of old had a beautiful habit of reminding themselves of this need daily. As they laid down to sleep, they would remind themselves that in that rest they were laying themselves down to die and as they rose up the next morning, they were sharing in the resurrection of Christ. We are reminded of this as well in our daily general confession in Morning and Evening Prayer.
So, it may be easy to imagine monks living this way, this our call as well, that we would let Christ live vibrantly in us, forsaking our own desires, and putting Christ on more fully each day. This is our call as we enter into Holy Week. That we would be ever reminding ourselves to cast our eyes fully upon Christ.
In this world, there are a million things that will distract us along this road, many of them aren’t even that bad, but if we do not place the Lord first, the distractions will always win out and what was a good thing may very well become an idol that keep us from our right worship and service to the Lord.
As we enter into Holy Week we are reminded that we would live out our lives for this one thing. That we would live in such a way that we are constantly giving ourselves to the Glory of God. This doesn’t mean that every person is called to a sanctioned sanctified life, not every person is called to be a monk, or a nun, a priest, or a pastor, but that every person in whatever they do, is called that they would do it to the glory of the Lord.
If we are called to be a banker, we bank with honest and integrity, if we are called to be a house mother, we love our children well and point them to the Lord in all we do, if we are called to be a student, we do all our studies to the glory of the Lord. In whatever we do, we do it that others may see our good works and praise our Father who is in heaven.
As we enter into Holy Week we are reminded of this simple truth that our hearts and minds would be in such a position that we are dying to ourselves, that we would be truly living to Christ. So, let us take up our cross and follow after him, allowing our sins to be buried with him, that we would raise up on the third day with new hearts, and new minds that are conformed to the will of the Lord.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.