Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Opening the Gates of Heaven

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

Today is both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. There is so much scripture and so many ways of looking at it. Let us try to reflect on both themes while looking for a spiritual connection. Help us, we pray, Holy Spirit, to draw from your wisdom and insights.

We begin with the Liturgy of the Palms:

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!   (Matthew 21:1-9)

Jesus rode into Jerusalem triumphantly. How could things change, in less than a week, from “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Let him be crucified!”? As we know, the Judean authorities trumped up charges against Jesus that were not true. Then they convinced enough angry people to demonstrate against Jesus to counteract Jesus’ public support. Has anything changed in politics over the years?

Jesus was brought before Pilate who represented Roman authority. Pilate realized that the Jewish authorities had no case and tried to release Jesus:

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”   (Matthew 27:15-23)

Hatred and spiritual ignorance make great traveling companions. The religious authorities crucified Jesus, the curliest execution possible under Roman law. The Gospel of Matthew goes into great detail. (Let us take private time in prayerful reflection on Mather’s Passion narrative.)

For now, let us look at the catastrophic events that took place when Jesus died and afterward:

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”   (Matthew 27:45-54)

The tearing of the temple veil or curtain established a new covenant where believers could have direct access to God. No longer would God’s presence exist behind a veil that only the high priest could pass through and that only once a year, to offer the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. Jesus was now the lasting sacrifice that takes away all our sins once and for all:

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the holy place year after year with blood that is not his own, for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.   (Hebrews 9:24-28)

This brings us to the psalm appointed in The Liturgy of the Palms:

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

“This is the gate of the Lord;
he who is righteous may enter.”

I will give thanks to you, for you answered me
and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.   (Psalm 118:19-22)

God did open that gate. He tore the curtain of the temple in two, from top to bottom. This was the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.

The psalmist wrote:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.   (Psalm 118:19-20)

Jesus is the gate of righteousness. He is the gate of heaven. We read in John’s Gospel:

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.   (John 10:9)

The Psalmist wrote:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.   (Psalm 118d:19-24.

He is the most important gate. But we are also gates. We must open our gates to allow Jesus to enter our hearts. The psalmist wrote:

Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in!   (Psalm 24:7)

How do we open our gates? We must accept the gift of salvation from Jesus. We must also lay down our lives at the foot of the cross. 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-)

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly as the Messiah. He was not the Messiah people expected. Palms led to Passion. Jesus’ triumph was on the cross. There he defeated sin, Hell, and the grave. That is where our triumph occurs as well. At the cross, we participate in the victory of Jesus. At the cross, we are reborn into the newness of life. We are resurrected in the image of our Lord.

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, Palm Sunday, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, The Passion, Year A

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