Hosanna!

Text: John 12:12-19
Date: Palmarum Sunday
+ 4/1/07

      He arrived just as he was supposed to arrive, just as it had been written by the prophet Zechariah. “Behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (Zech. 9:9). So here he is. And at first it appeared that they remembered this prophesy because they went out and greeted him with the kingly shout, the words of the Psalm, “Hosanna!” that is, “save now,” “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:25-26). They even called him “the King of Israel!” But John tells us it wasn’t a cry of faith at all. He tells us “His disciples didn’t understand these things at first.” John should know for he was there. Furthermore he says the real reason why the crowds went to meet him was only because they had heard of his most incredible and final miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. So it had to be either faith in the Word of God being fulfilled or some other enthusiasm at work because Jesus looked like anything but a king. Earthly kings come riding into town on a powerful galloping steed with impressively dressed saddles, girths and browbands, accompanied by a military entourage, with uplifted fist receiving the accolades of the crowds. Well, the accolades were there, but Jesus rode slowly, bareback on a young donkey of all things, not even acknowledging the crowds. “Lowly,” “humble,” that’s the way of the kingdom of God.

     So will you greet King Jesus when he comes with cheers of faith? Or will you come out only because there appears to be a party going on? Or will you just miss his coming altogether by staying home? What “coming,” which “advent” are we talking about? Many gather to celebrate and commemorate his first coming at Christmas. After all the Christmas Gospel is so comforting with its images of starry night skies, angels and shepherds, young Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in a manger. You can almost feel “peace on earth” as the lights are dimmed and we sing “Silent Night” to the glow of candles. A humble scene, yes. But any mention that this might be a newborn king only results in the murderous reaction of the king named Herod.

     Neither are we talking about his final advent when he comes as judge and victorious Lord of all on the last day. The kingly cheer, “hosanna,” will be heard from the faithful. But then every eye will see him and every knee shall bow and every tongue be forced to confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father. It is not his final advent that we’re talking about today.

     He arrived in Jerusalem just in time for the Passover. But this would be no ordinary Passover. This would be the last Passover ever to be celebrated. For all the lambs slain through the centuries were but the “types” and prediction pointing forward to The Lamb of God who, in his own flesh, would finally take away the sin of the world, by whose sacrifice there would be no more angel of death, and no more sacrifice for sin required. In Jesus the Passover finds its goal, the symbol finds its substance. On that night when he would be betrayed he became the Passover, he fulfilled it and he changed it. Now the blood of the lamb is no longer painted on the doorpost, its broiled flesh and the flat bread eaten in remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, but now he gives us his own blood to drink in, with and under the wine, his own body to eat in, with and under the bread, bringing our liberation from the bondage of sin. In this sacrament He comes to us, brings and distributes His gifts, the benefits and power of his cross, his sacrifice to each believer in every age and every place. Yes. That’s why we sing those kingly words at every communion, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” For then and there…here he comes to us and gives us his own body and blood under the humble forms of bread and wine. Here we sing the eternal Sanctus of the angels Isaiah heard and saw in the temple, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory,” because here the eyes of faith see the King. We see him and live.

     Like the first disciples you cannot understand these things but with the eyes of your hearts enlightened with faith in the glorified and risen Lord (John 12:16). All that the mortal eye beholds is a little bread, a little wine and little groups of people all over the world of every nation and language singing some ancient Hebrew word, “Hosanna.” Before the eye of faith, however, unfolds the triumphant entry of the King of the universe coming with healing in his wings, with forgiveness, life and salvation in his body and blood. So let every heart welcome him with shouts of faith fit for The King: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed it he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

     This is the Great and Holy Week of our salvation, the heart and center of our faith. The Triduum, the three holy days are before us. Even if I were not the pastor I wouldn’t miss any of it: the beautiful Mass of healing and wholeness on Maundy Thursday morning, then, in the evening, the beginning of the three-day-long service in the Upper Room: the institution of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, the reservation of the elements for our use on Good Friday, the dramatic stripping of the altar as Christ submits himself to His captors. We are sent out into the night only to return to observe the hours of our Lord’s agony on the Cross commemorated in the Good Friday Tre Ore services from Noon until the hour of His death at three o’clock; then the Stations of the Cross devotional on Good Friday evening. Finally, after His silent rest in the tomb, we assemble, as did the first disciples, “on the first day of the week…early, while it [is] still dark” [John 20:1] for the awakening of new life at the sunrise Vigil of Easter—the blessing of the paschal candle in the service of light, the welcoming of five new Christians by Holy Baptism, and the amazement and joy of our Lord’s resurrection; then the breaking of the fast and the great feast of the resurrection. Let this Holy Week and Easter be a new beginning for yourself and for this fellowship we call Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Detroit.

      Let us hear and respond to St. Paul’s call to the worship of this week:

    “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
    “For, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” [1 Cor. 5:7-8; 2 Cor. 5:17]. Oh, come, let us worship Him, Christ the Lord.