Listen to it:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have come into Jerusalem with rejoicing. We have carried our palms with joy, welcoming our Lord as He comes to us again today, not on a donkey, but humble nonetheless. [Many of you are gathered here as these baptized members of Christ’s Body, Avah, Hannah, Michael, and Patrick, are welcomed to the Lord’s Table for the first time, and that is certainly an occasion for rejoicing.] But there is uncertainty in this day as well. There is ambiguity in our celebration. If we follow the direction of the liturgy, we will go out with sorrow, because we go out of David’s City toward Golgotha and the cross. You notice that the paraments on the altar are the purple of Christ’s Passion, and not the red of rejoicing. You notice that the cross is veiled and there is a sharp turn in the service from “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” to “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” How did we get from “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!” (Zechariah 9:9) and “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” and God abandoned by God? Some would like to keep the more solemn Sunday of the Passion separate from the more joyous Palm Sunday. There are good reasons for keeping them separate, but combining them may cause us to think more deeply about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
We like to draw straight, clean lines between our happiness and our sadness. We don’t want the Passion interfering with the Palms. We don’t want all the talk of betrayal, beatings, and Barabbas; cursing crowds, crucifixion, and a corpse bringing us down while we’re trying to enjoy ourselves. But why should it be that way in the Church if it is not that way in our lives? Or, more correctly, why should it be that way in our lives if it is not that way in the Church? Think of the most joyous occasions of your life. We like to fool ourselves into thinking that we can keep our happiness and our sadness, our joy and our pain, apart, in their proper places, but we can’t. It is impossible to keep the joy of the wedding apart from the pain caused by two sinners living in the same house together. It is impossible to keep the joy of the birth apart from the pain of labor, or the pain of parenting, for that matter. It is impossible to keep the joy of life apart from the pain of death. Sin runs too deeply in your heart and mine, and in this world, for such a thing to be possible. And it is no different in the Church, as the calendar of the Church keeps reminding us. Yes, there is rejoicing today. Yes, there is triumph today. Yes, we welcome our King. But the rejoicing is at the coming of One who comes to die. The triumphal entry is the entry of One who conquers His enemies by submitting to them. The King is welcomed as the Servant who is crucified by and for His rebelling subjects. They cannot be separated, the One on the donkey from the One on the cross; the triumphant One from the dying One; the King from the Servant; the rejoicing from the suffering. They cannot be separated in Jesus because they cannot be separated in us, not without both of us dying. And the dying for you and me goes like this: Repent, you who would have the joy without the sorrow. Repent, you who would celebrate Easter as if it could be separated from Good Friday. Repent, you who would come into the Lord’s House looking for the sweetness and the light of Jesus, without recognizing the bitterness and the darkness in yourself. But the rising goes like this: You are forgiven, because Jesus went through the sorrow for the sake of your joy. You are forgiven, because Jesus took the cross for the sake of your resurrection. You are forgiven, because Jesus takes away your bitterness and darkness, and gives you His sweetness and light.
Still, we live between worlds. We are caught between happiness and sadness, joy and pain, life and death. Those outside the Church go on in their delusion that life can be separated into its neat boxes, this white one with pink ribbon and rabbits and eggs out in the open, that black one with its weeping and pain hidden under the rug or on a basement shelf. But the Christian’s life remains in this world the life of Christ, which the life of the Church represents. We cannot celebrate the birth of Christ without looking forward to His Passion, and we cannot celebrate His Passion without looking forward to His Resurrection. We cannot observe the long season of Pentecost without the Church’s constant cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” We cannot baptize without realizing that we have given the baptized a lifelong enemy in Satan. We cannot hear the vows of confirmands without the question, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” (LSB Agenda, 30). We cannot eat the Holy Supper of the resurrected Lord without knowing that we receive His broken Body and shed Blood. We cannot live in forgiveness unless we first die in sorrow over our sin.
And how easy it is to forget these things! How easy to rush through Holy Week to our fantasy Easters with plastic grass and fake rabbits, especially when the ground lies cold and dead under ice and snow! How easy to choose Christ when it is convenient, and fits into our schedules, and doesn’t interfere with our plans, and we’re not too tired, and…well, maybe next week. Which is to say, if it were up to us, we would never choose Christ. Thank God He chose us in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Do not be deceived into thinking that the happiness can be separated from the sadness, the joy from the pain. No, they are in this life bound together and inseparable. So, brothers and sisters, travel toward the Resurrection with the Church. Gather with the other pilgrims, especially this holy Week, with those for whom Christ died and was raised, for whom He suffered and over whom He rejoices, for whom is the cross and the empty tomb. [Travel with, and pray for, these confirmands who are today entering the full life of Christ’s Church.] Stay and watch and pray this week as the Church keeps vigil for the Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Come and eat and drink; be strengthened with the life of Christ for the living of your life, filled as it is with both happiness and sadness, both joy and pain, both life and death. Return again and again in repentance and faith, until the Day when there is only happiness, only joy, only life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/31/09