by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lesson: Matthew 21:1-9
Our Ladies Circle has two wonderful traditions during Roll Call. One is that we each find a Bible verse that includes a specific word. So one month we all might find a Bible verse with the word “light” and the next month we might all find a Bible verse with the word “peace.” We each read our verse. This gets us in the Scriptures and gives us a chance to hear many passages of Scripture. The second tradition is to answer a question. The last one was “What is your favorite hymn?”
For me, it is difficult to pick just one. It depends on the time of the Church Year. It depends on the circumstances. My list of favorites is rather long. The Palm Sunday hymns are certainly included in that long list of favorite hymns.
In the same way, it would be difficult for me to pick a favorite day in the Church Year. There’s much to like about Christmas and Easter, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Ash Wednesday and Pentecost. Palm Sunday is certainly up there. I always look forward to this day with the palm branches waving, children singing and processing behind the cross, and that time of joy for, as it is written, “Behold, your King is coming to you.”
This year is much different. No crowds of people gathered here in God’s house. No children processing with their branches. No Service of the Sacrament in which we sing the Sanctus. That is, without people present, we are not celebrating the Sacrament, and we do not sing, “Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”
Palm Sunday is such a significant event that the Church has chosen wisely to include the Palm Sunday song in the divine liturgy. We are reminded of this Sunday every time we gather for Holy Communion.
Even though regular services are not being offered here at Grace due to the novel coronavirus, this does not mean the Lord’s Supper is not being offered. Instead, families are invited and encouraged to make an appointment with me to receive the Sacrament. It’s easy. Just call or text me. There’s even a registration page on our website. Just pick a slot and come at your chosen time. I will be here and will have Communion set up for you.
It is important to continue receiving this Sacrament, for Jesus gives us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. And just as Simeon declared when taking up the Baby Jesus in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30), so also we are being prepared to be with our Lord as we receive the Sacrament. By receiving the remission of sins through the Body and Blood of Christ, we are granted peace with God. And with His peace, we can depart from this life knowing that the Lord will receive us into His eternal kingdom. And just as we do not know the day or the hour of our Lord’s return for Judgment, so also we do not know the day or the hour in which we will take our last breath. The coronavirus may well take the lives of some in our community, church, and families. So Jesus teaches us to be prepared.
So how often should you come to Communion during this time? Jesus teaches, “Do this as often as you drink of it.” There is no law. Since you have been accustomed to receiving it weekly, you are certainly welcome to come here weekly. If, during this time, you prefer to receive it less frequently, you may.
Since Holy Week is upon us, this is a good time to come to receive the Sacrament. For “behold, your King is coming to you.” On Maundy Thursday, we will remember that on that most holy night, our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper. And on Good Friday, Jesus poured out His Blood on the cross. On Easter, we always celebrate the Resurrection with offering Holy Communion.
But this year is certainly different. Who thought that, as God’s people gathered on Ash Wednesday to begin Lent on February 26, a month later we would no longer be offering services? Who would have thought that when people came forward to receive ashes imposed on them and were told “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” that we would be reminded of our own weakness and mortality through the swift spread of this pestilence? And who would have thought when the social distancing and social gathering recommendations began to flatten the curve, that these recommendations would become mandates, lasting not only through Easter but continuing through the month of April? When will they end? Will May bring another month of mandates? We don’t know. But the Lord knows. And He is in charge of all things.
When we began this Lenten journey, we did not know the stunning and swift change that will occur to our lifestyles. Yet God did. And He has a plan and purpose in everything.
In the same way, when the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their song of Hosanna and with the royal carpet of tree branches and cloaks, many did not anticipate what would happen in just five short days. Crowds had followed Jesus. They acknowledged Him as their King. They proclaimed to Him, “Hosanna,” which means “Save now.” They were filled with joy by being with Jesus.
As Christians, we are filled with the same joy when we are with Jesus gathered around the blessings of Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service.
But the crowds in Holy Week so quickly dispersed. And a new crowd formed. Led by the church leaders of the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, the new crowd did not sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” but they were shouting, “Crucify Him! Away with Him! Release Barabbas!”
That is stunning. Such a change in events. And super swiftly, too.
But God was in charge and had a plan for these events. Those who loved Jesus and were horrified at how horribly He was treated and crucified, had troubles seeing God’s plan as they saw those events unfold. That’s why, even after hearing of our Lord’s glorious resurrection, the disciples hid in fear. They witnessed the evil ways of man and figured they could be the next victims.
But our Lord’s death and resurrection were prophesied in the Old Testament. And Jesus Himself told the disciples several times that He had to go to Jerusalem to endure these things. He not only told them of His crucifixion, but also of His resurrection.
What man meant for evil, God used for good. The church leaders were trying to eliminate the One who did not fit their understanding of a Messiah. But through this, Jesus bore the sins of the world and went to the cross to shed His innocent Blood on our behalf. In His sacrificial payment of His own life, Jesus atoned for the sins of the world.
Our sin needs to be paid for. We are sinners so we cannot perfectly pay for our sins. But Jesus, who is the Son of God, could make the necessary payment for our sins. And Jesus, being God, could do this not only for one person, but for the entire world.
And so, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. The crowds rightly sing “Hosanna,” for He is their Savior. And He willingly goes to the cross so that we can be reconciled to God our Father and so that Jesus can make amends for our many sins.
God had a plan through all of this, even as things changed so quickly. And in the same way, God has a plan as we face COVID-19 and mandatory stay-at-home orders. Thankfully, you can still legally come to Church to receive Holy Communion in small groups.
We can see some good in these trying times. Our emphasis had been on many trivial pleasures that keep us busy. Now we may spend more time with family. Phone lines are busier as brothers and sisters in Christ are checking in on each other. Many had poor prayer lives, but this virus has caused them to pray more frequently. The virus reminds us that Jesus will return, for prior to His return there will wars, earthquakes, famines, and signs all over. As with this service, the Gospel is now available more widely than ever, for people can watch services online to hear God’s Word.
Yet online services are no substitute for the actual gathering of God’s people in His house to hear the Word, pray together, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. As convenient as it may be to watch a service at a time that fits our schedule, Christ’s church has always been incarnational. Jesus became Man. He rode into Jerusalem. He gives us His Body and Blood. Christians are the Body of Christ. Jesus is present most clearly in the Divine Service.
Jesus made the sacrifice of His own Body to redeem us. He teaches us to take up our crosses to follow Him. And so, we sacrifice our free time on Sunday morning to gather in His house week after week. What we receive from Him through the Absolution, the Word, and the Lord’s Supper is far greater than we can possibly give.
And so, on this Palm Sunday, we long for that which we do not have. We long to be gathered together—to be home, in God’s house and singing together as we anticipate receiving the Sacrament, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
This time of separation will end. Either Jesus will end it by returning on that great day of Judgment, or the pestilence will pass through divine mercy. And just as tears of sadness on Good Friday were turned to tears of joy on Easter, so also “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, have a blessed Palm Sunday, for it is still Palm Sunday. Have a blessed Holy Week, for it is still Holy Week. And know that Easter is still Easter, for Jesus who rides into Jerusalem to die, lives. He lives and reigns to all eternity. All enemies are made His footstool. He even triumphs amid pestilence and uncertainty. For His Word and promises are certain. Therefore, we sing, “Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen