From Entrance to Exaltation
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 15:1–15:47
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
March 24-25, 2018
“Return from Exile: From Entrance to Exaltation”
With the colder than usual weather that we’ve been experiencing, as well as the early spring snowstorm this past week, March is the new February; at least it feels like that this year. Things seem out of order and upside-down weather-wise. Sort of like the NCAA tournament underway: things seem upside-down with the Cinderella team of Loyola-Chicago and the now famous Sister Jean, 98-year-old courtside chaplain, going into the Final Four. The same is true as we enter into Holy Week today, and the culmination of Jesus’ life and ministry: his suffering, death, and resurrection. Things feel kind of upside-down. Today began with joyful shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!... Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10) as we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. But like our very changeable weather, that note of joyful triumph gives way to something very different. Shouts of “Hosanna!” become shouts of “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:13-14). Like the weather, people can also be very fickle and changeable; people then and people now. Palm Sunday gives way to the Sunday of the Passion, as we heard in that extended Passion narrative that is our Gospel lesson for today (Mark 15:1-47). On this Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, we continue our Lenten series, “Return from Exile,” with the theme for preaching being “From Entrance to Exaltation.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus had been preparing his disciples for what was coming. Not once, not twice, but three times he told them plainly what would happen: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34; see also Mark 8:31 and 9:31). You can’t get much clearer than that, but denial can be a very strong thing. We tend to see and hear what we want to see and hear. We like Palm Sunday. We like the joyful shouts of “Hosanna!” We like the palm branches and the procession. We like these things because they make us feel good. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem feels like a happy occasion. It’s what happens after Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem that we have trouble with. After Jesus enters into Jerusalem ugly things happen: betrayal, injustice, political expediency, torture, and death. These are topics that we usually don’t enjoy focusing on. But it is through these very things that repel us that Jesus is exalted. His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday leads to his exaltation on Good Friday. That exaltation doesn’t look like anything we would expect: unimaginable pain and horrific death on the tree of the cross. Jesus is declared a King, but not a king like we would expect. His crown is not gold, but thorns and his throne is the wood of the cross. But it is through this that Jesus is exalted. A strange King, indeed. But it is through these counter-intuitive things that a great exchange takes place. Jesus exchanges his righteousness for our sin. He dies in our place so that we might have the full and abundant life God would have for us (John 10:10). In Jesus, we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is what Paul the apostle is talking about in today’s Epistle lesson: “Christ Jesus… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus’ exaltation on the tree of the cross was for you and for me. Like Palm Sunday, we are attracted to the glory of resurrection and new life on Easter Sunday. But that glory and joy are diminished greatly if we do not follow Jesus during Holy Week and in repentance view again the great cost of our salvation. How can we bypass the harsh reality and ugly truth of what Jesus endured for us and for our salvation? Our Easter celebration is a shrunken and hollow version of itself if we do not first follow Jesus to the upper room, the garden, the judgment hall, and Mount Calvary.
Living as we do in the shadow of our nation’s capital, we’re used to many parades, protests, and marches. But the one which took place this weekend, March for Our Lives, seemed very different. Initiated and led by young people, they are calling for common sense legislation for gun laws in response to school shootings. All of the speakers at the rally on the National Mall were young people, including the 9-year-old granddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Yolanda Renee King. In less than two weeks, our nation will pause to remember what took place fifty years ago on April 4, 1968: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His murder led to six days of riots in Washington, D.C., something which many still vividly recall. Similar riots occurred in Baltimore, Chicago, and more than 100 cities in our nation as frustration and anger over King’s assassination and race relations boiled over. In a work entitled, Strength to Love, Dr. King wrote of his struggles in following Jesus and the cost of discipleship in what he called his “kitchen table conversion:”
The first twenty-four years of my life were years packed with fulfillment. I had no basic problems or burdens. Because of concerned and loving parents who provided for my every need, I sallied through high school, college, theological school, and graduate school without interruption. It was not until I became a part of the leadership of the Montgomery bus protest that I was actually confronted with the trials of life. Almost immediately after the protest had been undertaken, we began to receive threatening phone calls and letters in our home. Sporadic in the beginning, they increased day after day. At first I took them in my stride, feeling that they were the work of a few hotheads who would not fight back. But as the weeks passed, I realized that many of the threats were in earnest. I felt myself faltering and growing in fear.
After a particularly strenuous day, I settled in bed at a late hour. My wife had already fallen asleep and I was about to doze off when the telephone rang. An angry voice said, “… we’ve taken all we want from you. Before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” I hung up, but I could not sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.
I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had almost gone, I determined to take my problem to God. My head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayer aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory, “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm.
(as contained in For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, Vol. III. Delhi, NY: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1995; pp. 978-979)
We may not be called to such a leadership role as Dr. King was, but we all are called, as he was, to stand up for righteousness and truth. The Lord Jesus Christ who entered Jerusalem to suffer and die upon the cross, and be thus exalted, will give us strength to meet the trials of life, whatever those may be. Let us then enter into this Holy Week trusting in his mercy and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. Amen.
More in Lent & Holy Week 2018: Return from Exile
April 1, 2018Welcome Home!
March 30, 2018Sin-Bearer to Sin-Bearer: The Day of Atonement to the Atonement
March 29, 2018Meal to Meal: The Passover to the Lord's Supper