Covenant Through Blood
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 15:1–15:47
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
March 28, 2021
“Covenant Through Blood”
There is something both joyful and sorrowful about this day. It begins with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” – a kind of joyful procession, but it gives way to the real reason why Jesus entered into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday: his betrayal and rejection, his suffering and death upon the cross. We like Palm Sunday because of its celebrative and joyful character, but we may not like so much the Sunday of the Passion, so named because of Jesus’ Passion, because of its emphasis on Jesus’ suffering and death. Like so many things in life, it is both/and rather than either/or. Today is both Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion. Our Lenten preaching series, “People of the Covenant,” continues today under the theme, “Covenant Through Blood.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
For each of our virtual midweek Lenten worship services this year, we have focused on a portion of the Passion narrative from Mark’s Gospel. During these weeks in Lent, we heard of Jesus being delivered to Pilate (Mark 15:1-5); Pontius Pilate delivering Jesus to be crucified (Mark 15:6-15); Jesus being mocked (Mark 15:16-20); Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:21-32); the death of Jesus (Mark 15:33-41); and finally on this Wednesday evening of Holy Week, we will hear of Jesus’ burial (Mark 15:42-47). It is today on this Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion that we hear the entirety of Mark’s account of Jesus’ suffering and death in that lengthy Gospel reading. All of this prepares us for what we will celebrate in one week’s time on Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of Our Lord: the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:1-8). It is through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross that we are able to shout “Hosanna!”, which means “Save us, we pray.” It is in that shed blood of Jesus that we have been saved.
The opening words of today’s Old Testament lesson (Zechariah 9:9-12) are familiar: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” By faith, we see the direct fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy with Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. In the ancient world, a king in battle would enter a city to be conquered riding his war horse, surrounded by his army. But a king who had already conquered a city would not need that war horse or army because the city already belonged to him. He would enter into the city on a much humbler animal, often a donkey, because he had nothing to fear. Do you see the connection here? Jesus entered into Jerusalem, the city of God’s chosen people, not as a conquering war lord, but as the Prince of Peace, whose kingdom and reign is one of peace (see Isaiah 9:6b). This is what the Lord spoke through the prophet Zechariah in today’s Old Testament lesson: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” But none of this is possible without that covenant of blood, as the closing verses from Zechariah tell us: “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” The fulfillment of this blood of God’s covenant has come through Jesus who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
The blood which has been shed in Atlanta and Boulder in recent days, together with the blood that has been shed in so many other places in our nation and world, cries out to heaven. How many more senseless shootings and terrible loss of life must there be? In the aftermath of these tragedies, what will we do? Will we continue to utter the same platitudes without changing anything for the better? Until it happens in my community, my neighborhood, my family, it all seems abstract and removed from my life. We long for the day when violence and bloodshed will give way to that peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7); that peace which the world cannot give (John 14:27). On our own, we will never find this. On our own, we are too much of this world. The peace we are longing for comes not from man, but from God. It comes through blood which has been shed – the blood of Jesus; that new covenant which God has established through the life, death and resurrection of his own beloved Son. In the midst of tragedy and loss, this is what gives us hope and courage to persevere; to press on; to go forward as people of God’s new covenant through the blood of Jesus so that God’s kingdom may indeed come through us; so that God’s gracious will be indeed be done through each one of us.
May the Lord bless our journey through this Holy Week until we come to that great and final day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). Amen.