Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Holy Life, a Holy Week

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
March 24, 2013
It goes without saying among us that Jesus lived a holy life. And it goes without saying that this week, Holy Week, is unique in the Church Year. Today begins this time in the Church Year which has a different character to it than any other time. Should we, though, not put too much stock into the events of Holy Week? Is it rather better to focus on the more general and all-encompassing fact of the holy life of our Lord?

Consider, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the holy life of your Lord is concentrated in the holy events of the last week of His life. Think about how God doesn’t just say in His Word that He loves you, but that He tells you very specifically how He loves you. Observe how of all the ways God has revealed Himself to you, it is primarily and most especially in His Son Jesus Christ; and even more than that, in His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. See how it is not simply that your Lord lived a holy life, but that all that He is and all He came to do is concentrated in these events we have come to call Holy Week.

We gather here this week to observe Holy Week. But we don’t do so as by-standers to a parade passing by. We don’t do so out of curiosity that these events are remarkable and it’s good for us to rehearse them once a year. We gather here as the people of God, as ones who have been brought into the holy life of our Lord in Baptism. Observe how with God it’s never simply a general statement of His grace and love, but rather a specific declaration; a specific delivering to you of what Christ accomplished in His holy life and in His very deliberate actions He took in Holy Week.

Holy Week for us isn’t so much a remembrance of something that occurred in the past, and granted, some really important events that occurred in the past. Holy Week for us is much more a proclamation. It is an action that is occurring right now. It is an act of God that He is accomplishing right now. It’s not that we remember what our Lord did in riding into Jerusalem, and that He instituted His Holy Supper on Maundy Thursday, and that He paid for the sins of the world and died in our place on Good Friday, and lay in the tomb on Holy Saturday, and conquered the grave once and for all on Easter Sunday. True, we do remember all of that. But that’s not principally why we’re here. We’re here for proclamation. We’re here to hear the proclamation of these specific events in history. That our Lord lived a holy life is wonderful history, but merely history if you are not personally the recipient of what He accomplished in living a holy life.

We are here to receive the very benefits of our Lord having lived a holy life. That’s why we don’t speak in simply general terms. That’s why when the proclamation is made, it’s never just platitudes and general statements of God’s love for us. It’s always specific. It’s always concentrated in the specific acts of our Lord in Holy Week. In the Church Year this week is actually observed as Holy Week. But every other Sunday of the Church Year must always be delivering that same proclamation: Jesus suffered on the cross for the sin of the world and rose victoriously from the grave for eternal life and salvation.

When we gather here, it’s not just that we’re Christians, and so we go to church. That’s very general. There’s nothing there that’s specific. What happens here is very specific. Words are spoken, and they are Christ’s words. We hear them and they accomplish what they say. You are not simply told of what happened in the past, your Lord is acting right now in the present. You are not simply remembering what He did 2000 years ago, He is accomplishing for you what He brought about 2000 years ago. When the Absolution is pronounced, you are actually forgiven. When the Gospel is proclaimed, you are actually forgiven. When the body and blood of Christ in and with the bread and wine on this altar is given you to eat and drink, you are actually forgiven. It’s not just that Christ lived a holy life, it’s that He also delivers to you the very real and actual effects of that holy life.

It’s not simply that Christ accomplished what we could not in living a holy life. It’s that He stood in our place as a sinner condemned for not living a holy life. Two thousand years ago when He was nailed to the cross, that was God’s action toward the world that is much more specific than any announcement from Him that He loves the world. No, God loved the world in this way, He gave His only Son to die on the cross for the sins of every person, so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life. With God it’s always specific. You know exactly where He gives His forgiveness. You know exactly where to go for your certainty that you have salvation.

And so in the Gospel reading John says that the “next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” They knew where He was. He was coming into Jerusalem. A holy life was coming to its culmination in this entrance into Jerusalem. Our response to this holy life being found in its concentrated form is, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” Hosanna!, Save us! Blessed is He comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is He who comes having lived a holy life, a life far out of reach for us, and who even now comes to bring it to fulfillment. Blessed is He who comes to bring to completion that holy life by suffering in the place of we who are sinners and who live very unholy lives. Blessed is He who is the King of Israel, the one who is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Scriptures of the Messiah, the one who will come to accomplish salvation.

And God works this way. Not in generalities. Specifically. Locatedly. As the Gospel reading goes on to say, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” A holy life that is coming to its culmination in selecting a donkey, and riding in to His death on that donkey. A holy life that is all focused in on these acts of Holy Week, because, as John then says, “just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” Just as it is written. These are words of intention; of focusing your attention not on general statements about God and His love and His awesomeness as God. They are words of specificity and intention. Just as it is written. Just as God said it, and is now bringing it about. You see, Jesus lived a holy life, and your attention is drawn to His bringing about your salvation in these events because His holy life is nothing for you without Him bringing it to completion.

Fear not! Your King is coming to you! In Jesus there is no fear. Not because it’s generally and categorically true that with God there is no fear. Apart from Christ, in actuality that’s all there is. Apart from Christ, we stand before the holy God in utter fear as we stand before Him condemned. But Christ has lived the holy life you and I have not. Christ has entered into Jerusalem, and because He has done so there is no fear. There is no fear because the judgment of your condemnation God instead brings upon His Son. It is just as it is written. It is just as He said. It is a holy life that was brought to its head in a holy week.

And wouldn’t you know it, we just don’t get it. We’re too thick in the head. We think there’s got to be something more to it than that. We think that all of the stuff Jesus did is great and all, but we have to be relevant and speak to people where they’re at. For that matter, we need to be spoken to where we’re at. And true enough, the Gospel must be proclaimed in the clear way where the person actually hears the Message as it applies to his or her situation. But this doesn’t mean changing it, or figuring out how to make it relevant. It means being clear that what Jesus accomplished in His living a holy life, in His suffering, dying, and rising, is the thing. It is the only thing that addresses who we are and what we need as we stand before God.

This is why we gather here, because we just don’t get it. We need the Gospel proclaimed to us, we need to receive the body and blood of Christ. We need to continually be forgiven. And so the Gospel reading says, “[Jesus’] disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” Do you see what has happened? What has happened is that they didn’t get it until they looked at what Jesus actually accomplished in His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. For three years—three years!—they had been witnessing Him living a holy life. Here He now rode into Jerusalem and their thick skulls prevented them from understanding what it was Jesus was doing. He was showing that His holy life is all concentrated in this holy week.

And it’s the same for us. We cannot—cannot!—understand what it is all about unless we are laser-like focused on the cross. The holy life of Christ is never to be denigrated. Everything He did in being conceived, being born, living, proclaiming, teaching, accomplishing miracles, everything He did, He did on our behalf and for our salvation. But we must always remember this holy life is brought to it consummation in His suffering, death, and resurrection. Apart from that, there is nothing. It’s not that all He did doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t matter. It’s that it doesn’t do you any good apart from Christ, as the apostle Paul says in the Epistle reading: “[Christ, who] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The apostle John concludes the event of Palm Sunday in this way: “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’” Why did the crowds go out to see Jesus? They heard about something people normally don’t see. They were told that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead—Let’s go see this guy. And the Pharisees? They realized their gig was up. They could do nothing to stop this. See? The whole world had gone after Him.

Now the point for us today is that we know what happened. We know that there in fact was something the Pharisees could do and they did. They got it rigged for Jesus to end up hanging on a cross. And if we simply look back on that event as something to look back on, then we, like the Pharisees, miss the whole point. Christ was the one accomplishing something on that day, riding into Jerusalem in order to humble Himself by being obedient to death, even death on a cross. And Christ is the one who is accomplishing something today! He is delivering to you the very forgiveness He secured in His suffering and death. A holy life all came down to this, a holy week. All His blessings, His glory, His love, His grace, all comes down to delivering to you, in Baptism, in Absolution, in the Lord’s Supper, in the proclamation of the Gospel, the very forgiveness He secured in His holy life and brought to fulfillment in that holy week. The forgiveness, life, and salvation are eternal. Amen.


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