Welcome the King - Palm Sunday Sermon

Welcome the King - Palm Sunday Sermon

Several months ago, when coronavirus was still safely half a world away, we were sitting around the table with some of our ESL students one Sunday evening talking about the disease and the response to it: the way things were being shut down and travel restricted in other countries far away from here. And I said, confidently, “That would never work here! Americans are way too independent to be told what they can and can’t do and where they can and can’t go!” Talk about being wrong. Call me your pastor, but the title “prophet” I will not claim.


Everything has changed, and it all happened so quickly. You woke up one day and it was like you awoke in a different world. A new reality had dawned. I suppose it’s always this way with the big, defining moments in history that shape generations, that impact and affect everyone’s lives forever after. I was fortunate to get to know enough members of the Greatest Generation and to hear their stories about growing up in the Great Depression and living through or fighting in World War II. Those events in history shaped who they were. That generation was never the same.


Every generation has those moments. Perhaps you came of age amid the social revolutions of the 60s and 70s, Vietnam war, Cold War, and so on. I suppose in more recent memory the 9/11 attacks. Overnight things changed. September 12 was different. Everyone learned to take off their shoes and empty their liquids if they wanted to get on the airplane. Fear, mixed with patriotism, lingered in the air long after the smoke and dust had cleared.  


Now, here we are. A big, defining, moment in our lives has come upon us. Our leaders invoke the language of war. We’re living with unprecedented measures and shut-downs in place. It’s too early to tell, really, what this will all mean for us. But we know that life is never going to be the same. We will be able to divide our lives into pre- and post-COVID19.


None of us really wanted this change. Quite possibly, you are right now wishing for your old life back. Quite possibly, you find yourself overwhelmed by all the uncertainty of what’s to come. Quite possibly, you find it unpleasant to confront what we’re all realizing, unhappy that this isn’t a thing that’s going to go away overnight and quite possibly you find it difficult to sort out the implications it will bring with it, how our lives are going to change going forward.


Big, defining moments in history are like that. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from beneath our feet. Americans who said or thought, like I did, that it could never happen here, never, with our best doctors in the world, most advanced technology, and incredible wealth…well, the One enthroned in heaven laughed and scoffed at us and flipped our world upside down and it took the Lord nothing bigger than a submicroscopic infectious agent .12 microns in size to shake our world, to change everything and to do so basically overnight.


If you don’t deal well with change, you’re not alone. Come along with me today to see a different moment when the history of this world was dramatically altered, a day when you woke up and found that everything had changed.


There wasn’t social media to broadcast it, but word had gotten out that Jesus was heading in to Jerusalem. And right off the bat you notice that things were different, for Jesus, who so often kept a low profile and refused praise is now borrowing a donkey and letting people sing their hearts out: Hosanna in the highest! they sang, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! And they waved their palm branches and they put their coats down on the road and they welcomed the Son of David into that great city of Jerusalem.


People were excited—yet, like us, I suppose the vast majority of them didn’t know just what to make of it all or how big and earth-shattering the next eight days were going to be. I wonder if Mary, who long before had held a little baby on her lap while shepherds and Magi came to call and aged prophets fawned over him, I wonder if she thought this was it. The moment for which she had pondered and treasured all those things in her heart. The time when her son would rise to full glory as the One and Only Son of the Father, God from God, Light from Light. I wonder if the disciples, with beating hearts, were anticipating great and glorious things for themselves in the days ahead. After all, if this was the welcome, what were the next days going to bring? 


If so, imagine how dramatically and how quickly their world was turned upside down. By the time that week ended, Jesus swapped out praise from his followers for insults, lies, and death sentences, and the guy who borrowed a donkey for a ride was borrowing a tomb for a short, three day stay. The disciples were frightened and were self-isolating. It would take weeks for them to sort it all out. They were face to face with a world that had changed, overnight, as it would seem to them.


What about us? We have a benefit here in that we’ve seen this whole story unfold. In fact, we can go back to the prophet Zechariah and let him tug on our sleeve and whisper into our ear so that when we wake up on this Palm Sunday we know exactly what is going on and how this world was changed because of it.


Zechariah lived five hundred years before Palm Sunday, but he was a prophet and he had the Word of God. Someone suggested you think of the words of prophets like Zechariah as if they are louvered blinds. The people in Zechariah’s day, like in Jesus’ day, they were standing back and all they saw were closed blinds. But Zechariah draws us up close so that we look parallel, through the slats in those louvered blinds. Look with Zechariah, and you see clearly what’s going on.


Our King is coming to us, a King who is both mighty and righteous and powerful to save and humble and lowly and happy to be among us as one of us. The way the world was shaken on Palm Sunday was the way the world was shaken by Jesus’ incarnation and his crucifixion: here he is, the Son of God, come into this world filled with war and disaster and, yes, plague and pestilence, illness and disease, and riding into it to break the bow, shatter the spear, speak peace to the nations and give us all reason to rejoice.


Really, this is so. Zechariah says, “rejoice greatly, shout aloud” for your King is coming to you. Your King did come; he rode in on Palm Sunday and by week’s end he had suffered, died, was buried, and rose again. And ever since, this world has never been the same.


But not in the kind of unsettling change where you’re left scratching your head, wondering what happened and what’s coming next. This is solid ground, bedrock that will not be moved no matter what defining moments are still to come for us in our generation. We have this as bedrock: that Jesus Christ, our King, is still coming to us today. Riding into this world. Even, and especially when the foundations have been shaken.


How? He comes right now, in his Word, and he rides that humble mount of words not from a prophet but from a simple pastor, from you reading his Word at your kitchen table, to bring his rule to your heart. To set up shop within your heart and soul and to fill you with what you most need right now. Certain things like peace, salvation, and a reason to rejoice.


Is it overwhelming to think about how different our lives are going to be? Is it hard to reckon with how long this self-isolation and shutdown is going to last? Is it difficult to feel at ease when so much feels like so much has been taken away or shaken or will just never be the same again? 


If so, then lift up your eyes and see your King riding to you today. See him, confident and able in his rule over all things. Listen to him as he assures us that while you might not get your old life back, you most certainly have such a great new life in him and with him.


And if we have life in Christ, we have reason to rejoice and shout aloud. Come what may. I’m not a prophet, but I have a feeling we may look back on these days and say, “You know what, that was a time when the Lord drew me closer to himself and when I realized all the more fully how much his Word matters and how I am able to rejoice in all circumstances because I have a righteous King who comes to me bearing my salvation. Amen.