Palmarum (Palm Sunday) 2020
As we enter into Holy Week, we hear a profound message from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. He tells us that Jesus, who is the visible image of the invisible God “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” What does this mean? The translation is a little difficult. Another way to translate that phrase is that Jesus did not consider His equality with God a thing to be forcibly hung onto, a thing to be touted. Instead, Jesus lived as if He was not God in the flesh. He became a bondservant, humbling Himself and becoming obedient to death on the cross. He, who knew no sin, became sin, bearing the sin of the whole world.
On Wednesday in my adult Confirmation class, we were discussing the Lord’s Supper. One of the things we talked about was what we think about while receiving the Lord’s Supper. I said that I couldn’t speak to specific thoughts, but rather the general attitude. When we use Settings One and Two of the Divine Service we get to pray the Eucharistic Prayer during the Communion liturgy. I think they summarized our Lord’s Supper attitude perfectly in this one sentence: “With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His Body and His Blood on the cross.” While it’s an oxymoron, it’s the paradox that is the Christian heart during the reception of the Sacrament.
Hosanna in the highest! Save now, we pray! The excited Jerusalem crowd knew the One whom they greeted. They knew He was the Messiah. Just yesterday they witnessed Jesus’ raising of Lazarus, Jesus’ dearly beloved friend who was four days into the sleep of death. With that miracle, combined with all the others He had done, combined with the preaching they had heard, they saw all they needed to see. They cut down palm branches, they cast their garments before the Lord of heaven and earth, their promised King, their promised Savior, the only one who could answer their earnest prayer, “Hosanna!” They greeted Him as He entered His city, greeted the One whom the prophets had foretold since the Fall into sin.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.