Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Palm Sunday, March 29, 2010
We hope and pray that this Lent, your Lent, has been productive and rewarding, yielding some spiritual fruit. After all, this is what Lent is all about, preparing your soul for the upcoming Paschal Joy.
Now, we are on the threshold of another church season. Without, we pray, overstating the obvious, it is the season that defines Christianity, We are now preparing, in earnest, for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are getting ready for that spiritually rich and blessed season of Easter. While materially poor when compared with Christmas, it is the more blessed of the seasons simply because it is the raison d’etre for Christianity, its very reason to be.
Yet, we are not here to preach an Easter sermon. Not yet. While we “strain in the harness”, so to speak, as we press forward towards the blessed Resurrection , it is not yet time. Today, we deal with the whole, nasty, business of the mock trial of Christ, his betrayal into the hands of sinful, expedient men, and the subsequent, merciless, torture-death inflicted on our Lord. We read about the “prisoner swap” of Barabbas for Jesus, the just for the unjust feel the burning injustice of it all. Perhaps we can almost feel our throats burn with hoarseness from shouting, as we fancy ourselves part of the faithful crowd that cried out for Jesus’ release. The coarse mob would have none of it; but, being lashed into a frenzy by the Scribes and Pharisees, they bellowed for Jesus’ death.
We know the rest of the story. Christ, who had been scourged with the heartless Roman whips, whose ends were laden with sharp metal, was virtually on the point of walking unconsciousness. How brutal…. Now, Christ was led to the Praetorium to undergo further degradation. He was arrayed in a gorgeous royal robe and mocked by the band of hard Roman soldiers. These were career legionnaires, who had signed up for a single thirty-year hitch, after which they would be pensioned off with land and money. So, why not? They had some cruel fun with this prisoner, this so-called King.
Thus, a mock pageant of adoration began, as the soldiers both mocked Christ and pummeled Him. Before all this however, the King needed a crown. In a sadistic turn of satanic ingenuity, the soldiers platted a crown of long, sharp Palestinian thorns for Jesus. This crown they bestowed on Him, not gently laying it on His head for a king, but forcing it down with brute force, as for a usurper of kingly glory. Imagine how the blood flowed! Those of us who have had even a minor scalp wound know.
Now, not only from his torn and tattered back, lashed with 39 stripes, but from His head flowed the precious liquid. Ah, Sacred Head, sore wounded!
Although Matthew’s Gospel does not tell of it, from historic devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, we believe that Christ fell three times on his way to the cross. Weak from loss of blood, fasting and thirsty, he simply couldn’t bear the weight of it. Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear his cross for Him.
Now, we come to the Cross. Christ is stripped before the gaze of the rude crowd; Rough hands drive spikes into his hands or wrists and then into his feet. He is elevated on the cross and there he hung, in speechless agony. Countless muscle cramps afflicted him, and each agonizing breath required him to press upward on his wounded feet to obtain air. In every way, this barbarous execution method was an amazing odyssey of pain. He did this for all of us, for you. It was his hard joy so to do.
This brings us to the topic of St. Paul’s Epistle selection for the day from Philippians 2. St. Paul tells us Christ humbled himself, and was made like unto us, by sharing in our human nature. However, stated like this, Christ’s uniqueness is understated. Christ did not only share in our human nature, He took Humanity into His Divinity. The human did not become divine, but rather the divine took on humanity. How glorious is this humility! Christ deigned to lay aside his divine power so He could taste death, real human death for all of us. Some translations say that He “emptied” himself as He did this, yet in no way did He become any less divine in so doing. The Greek word for this is keno,w,, “to empty.” One heresy said that Christ laid aside his divinity completely during the Passion and was merely human. Later, this heresy claimed, Christ reassumed His Divinity to rise from the dead. Suffice it to say that this is totally erroneous and does violence to the dual-nature doctrine of Christ.
One of the mysterious and glorious aspects of the Crucifixion is that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, did consent to suffer and die upon the Cross for us. If Christ were not God, He could not take on the sins on mankind on the Cross. If He were not fully Man, the sacrifice would not have been efficacious.
We do not debate either point. We know that Jesus Christ, perfect Man and Perfect God, suffered and died on the Cross for us. We do not fully understand, nor are we able to comprehend, the profundity of the Holy Sacrifice. Yet, we take God at His Word and accept it, humbly. We fall before His Cross, speechless and prostrate, ovecome by Love.
” Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” Christ’s glory is such that all living things should reverence and worship Him, to the exclusion of all else.
To Christ belong all glory, laud, and honor. All things in Heaven and Earth should bow at His mention and do him reverence. This is why we slightly bow our heads at the name of Jesus. This is not mere affectation; it is giving honor and glory to Him who is most deserving.
There will come a day when all eyes shall see Him, as he returns with glory. Much of mankind, the godless and the faithless, will look up and “mourn” as they behold Christ’s glory in the skies. They will see their world coming to an end. Real, eternal judgment is about to proceed on them.
On the other hand, the faithful and the godly, anticipating Christ’s appearance, will look up and give thanks. Fearful it will be, yet the faithful will look up and say, “My Lord and my God.”
This is what Palm Sunday is all about. We recognize the price paid for us. We recognize that Christ hung there for us. We recognize, in silent adoration, that Christ’s love for us is the reason.
Let us begin Holy Week with this in mind. As we have borne with it in Lent, for one more week we must bear our own iniquity. While unable to justify ourselves, we can at least say: Christ did this for me.
Philippians 2:9-11 “ that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN