O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Take Up Palms
Take Up Palms
Based on Jn. 12:12-19
Preached on March 29, 2015
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Fellow baptized saints, did you know the date palm was among the earliest cultivated trees? They are characteristic of oases and other watered places, and their fruit is edible. The judge Deborah rendered her decisions under a palm tree, and the Hebrew poets counted the palm as a symbol of beauty and prosperity. Palms were used in the construction of booths for the festival of booths, and carved images of palms were used by divine command to decorate the temple.
Now, not everyone in Jerusalem may have known all this. Whether they knew it or not, it seems likely that at least some of those who cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David," were confused about what was happening or where Jesus was going. But the saints in heaven, the ones washed in the blood of the Lamb, were not. St. John, in his vision of the apocalypse, sees palms in the hands of those who have come through the great tribulation and have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. They take up palms to identify with our Lord's entry into Jerusalem as a sacrifice. They rejoice to see the real victory, not a military hero or a great visionary, but the sacrifice itself who rode on to redeem them despite the terrible cost.
Palm branches represent an oasis, water and food, rest and shelter, in a barren and hostile place. This is what God gives in the temple and in His Word: He gives refreshment, rest, safety. Jesus is the temple built without hands, decorated with palms as He enters His Holy City. He abides in the hearts of the faithful. He enters into them through His sacrificed, yet risen, body and blood. So the saints in heaven decorate themselves like the temple on earth, with palms, for they are the place of the Lamb's gracious blood, the temples of the Holy Spirit.
This is why we also can take up palms. We are yet in the great tribulation. We are still attacked by the devil, the world and our fallen nature. Yet we are one with them, this great cloud of witnesses, our brothers and sisters who have gone before us in the sign of faith. We too are temples of the Holy Spirit. We too identify with our Lord's victory in death. So we take up palms.
That doesn't mean every one of us has perfectly understood all this, either now or in years gone by. We too might be confused, only dipping our toes into the waters rather than getting in for a swim. We may be like some of the crowd on Palm Sunday, even the holy apostles themselves. The meaning of the palms or kneeling or the chants may escape our understanding, but that is okay. The kingdom comes by grace, not by understanding. You have a lifetime and beyond to enjoy and to learn these things.
But what might be worse is that we may not fully understand what the Lord Jesus has done for us in allowing these terrible things to happen to Him. We may not understand why He rode that Sunday and how He answered the cry, "Hosanna" - that is "Save us NOW." While we may never fully solve these mysteries here on earth, we certainly do well to apply our hearts to wisdom and to contemplate these holy things. So let us do this now as we prepare to hear our Lord's Passion, and walk with Him through this Holy Week.
First, we need to remember that our God, the Lord Jesus, rode to His death on the cross as a man. He took up our cause and has taken our very nature to the cross. Human nature, fallen and corrupt, was under the wrath of God. It was impossible for men to find favor with God in this state. The Scriptures teach us that all "were by nature the children of wrath," "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified," and the "wicked shall be turned into hell, and all people that forget God."
This is what the Christ took up: our flesh of wrath. He took it that He might do and suffer what was impossible for us. He carried our nature through His earthly days as a life of penance. He carried it in agony, suffering in all the ways we suffer, until He submitted, at last even to death. In Him, our sinful nature died and rose again. It died on the cross and was buried. Yet that death was its new creation. There in Christ, it satisfied its old and heavy debt. For in Him, our nature was without sin. He had kept it pure. He had kept the Law. Thus, when it had been offered up upon the cross and was made perfect by suffering, our nature in the Christ became the first-fruits of a new man and was restored to its place in creation and beyond.
He did not sin; the Law was fulfilled. He was not a child of wrath, yet He allowed the Law to do to Him everything that the Law demands of Law-breakers. He was declared a child of wrath and was not spared any of hell's fury or sin's shame. Again: the Law was fulfilled. It has nothing left to accuse us with. It was all spent upon Him. Our nature, in Christ, is clean once again. He was declared a sinner. He paid the wages demanded by justice, and you are declared righteous and holy and receive the wages of mercy.
And so, Paul writes that if one died for all, then all died; our old man is crucified in Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed; and together with Christ when we were dead in sins, He quickened us, and raised us up together, and made us sit down together in Him at the right hand of the Father.
We are now members of his body from His flesh, and from His bones. His bride. The One made for Him. The One made from what flowed from His pierced side. Water baptism and blood wine. For whosoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.
This is why the angels and perfected saints rejoice this week and hold their palms. This is why our Lord let these terrible things happen to Him. Because He was thinking of you, and having you be with Him at His Father's side. So let us take up palms with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, let us sing Hosanna - Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. For Your King is coming to you, coming to this altar to save you with His blood. In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr