Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sermon - Palm (Passion) Sunday

In the Gospel reading we heard at the beginning of Mass today, before the palm procession, we heard Matthew tell us that Jesus rode into town on a donkey that day, long ago, on his last journey to Jerusalem. Why is this detail important? Matthew gives us a clue when he quotes from the Prophet Zechariah:

“Behold, your king come to you, meek and riding on an ass.”  (Zech 9:9)

What a contrast it must have been. The people crowded the streets having heard that the Savior of Israel was coming to town. Many, even most were hoping for a Savior that would kick out the Romans and reestablish Israel as an independent nation. The Savior that they wanted would have arrived on a large prancing horse, maybe even in a Chariot, with warriors following him carrying bows, swords and lances. But Jesus arrived on a donkey, an animal of the poor and lowly. His followers appeared to be ordinary men and women, fishermen, craftsmen and housewives.

There were a few in the crowd, however, that knew and remembered the ancient prophecies about the expected Messiah and what he would be like and what he would do. One of these ancient prophets was Zechariah whose writing is quoted by Matthew.

“Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. ” (Zech 9:9)

When the Apostles and early Christian writers sought to understand the meaning of what happen that day when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem they were lead to Chapter 9, verse nine of the book of Zechariah in the Jewish scriptures, our Old Testament. If you read from that verse to the end of the chapter you will be amazed at several other prophecies that appear right on the mark with the Gospel that Jesus taught. Verse 10 says:

"His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior's bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” (Zech 9:10)

The horse, the chariot and weapons are certainly signs of a military world view. While Jesus does call us to be warriors in a battle it is not a military campaign that he leads but a spiritual one. Then Zechariah says:

“As for you, for the blood of your covenant with me, I will bring forth your prisoners from the dungeon. In the return to the fortress of the waiting prisoners, This very day, I will return you double for your exile.” (Zech 9:11-12)

Under the New Covenant, confirmed in the blood of Jesus on the cross, Jesus provides us the means for us to be freed from captivity. Not from a jail or prisoner of war camp or from exile but from the captivity and exile of sin. In the sacraments our sins are forgiven and we are set free. Our reward will not just double the time we have spent in sin but an eternity of Joyful freedom. Continuing Zechariah says:

“For I will bend Judah as my bow, I will arm myself with Ephraim; I will arouse your sons, O Zion, and I will use you as a warrior's sword” (Zech 9:13)

Wow! Those humble and ordinary men and woman marching into Jerusalem with Jesus that day will be the army of the new covenant! We, the Church, are the spiritual army of our God. We believe that God will shield the church through the ages. Remember what Jesus said to Peter and the Apostles?

“And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

Listen to what Zechariah wrote all those years before:

“The LORD of hosts shall be a shield over them, they shall overcome sling stones and trample them underfoot;” (Zech 9:15a)

Then Zechariah says something that foreshadows the very reason we come here every Sunday and reminds us of the importance of the event we celebrate on Holy Thursday. Speaking of the followers of the Messiah, the Church, he says:

“They shall drink blood like wine, till they are filled with it like libation bowls, like the corners of the altar.” (Zech: 9:15b)

“For what wealth is theirs, and what beauty! Grain that makes the youths flourish, and new wine, the maidens!”   (Zech 9:17)

Jesus calls us, God’s children,  adopted sons and daughters to this table to drink his blood, like wine, and eat his body, like bread made from grain, that we might flourish on the wealth and beauty of his gifts, his saving grace.

I call on you to join in the great celebration, this week, of Christ’s passion and resurrection. The liturgy of Holy Week is called the “Triduum”. It begins on Thursday, the feast of the Last Supper, where we recall Jesus giving the church the Eucharist, the means by which his followers can ‘Eat his body and Drink his blood’, in all places and times.

In our Parish, the beautiful liturgy of Holy Thursday will be celebrated with great joy. Mass will be followed by ‘adoration of the blessed sacrament’ until midnight. Please plan to come and stay with the Lord into the night, the night he will be arrested.

Mass will not be celebrated again until the start of our celebration of the resurrection on Saturday evening. On Friday we gather to commemorate the death of Jesus by reading the Passion, venerating the cross and receiving the Eucharist saved from the night before. This is the second day of the Triduum liturgy.

The third liturgy of the Triduum occurs on Saturday night, Easter Vigil. The celebration continues on Easter Sunday Morning. All of the celebrations of the resurrection will be joyful recognition that the Son of God who was executed for our sin has risen in glorious confirmation of our covenant with him as sons and daughters.

© Copyright 2011 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication
    may be reproduce in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

1 comment:

Rick Hilber said...

Thank you for an excellent meditation.