Palm Sunday

April 14, 2019


     19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

     25 Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!

     26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!

     28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

(Psalm 118:19–29 ESV)

I know this is not school and the majority of us have long passed the days of homework when it is something we must do for the next lesson. Perhaps I should stop saying from the pulpit, “here’s some homework for the coming week” when I suggest that you read the book of the Bible I’m preaching – because if nothing else, it might suggest that you don’t read your Bible during the week! I suppose I am trying to work against the atomisation of the Bible and worship so that when you hear a reading you know the book, the context, the story, the background – which, of course, then helps you hear the reading or the sermon. So today on this Palm Sunday when the Christian Church recalls Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem I am refraining from saying ‘here’s some homework’ but I am going to suggest that if you’re unaware of Psalm 118 that you grab your LSBs and open them and let your eyes skim over the words. You can get a sense of its message as you hear me.

Psalm 118 is a thanksgiving and praise psalm. No one is sure of its context but it probably has a national celebration background – a victory for the king or the restoration or even rebuilding of the temple. It celebrates an individual’s happiness and there are also verses where the community join in and everyone is praising God and encouraging each other. Tough times have come – enemies have attacked – there is a need to defend and to act – there is victory and a sense of relief because the odds were against them – and there is joy in the celebration and a story to tell – and now credit where credit is due.

The psalm might be thought of as a song with 3 verses – and the middle verse is sung by a soloist (maybe the king himself, maybe a cantor) and the beginning and ending is more a congregational song but we simply don’t know. What we do know are the words – in fact all we have are the words. But when it comes to Scripture – the words are enough. If we’re not sure of one lot of words, we can look up other words – before or after – similar contexts perhaps – to arrive at a meaning – and remind ourselves of the principle that ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’ – and so when in doubt about something in the Bible – keep reading!

Psalm 118 is also one of 6 psalms known as Hallel Psalms (‘hallel’ means ‘praise’) and Psalms 113 – 118 are still used today in Judaism to celebrate something joyous. For us to particularly note is that these psalms are used at the Passover – before and after the meal – and when the Bible says after the Passover meal in which Jesus instituted Holy Communion that everyone sang a hymn when they went to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) we assume this was the last Hallel Psalm – Psalm 118.

These words in Psalm 118 were very precious to Martin Luther. He wrote: “This is my own beloved Psalm. Although the entire Psalter and all of Holy Scripture are dear to me as my only comfort and source of life, I fell in love with this psalm especially. Therefore I call it my own. When emperors and kings, the wise and the learned, and even the saints could not aid me, this psalm proved a friend and helped me out of many great troubles. As a result, it is dearer to me than all the wealth, honour, and power of the pope, the Turk, and the emperor. I would be most unwilling to trade this psalm for all of it.” (LW 14:45)

The cry of the righteous; the entry through the gates – no one wants to be locked out of something they wish to enter; the salvation; the vindication having been rejected – people can relate to these things throughout their lives – and Christians are no exception to these lived out experiences on top of which are not just the problems of living in this world – but problems of our own selfish behaviour which we battle (or not!) at times – and problems when we are the targets or victims of other’s evil or corrupt behaviour towards us. Thus such cries of relief and thanksgiving are directed towards God because we know that somehow God has worked it out – and we are in a better place because of it. That’s why we can say ‘this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it’ (v.24).

But the paradox or irony is that this is the psalm ringing in Jesus’ ears as he goes forward to be unrighteous and worse – putrid with sin, in fact sin itself and who will be locked out of heaven in the darkness suspended between heaven and earth, who will die not in salvation and glory but mocked because his God did not save him. He enters Jerusalem in a public spectacle that causes controversy and he will die in a greater spectacle but the controversy is now hidden under the mob’s voice and human violence – that the King of kings and Lord of lords suffers at his own creation’s hands.

Of course we remember this week – and Friday to come – because there is a Sunday and so today’s psalm is our psalm precisely because Jesus fulfilled it for us. That’s what Jesus does – fulfil all the psalms for us – and fulfil God’s will for us – that we may live with God. Look at what lengths Jesus will go for that will of God – that you live with God, now and forever – to happen. And it is done for you.

That is why in worship we receive God’s light and life, his food and medicine for our days in this world. Jesus is still serving us! Each day is a combination of our own choices, our behaviour which produce certain effects as well as the effects of other people’s behaviour on us. The trials and tribulations we can go through lead us again and again back to God in prayer and meditation – and we discover that God doesn’t abandon us though he might not be our genie and do as we command. Over time we do learn that God is faithful and the story of Jesus confirms it. And that is why we can face each day – even if this is the day we were to die – it will happen one day yet we can say this psalm every day! – with a confidence that perplexes the world and might even surprise ourselves,         28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Bible References

  • Psalm 118:19 - 29