Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Anne Grizzle. This sermon is based on Luke 22:14-23:56Isaiah 50:4-9a, and Philippians 2:5-11.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  We began this morning crying aloud like those early pilgrims waving palm branches and walking into Jerusalem behind Jesus riding on a donkey. But we do not just say these words on Palm Sunday. Why are they so familiar to us?

We will say those words again today, and every Sunday, as we prepare to remember Jesus in the way he asked at the beginning of our passion reading today.  He sat eagerly with his disciples at the Passover meal breaking bread that he said was his body given for us, drinking wine that he said was his blood of the new covenant.  We will join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven when we cry out in the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.  Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.”

What do we really mean when we cry out these words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord?”

Blessed – happy, honored — is he who COMES.  We have a God who comes.  God is not far off, watching our behavior like a distant judge.  Our God COMES DOWN.  At Christmas we celebrate God coming down to earth, down to a stable, down to wander as a refugee, down to a small town, down to work and walk with us. In Holy Week we remember God coming even farther DOWN, down into suffering and passion.   Our reading from Philippians reminds us of the great humility of Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Most of us hope for upward mobility.  Jesus embodied downward mobility – and invites us to follow him on that path.

God still comes to us.  What a joyful experience it is to sense the presence of God in a sunrise or blooming of 100 or 2 daffodils or sudden warm breeze on our face. But more surprising and magnificent is sensing the presence of God in the middle of our passion, our suffering.   When Jesus prayed in the garden, straining so much that drops of blood came like drops of sweat, we heard that angels ministered to him. Last week I visited a Japanese friend, Yasuko, a relatively new Christian believer, mother of two sons ages 8 and 10, who has been battling cancer.  It started in her leg, but now is in liver and lungs.  I saw her in the hospital and asked how she was.  She looked at me and said, “Good”.  And I said, “What makes it good?”  She said, “Two angels came over me last night. I could feel them behind me.”  That does not take away her pain; it is getting greater.  Nor does it take away her grief imagining leaving her husband and sons.  But she has experience the sense of God coming down to her in her suffering.  And his promise to all of us amidst the suffering that this life inevitably brings, and which we may sometimes choose to embrace as we follow him, is that the God who COMES DOWN will be WITH US.

This Jesus who took on suffering even to the cross may still be found today.  He invites us to find and follow him in those who suffer.  In Matthew 25, our King, for whom we waved palm branches today, tells us that whatever we do for one of the least of these we do for him.  We can literally see and serve our Lord every time we offer food to the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the needy, visit the sick or those in prison. Those who go to Honduras or Haiti or noon lunch or to visit a sick friend or speak to a stranger looking lost on the street know about meeting Jesus in the form of brothers and sisters in need.  Sometimes we have to look closely, behind external disguises, but the beloved of God is there in every one.  Do you want to see our blessed Jesus the king?  He is pretty clear about where we can find the God who comes down.

Blessed is he who comes IN THE NAME OF THE LORD.  Kings and many leaders in this world come promoting themselves.  But this king of the universe Jesus comes in the name of another.  We just heard his prayer in the garden at the Mount of Olives when he was about to face the worst this world can offer, “Father if you are willing remove this cup from me; YET not my will but yours be done”.  I wonder what would happen if in our own prayers we made it a habit to pray in this way – over our illnesses, our children, our work and our wishes – not my will but yours be done?

This king was not promoting himself but choosing the will of his Father, choosing the way of suffering rather than human triumph or lording it over others. He invites us to come into that kingdom that seeks not our own way but God’s way.  Jesus was king, but such a different sort of king and kingdom.  A king who chose to serve.  A king who agreed to suffer.  A king who as they crucified him, prayed “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

If we are to follow this king who calls us to another kingdom, I see from our readings today at least three ways we are invited to follow: listening, serving, and suffering.

Listening.  Our reading from Isaiah 50:4-9 says, “Morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.  The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious.” Not listening can have serious results.  In our gospel reading, it resulted in a missing ear, literally.  The disciples ask “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Without listening for an answer, one of them strikes the slave of the high priest and cuts off his right ear (by the way when you wonder about whether the Bible story is really true, think about the detail of the mistaken cutting off of this right ear – how would one think to put that in if it were not the real story passed down by real people).  Jesus has to say, “No more of this!” and touch his ear to heal him.  Talk about showing mercy amidst the betrayal and poor behavior of another, this must be one of the greatest examples!  I take from this story that ears and listening are really important.  Let’s all take time, especially in this holy week, to listen for God.

Serving.  Jesus our king starts the last supper, as we will on Maundy Thursday, by washing his disciples’ feet.  What might be a way this week you can seek to serve others as a way of serving Jesus? Who are you being called to serve?  In what way?  Holy week is a good time to make a new step or commitment in this direction.

Suffering. Rather than try to get out of every suffering, we might try pushing into it.  Not courting suffering but when it comes, looking for God’s presence and praying for the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, for Yasuko’s angels maybe. What are your own small disappointments or large losses which might be transformed into opportunities for fellowship with the one who comes down?  What crosses of others might you, like Simon of Cyrene, offer to help carry?

Listening. Serving. Suffering.  This is a strange king we bless and follow.  We might start following this king more carefully by coming to the full array of passion services – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  When we do, I guarantee, the Easter celebration takes on a whole new meaning.

As we come to the communion supper he invites us to today, we remember the events we will recount in this coming holy week.  Let’s be listening for the mysterious presence of this servant king of love who comes down. And as we say “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” let it be a proclamation of our desire for Jesus to be our Lord anew. Let it be, on this brink of Holy Week, a way of saying, “come Lord Jesus into my life, help me to be part of bringing God’s kingdom, that strange magnificent kingdom of listening, serving, and suffering.  Have your way in my life. Hosanna in the highest.”