28 March 2021†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††† ††††Saint Athanasius Lutheran Church
Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďOne Who Dies For AllĒ
Text: John 12:12-19; Mark 14-15
race, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
ďEven one death is too many.Ē
Youíve heard that phrase. Probably from the lips of a politician. And usually in the context of telling us how many death there have been from COVID-19. The number is large and shocking . . . but even one death is too many. It sounds very pious. Itís a good sound bite in our sound bite world.
Truth is, though, not all deaths are equal. Some get more press than others. The name Patricia Dowd probably means nothing to you, but George Floyd does. (Patricia is thought to be the first person in our country to die of COVID-19.) Or when a national leader, or a celebrity, or a sports star gets COVID or dies from COVID, it makes the news. When the guy lying in a nusing home, or the woman down your street, or a homeless person gets it or dies from it, not so much. But hey . . . even one death is too many.
We could say the same thing about abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia - even one of those deaths is too many. But those arenít usually part of the conversation.
And consider this too: if evolution is true, then this saying is not. One death is really no big deal at all. Just one more in a long chain of deaths. Suvival of the fittest. Nature doing its job, weeding out the old and the weak, while the young and strong thrive. Itís just the way things are. Isnít it?
So the truth is: weíre confused, arenít we? About death. Is it good or bad? Good in one time and place, and bad in another time and place? Is it useful or useless? Is it a friend, an ally? Or an enemy? Or both? Like an animal - sometimes tame and domesticated, and sometimes wild and out of control?
But death is here, in our world. And it doesnít care who you are, what race, how old, your status, or your education level. People die and will continue to die. Not from COVID, but from sin. It is sin that has brought death into the world, and that will bring your death. And no medicine, no science, no vaccines, no man-made solutions will stop it. Thereís only one who can. The one who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Thatís what today and this week are all about. Jesus marching into battle. To battle death. ALL death.
Because for Him, for Jesus, for God, it really is true: even one death is too many. No one was meant to die. No one. But we thought - and sinfully often still think - we can do life better than God. Yeah, really! But all we did in the end, was death.
And for God, itís not just physical death. Thatís all weíve really been talking about so far. But for God itís even worse. He sees what we do not see - those dying spiritually, eternally. Which is far worse. And one of these is too many for Him. For the God who created all life wants all life to live with Him forever.
So the God who created all life rides into Jerusalem today to battle death. He enters this week as a mighty warrior, hailed with palm branches and shouts of victory. He ends this week dead, looking quite vanquished, wrapped in a shroud and laid in a tomb, to quiet sobs of grief.
But this one death is exactly what was needed. For the death He died was yours. As God, Jesus couldnít die. As sinless and perfect, He shouldnít die. But in Jesus, God is made man, and as the Lamb of God He dies with your sin, as your substitute. Jesus didnít want to die. When faced with death in the Garden of Gethsemane, He agonized. But even more than He didnít want to die, He didnít want you to die. So He would die. For you. Your death. To break the grip of death on you. And this was the only way to do it. That just as we imposed death upon the life He created, He would impose His life on the death we created. And with His resurrection, He does so. He is victorious.
So maybe weíre a Sunday too early with our Palm Branches. We should really wave them next week, donít you think? When the tomb is empty and the victory has been accomplished for us? When our shouts of hosanna have been fulfilled! Well, donít worry. Youíll have that chance. Not because weíre giving out palm branches again next Sunday. No, even better. Youíll do it for real, in heaven. For as John told us: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ďSalvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!Ē (Revelation 7:9-10)
So today we wave our palm branches, not in imitation of those in Jerusalem that day, but in anticipation of Jesus, our King, coming again for us, and when we will wave them on that eternal day. On that day when there will be no more death, only life. Life eternal.
And itís why we sing hosanna. And not just today, but every Sunday, as our King comes to us not humbly on a donkey, but humbly in bread and wine. Coming to hosanna us, save us, from our sins with the forgiveness of our sins. What He accomplished for us that week given to us here every week: forgiveness, life, and salvation. As we, again, anticipate His coming again, and the feast of heaven, which will have no end.
One of our children demonstrated that connection this week. In our Childrenís Bible Story Time on Thursday evening, we were talking a little about palms and Palm Sunday and one child starting singing hosanna - but not the hosanna of the hymns we sing today, but the hosanna in the liturgy we will sing today, tying together Palm Sunday with the Lordís Supper. Perfect. Thatís how the liturgy teaches us eternal truths.
And today, especially this truth: that for God, even one death is too many. And so Jesus doesnít die for some, or most, but for all. That all may have life in Him.
So let me suggest another way of thinking that is again quite opposite of the world. For Iím sure youíve heard the saying: you only get one life to live, so live it to the full! Take advantage of every opportunity. Donít let anyone hold you back. The problem with that is that people then forget about death, which comes at any time, and often quite suddenly and unexpectedly. And so theyíre not ready.
So instead, how about this . . . Instead of: you only get one life to live, you only get one death to die. And hereís why I think thatís better: because no one pays so much attention to living as the one who knows he is dying. They are the ones who make every moment count. They are the ones who take advantage of every opportunity. They are the ones who pay attention to what really matters. They say what matters, they do what is important, they want to use the time they have left wisely. So theyíll be ready when death comes.
So this week, we do that - we look at death so that we live. We learn how to die in faith to live in faith. Faith that sets us free from the fear of death, for though we will die, yet shall we live. In the One who died and yet lives for us. To Him, even one death really is too many. But for us, His one death was exactly what we needed.
So let us now hear that story again, today and all this week. The story of His death. The story of our life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.