George Burns once said that the key to a good sermon was for it to have a good start, a good finish, and having the two as close together as possible. Let’s overlook the fact that Mr. Burns just wanted to get to lunch sooner and consider one virtue of his joke. A good entrance and a good exit can benefit the audience with a lasting and memorable impression.
Our two gospel lessons this morning recount an entrance and an exit; Christ’s Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday and His crucifixion on Good Friday. The Church decided to start Holy Week with these two bookends, the good start where the people cried hosannas and the good exit where Jesus completed His work of saving sinners.
This good entrance and exit are put as close together as possible this morning to leave you with the lasting and memorable impression. The humble king entered and exited this world to give you a good start and a good finish!
This is the story of a king. Christ enters a king and He exits a king. He is the lowliest king the world has ever seen though. Christ entered Jerusalem on Holy Week a humble king riding on a donkey. No triumphant warhorse for Jesus, He chose to make His grand entrance on a beast of burden. The people cried kingly words to Him, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”
Christ exited Jerusalem on Holy Week as a humble king with crowds pleading for Him to be crucified. No impressive throne or bejeweled crown for Jesus, He chose a cross for a throne and thorns for a crown. The mocking soldiers used kingly words too, “Hail king of the Jews.” A sign was placed over Him by Pilate as a charge against Him, “This is Jesus, the King of Jews.”
It’s easy for us to hear these accounts and identify ourselves with the “good guys” of the story. We think ourselves as the crowds who greeted Jesus as the promised Davidic king with greetings of hosanna. We reenact it every Palm Sunday with our palm branches and hosanna songs. Certainly, we do so in true trust of our Lord Jesus. We celebrate because we know the king’s procession on Holy Week was to the cross that would save us. We need to consider how fickle this crowd was though and identify ourselves with that. Who ran to Christ’s defense when He was tried? Where were the cries and praises of hosanna then? Some likely turned and added their voices to the shouts of “Crucify him!”
Every sinner can see himself in that fickle crowd. With our tongues we bless and give thanks to God on Sunday. With the same tongue we curse and complain on Monday. One moment we are confident our humble king will answers our prayers. The next moment we’re complaining or scared. Like St. Paul we do not understand our own actions. We often do not do the good we want to do while we often do the very thing we hate. We sin.
During Holy Week we’re also called to identify ourselves with the religious rulers, the soldiers and with Pilate. We like the Pharisees and Scribes are guilty of self-righteousness; quick to judge, slow to forgive. We like the soldiers mock Christ’s suffering and death every time we sin and take for granted the cost of our salvation. We are as unjust as Pilate when we allow injustice and wash our hands of guilt by thinking that our knowledge of the truth somehow forgives our apathy and lack of action.
We do not have a good entrance into this world. We are born under sin and the condemnation of God’s Holy Commandments. We were conceived with sinful flesh and have been God’s enemies from the start. If we are wise we will confess this truth about ourselves; we are sinners. Anyone who thinks he is wise is a fool, while all of the truly wise know they are fools. That is wisdom, but it is also true for saints. Anyone who thinks himself a saint is a sinner, and damned, while the saints know they are sinners.
If we do not repent we do not have a good exit ahead of us. The Scriptures teach that the wage of sin is death. The death you will die is because of the sin that clings to your very flesh. Without forgiveness eternal death in hell is the inevitable end. Even those who mocked Christ at His death would one day meet their own graves. Death it seems is the ultimate equalizer. Rich or poor, infamous or a nobody, when you meet death it pays no respect to your person. It is the last enemy.
A comic I once read showed a man’s car parked in a grave as a voice chimed in, “You have reached your destination.” Below the picture read “The Inevitable Navigation System.” Death is the inevitable exit of us all if God had not sent us our humble king.
Our bad start and our inevitable bad exit is exactly why God gave us the humble king of Holy Week. He was innocent where we were guilty of sin. Even Pilate could find no wrong in Him, but the crowds pressed Him without evidence of wrongdoing. Christ had lived the life without sin that we could not. On the cross He received the wages of our sin by His death. He was forsaken by God when we should be forsaken. Finally, when He exited this world on Good Friday breathing His last, the earth quaked, the temple curtain tore in two, and a Roman soldier who might have mocked Him exclaimed, “Surely this was the Son of God.” This humble king who entered lowly on a donkey and left humbled on a cross is God on earth sent to save you.
The blessed new of Holy Week is that by what the humble king suffered He has given you a good start where you had none. Baptized into His death the wages of sin are paid, you are forgiven. Just as He promised Christ has sent you the Holy Spirit that you might shout hosannas in true faith, trusting that Christ has answered your prayer to save you. The king has given you a good start, but He also promises to bring it to completion, so He now sustains you again and again with His life giving, sin forgiving Word. He feeds you His very body and blood in the Sacrament to strengthen your faith in Him.
Finally, the king has given you a good exit where you had none. Just as God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, so for the six days of Holy Week Christ created your salvation and on the seventh day He rested in the tomb. So, forgiven by Christ, when you exit this world your tomb is not your inevitable eternal location. Instead a Christian death is a good finish, for the Christian knows and trusts the humble king who has entered death first and defeated it. Your exit of this world, and all Christians before and after you, leads to a new entrance, the resurrection of your flesh to eternal life. That is your inevitable destination dear Christian friends and it’s possible because the humble king entered and exited this world to give you a good start and a good finish! In Jesus’ name, amen.