Is this not an amazing thing, that your King, the Lord Himself, the Son of God in His own flesh, comes to you and makes His dwelling with you?
But what does this mean? It might be rather frightening, actually. Does He come to provide for you or punish you? To promote you, or to pull rank on you? After all, a visit from the powers that be and the governing authorities often means discipline, or some consequence for wrongdoing.
There is a certain ambiguity and tension in the coming of your King: Is He coming to put you in your place, or to remove you from the place and position you have had? Wondering and worrying about when and where and how the axe is going to fall is nerve wracking and scary. And if, on the other hand, you get your hopes up that your King is coming to set things right and make everything better in your life on earth, you’re very likely to be surprised and disappointed by what He does.
It’s true enough, as the Holy Scriptures testify, that things are pretty messed up: not only in your own personal life, but on a national and global scale. And though you may not be a ruler or a boss — perhaps you’re one of the little guys, or you’re still making your way to wherever it is that you’re going — you’ve done your part to mess things up in your own little niche or corner of life.
There is no one who is righteous. No, not one. No one but Christ Jesus, the King who comes to His own people in righteousness and peace. But then consider how this one Lord, Jesus Christ, is regarded and received. Hailed on Palm Sunday, yes, but mocked and ridiculed, condemned and crucified before the week is over. Falsely accused, brutally beaten up, and spit upon. His closest companions betray Him, deny Him, and abandon Him. So, what is such a King to do about it?
Even now, as He enters the Holy City on the cusp of His Passion, it is only because of His miracles that the great crowds throng to see Him and to welcome Him. Not even the disciples understand what’s going on, not yet. Everyone is eager for a Bread King, a great big generous Sugar Daddy, a Miracle Worker to build a glorious Kingdom on earth, to compete with the nations of the world.
To be sure, the raising of Lazarus from the dead has been an impressive Sign, as even the skeptics must admit and the enemies of Jesus grudgingly concede. But, as a Sign, it points beyond itself to something else, that is, to the dying and the rising of the Lord Jesus Himself. The way that He approached that situation, as you heard last week, has testified to that: The Glory of God in Christ is found, first of all, in His suffering and death, and only then in His Resurrection and His Life.
That is the pattern, too, of Christian faith and life, as your Baptism signifies and testifies, if you think about the dying and rising of that Holy Sacrament. It is also your experience of life in the world, with all its ups and downs, with all its hopes and disappointments, frustrations and fears.
It is frankly confusing and difficult to navigate. Just when you think you’ve finally figured it out, and gotten your bearings, and found your footing in the world, then everything shifts and changes, and you’re left not knowing what’s up and what’s down, or which way to turn.
Think of how it must have been for the disciples in the course of that first Holy Week, from Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and Easter. The Passion of Christ Jesus is a profound and powerful story, even to consider it; but it is also the life into which you are baptized, by which the Lord recreates you from the dust of death and conforms you to the Image of Christ.
It is impossible to understand any of this superficially, nor at all apart from the accomplished fact of the Cross and Passion, as manifest in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and now realized for you in the Sacrament of the Altar. The Lord’s Supper is the interpretive key to the Lord’s Passion, both beforehand and afterwards. It not only explains what happens to Him, and why, but it delivers and bestows the fruits and benefits of His suffering, death, and resurrection.
Only in the Body and Blood of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many, do you see and know and believe what is the Truth of God in Christ, your King: That He has indeed come to “take your place,” and to “put you in your place,” but in such a way that you could never have guessed or imagined or invented for yourself.
Do not be afraid, dear child of God! For the Lord has made you a beloved son or daughter of His Church on earth, and, therefore, a son or daughter of the Father in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son. Rejoice in His mercy, and give all thanks and praise to this one Lord, Jesus Christ, your King, who comes to you in Peace; not to punish you for your sins, but to bear your punishment and grant you His Peace. He comes to save you from your enemies; to give you rest from your weariness, relief from your fears, and safety in place of uncertainty; and to reign over you in love with His Word.
He has not come to “lord it over you” in the way of earthly monarchs, but, as your Lord, your Savior and your King, He calls you by His Cross and Resurrection to become and be like Him.
To that end, He has first of all become like you in every way, save only without sin. He has been tempted in every way that you are; He has suffered every burden of your mortal flesh, and every dire consequence of your sin. He truly has taken your place, your sin and death and every ill, and He has made it all His own. All for the sake of bringing you into His place with God the Father.
By His Self-Sacrifice, He opens up the way through suffering and death into the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting. For He is a priestly King, and a royal High Priest, who enters the Most Holy Place by His own Blood, in order to bring you into the presence of God in Himself.
He humbles Himself, even unto His death upon the Cross, in order to be exalted and glorified on your behalf by His God and Father. He becomes a disciple, Himself, in order to make a disciple of you by the catechesis of His Word and by your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.
So it is that your salvation is accomplished, established, and secure in the Person of Christ Jesus, in His own crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood.
Now, then, He testifies to the Sign of His own Cross and Resurrection, by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name. His dying and rising are the fulfillment of all things, and they are also then the Sign of your own dying and rising with Him, by which you are saved from sin and death unto life and salvation forever. What He has suffered and received in your place, in order to save you, He now preaches and gives to you by His Word.
His preaching to you is not simply information to be processed and stored, but it calls you to follow after Him. As you hear the testimony of His Cross and Passion, come out to meet Him, as He comes in Peace to meet you here, at His Altar, within His Church on earth.
His preaching of repentance does put you to death; it crucifies and buries you with Him. So, then, you do lose “your place,” the place that you have made for yourself, the place of sin and death, which Christ has taken from you and made His own. But so does He also bring you to life and put you in His place. He gives to you His Sonship, His Spirit, and His Glory in and with the Father.
In calling you to follow after Him, His preaching calls you and brings you into the New Covenant of His flesh and blood, which He has established forever: the Promise of His eternal Inheritance.
Beloved of the Lord, as He entered the Holy City on Palm Sunday for His Cross and Passion, so do you enter the heavenly City, New Jerusalem, by the way and means of His Cross and Passion.
And as He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with His own Blood, by His innocent suffering and death, and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension, so do you now enter with Him into that same Holy of Holies, eternal in the heavens, by His flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.
That is why the Liturgy has taught you to cry out in prayer and praise, to rejoice, give thanks, and sing, as the Lord comes to His Altar: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest, and the Peace of the Lord on earth. For here, indeed, He comes to save you now in this Divine Service; to sustain you with His Word and Spirit; and to sanctify you for the Life everlasting in body and soul with His own holy Body and His holy and precious Blood.
As He thus remembers you in mercy, and forgives you all your sins, and gives you His own Life and Salvation in body and soul, so remember Him by faith, repent of all your sins, and rejoice in His Resurrection. For as surely as He comes to you here, so shall you surely follow after Him, to be with Him where He is, even forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.