GOD’S STEADFAST LOVE — SERMON FOR PALM SUNDAY (PSALM 118)
This sermon was preached by Rev. Robert Cornwall for Palm Sunday. I am so honored that he quoted from my new book Hope in Disarray.
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” That’s what the crowd shouted when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Perhaps they sensed that Jesus was enacting the 118th Psalm as he entered the gates of the city in triumph. Yes, this was the day the Lord had made, and so they rejoiced and were glad in it! (Mk. 11:1-11)
The Psalmist declares: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” We’ve been invited to join Jesus in entering those gates so we can give thanks to God whose steadfast love endures forever.
Palm Sunday serves as a transition point between the season of Lent and Holy Week. The opening lines of the 118th Psalm serve as a perfect closure to our Lenten emphasis on the covenants God made with the people of Israel. That is because God’s steadfast love is the foundation for these covenants.
The Hebrew word that is translated here as “steadfast love” is chesed. This is a powerful word of assurance, but perhaps the translation could be even stronger. That’s what John Holbert believes because he translates chesed as “unbreakable love” or “unbreakable connection.” In other words, as Holbert puts it, “there is finally nothing you and I can do to stop YHWH from seeking connection with us.” [Patheos, 3/25/2015].
This is why Chesed is a covenant word. It contains the promise that God will be present with God’s people through thick and thin. This is the one constant in Israel’s history. So, when the people were experiencing a crisis, they would call out, as the Psalmist does: “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!” (Vs. 25). Now, this prayer for success isn’t a request for material prosperity. No, the Psalmist asks that God would provide the resources that would be needed to get through the crisis at hand. This is really a declaration of trust in God’s covenant promises that are rooted in God’s unbreakable love. It is with that knowledge, that the people can give thanks to the Savior.
Getting back to Jesus’ triumphal entry. It’s clear that the crowd was ecstatic. In the words of Thomas Troeger, this was “a cheering, chanting, dizzy crowd” that was “hailing Christ as king aloud” and “waved branches in the air” [Chalice Hymnal, 193]. They recognized in Jesus the presence of God and so they welcomed him to the city, laying their cloaks on the road and waving palm branches. If you’d been there that day, you might have expected Jesus to rally the troops and take power in Jerusalem. There was precedent for this. A century and a half earlier, Simon Maccabeus was welcomed into the city in similar fashion after he ran the Syrians out of town. The people welcomed Simon to town by waving palm branches and shouting words of praise (1 Macc. 13:51). Perhaps they expected Jesus to follow Simon’s lead and run the Romans out of town, but Jesus took a different route. Instead of taking the throne, he was crucified by the Romans. Returning to that Thomas Troeger hymn: “Lest we be fooled because our hearts have surged with passing praise, remind us, God, as this week starts where Christ has fixed his gaze” [CH 193]. While the cross lay in Jesus’ future, it would prove to be an expression of God’s unbreakable love. We might not fully understand the whys and the hows of this act on Jesus’ part, but we can take comfort in knowing that even in challenging times Jesus is present with us.
When we gathered last year online for our Palm Sunday service, I chose the reading from Philippians 2 as my text for the day. In that sermon, I acknowledged the first responders who were putting their lives on the line to save those who were suffering from the virus. I also acknowledged the grocery workers and farmworkers who risked their health to provide food for our tables. I connected these sacrificial acts with the revelation in Philippians 2 that while Jesus “was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” (Phil. 2:6). In other words, God’s steadfast love enables God to take risks on our behalf, just as these frontline workers were taking risks for our good.
While we’re closer to the end of the pandemic, who would have thought then we would still be living in the midst of the pandemic a year later. But here we are. Nevertheless, as we begin another COVID impacted Holy Week, we can take comfort knowing that God’s steadfast love endures forever.
When it comes to experiencing the presence of Jesus in times like this, I found these words of my friend Grace Ji-Sun Kim insightful:
The Christian faith is different from what the world teaches. The Christian faith is not “seeing is believing,” but rather, “believing is seeing.” We must open our eyes and hearts and see Jesus’ presence in our lives. We need to see him in the places that we dare not to look and dare not to think about. [Hope in Disarray (p. 42). Pilgrim Press. Kindle Edition].
On this Palm Sunday as we find ourselves in places we didn’t expect to be and as we ponder an uncertain future, may we pray that God would open our eyes and hearts so we can find hope in the promise that God’s steadfast love has been revealed in Jesus.
With this promise of God’s unbreakable love as the foundation for our faith, let us wave our palm branches and shout words of praise to Jesus as he enters the gates of righteousness because today is the day the Lord has made. Therefore we can rejoice and be glad as we join all the saints of God in proclaiming “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”