Behold, O daughter of Zion, your King comes to you humble and riding on a donkey. What an odd parade that must have been. The cheers of the crowds, the voices of the children lifted up in praise, the strewn garments and waving palm branches. And in the middle Jesus. And what expression does he wear on his face? This is no ticker-tape parade for a returning champion. He is not waving and smiling to the crowd. For Jesus knows the week that he is about to face. Jesus knows that is not riding in a king's triumph, but rather in a convicts final procession to the gallows. The crowds don't know it, the disciples don't know, but Jesus knows it: he is riding to his death.
And this is not the only irony that presents itself in the Gospel lesson today. Pilate says that he washes his hands of this matter and that he is innocent of this man's blood. Little does he know that the whole world is guilty of this Man's blood – for this is the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. Furthermore, Jesus is the Word made flesh – but he replies not a word to Pilate he does not care for the Truth. Bar-Abbas, which means son of the father, goes free while the Son of the Father goes on to die. Jesus is convicted of being what he is: the King of the Jews – indeed the King of all there is, God in the flesh. And then the last and greatest irony of all – more than than irony, though: a great mystery: God in the flesh cries out that God has forsaken him. And the whole creation shudders at the mystery with an earthquake and shuts its eyes at a mystery so great by blotting out the sun.
All this, Jesus knew as he rode on that Palm Sunday. And still he rides on. Not a smile on his face, but clinched teach, a furrowed brow, and eyes focused on the goal. He rides on to his Passion, his suffering and death at the hands of sinners, for the sake of his Passion, his great love and determination to save sinners. He is ready. He is prepared to do this loving act. He is ready to have the weight of the sins of the world pour over him and weight him down in death. Indeed, he is ready to lay down his life for no one can take it from him. He, the Son of God, is ready to die so that all sinners might become the sons of God in Him. He, the Truth, is ready to submit to the lying Sanhedrin so that all men might be called to finally have True Life. For he is the Life, yet he came to die to put death to death.
And he does this all for you beloved. The goal he has in mind as he rides on among the howling crowds is your salvation. Before you were in the womb he knew you, and he does all this for you. Oh yes, he knows you that well. He knows when you have played Pilate – caring for expediency and comfort more than Truth. He knows when you have played Peter – denying him so as not to offend others or to save your own skin. He knows that Barabbas' violent deeds have echoed in your heart when you think on your enemies. And still he rides on. He knows all that, all your sins, all the things you hope no one will every know about you: and still he is determiend to love you, to save you, to die for you.
There is no other way to do this. There is no other way to bring cleansing to your soul. God had no magic wand to wave to give you forgiveness and eternal life. It doesn't work that way. Sin must be paid for. And it's wage is death. And so Jesus pays it. He takes up your flesh, he endures your burden, he kills your sins in his own body on the cross.
So do not be afraid, beloved, to admit and confess and repent. He knows it all already. You cannot hide from his gaze. So learn to confess your sinfulness – to admit that it all really is true. And then give up on yourself altogether. And instead turn to Jesus and look to him alone. He is enough. His Passion, his love and suffering, for you give you forgiveness and life. He cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” so that you will never have to. You are his beloved and would do anything – has done everything – so that you might spend eternity with him. In Jesus there is nothing for you to fear – not even death: for death could not hold Jesus in the tomb, and so it cannot hold you, his beloved.
So rejoice, o Daughter of Zion. For you King still comes to you. Once he came to suffer and die and rise again that you might have life. Now your King comes to you to give you life and make you his own in Holy Baptism. Now your King comes to you to wipe away your guilt and shame in Holy Absolution. Now, here, today your King comes to you still in that same Body and Blood which rode that donkey and which died on that cross and which rose again from the tomb. So how fitting it is that every time he does come to you like this that you cry out with the crowds: Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest! He comes for you, o daughter of Zion, o son of God, o child of the heavenly Father. Receive him and have Life that never ends.