Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Palm Sunday comes soon, and with it the beginning of Holy Week. I’m not a big fan of reading big chunks of the Passion narrative on this day, even though it is a tradition that goes back quite a ways in the church. I understand why people do it, but I like giving Palm Sunday its due. It has more than enough to sink our teeth into all by itself.

Palm Sunday is an episode of Jesus’ life that is well-known to us. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” the people shout as they wave their palm branches. Waving palm branches is often a tradition of churches these days on Palm Sunday, often going along with a procession of some sort as well. The interconnection of Jesus’ actions with the prophecies of old is rather profound. Zechariah 9:9 foretells the King riding in on a donkey (as Solomon did long ago). Psalm 118 is what Jesus cites as He tells the Jews in Matthew 23, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” The connection to Palm Sunday is immediately apparent. Here is Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to claim the throne of His father, David, just as His predecessor had done. The people cheer, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” just as Jesus had foretold. Everything is going according to plan.

We hear the passage so often that significance of the passage in the Gospel of Matthew eludes us. Jesus foretells the peoples’ reception of Him in Matthew 23, but His entry into Jerusalem takes place in Matthew 21. Palm Sunday has already taken place. (It is worth noting that Luke places Jesus’ statement a little prior to His arrival in Jerusalem.) In Matthew’s estimation (by the guiding of the Spirit) we aren’t really talking about Palm Sunday. Jesus is directing the people to look further ahead.

As with many things Jesus says about the Kingdom of God, the future is always in sight. Jesus gives us a glimpse of life within His Kingdom when it is fully and finally established in this world forever. We must never lose sight of that End Times connection, but we must also remember that if we are always swinging for the fences we miss the solid hits that are a bit closer to home.

Again we hear the words so often the significance eludes us. Around the world, congregations gather to celebrate the work of Christ. Around the world, churches lift up their voices and sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Around the world, the Son of David, the King of Kings comes into our presence just as He foretold. Jesus was not just looking at the Last Day. The King is here with us and His Kingdom with Him. Jesus was looking at His presence in the life of His people now.

There is the perception among some that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God. This is usually thought because we all draw on the same (more or less) history as given in the Old Testament. However, for both Jews and Muslims, one of the most central aspects of the god they worship is his ineffableness, his unreachableness, his existence beyond all true knowing or understanding. We don’t deny God has all of these characteristics. He truly is bigger than any knowledge or understanding we will ever have. Yet, at the very same time, He is very much knowable. He is a God who exists far off in the unreachable heights of heaven and yet He is right here with us where we can see Him, hear Him, touch Him, and yes, even smell and taste Him. We Christians, alone of all others in the world, when asked where God is, can point to the altar where the bread and wine sit and say, “He’s waiting for us right there.”

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” is our song just before our celebration. Deep down, the church has always understood the significance of the Sanctus and what it says about Communion. The King is here. The church acknowledges every Sunday to ultimately be a celebration of Easter and the resurrection. We can also say every Sunday, as we gather around the Lord’s Table, we are celebrating Palm Sunday. We gather together, waiting in eager expectation for our invitation to His Table. We sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” and we hear God’s response, “Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

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