Tenth Sunday after Trinity
In the Divine Service, right before we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we sing the ancient hymn called the Sanctus: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Why do we do this? These words are taken from certain passages of Scripture, but there are thousands of other wonderful Scripture verses. Why do we sing these particular words at this particular place in the Divine Service? Why have Christians all over the world for the last 1,500 years sung the Sanctus right before receiving the Sacrament of the Altar? Ponder this question as we look at the gospel text appointed for this Sunday.
Everyone knows about Palm Sunday. It’s the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People threw down their cloaks in the road to make a path for him, the children waved palm branches, and everyone shouted, “Hosanna, hosanna!” This is a Hebrew word that means, “Save us, please!” We sing this word in the Sanctus, “Hosanna! Save us, Lord!” The crowd was convinced that Jesus was going to save them. They were singing and dancing and rejoicing. And what was Jesus doing? While the crowd shouted and waved palm branches, Jesus was weeping.
This is where our Gospel text begins: When Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it (Lk 19:41). Jesus looked out upon the joyful scene and knew that this crowd shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” would very soon be shouting “Crucify him!” He saw the holy city of Jerusalem before him, the capital city of God’s chosen nation, and knew that her leaders were plotting at that very moment to have him killed. Jesus gazed at the ancient city walls and massive gates and knew that within one generation the Roman army would encircle them, razing them down to the foundation and slaughtering everyone inside. The terrible judgment of the Lord, unlike anything that had ever happened before in history, would soon be poured out upon the beloved city of God. Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! And now, your house will be left desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Mt 23:37-39).
The King of Glory was riding towards Jerusalem, and though the people were rejoicing on Sunday, they would crucify their king on Friday. “Save us!” they cried – but from what? From the Romans soldiers, of course. Save us from foreign oppression. Save us from high taxes. Save us from unemployment. Save us from racism and hunger and poverty. Put food on our tables and money in our pockets and our favorite politicians on Capitol Hill. Save us! But that was not the salvation that Jesus had come to bring. He had come to bring peace, but not between the Romans and the Jews. He had come to make peace between God and man. That wasn’t the peace that God’s people were looking for. So Jesus wept, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Lk 19:42).
The people looked at Jesus and what did they see? A man? A great prophet? A powerful preacher? A wise teacher? Jesus was all of these things, but he was far more. He was the living God, the Creator of the universe, God-incarnate walking among men. He was the very same God who had appeared to the prophet Isaiah, seated high upon his heavenly throne, surrounded by thunder and lightning and smoke, the Lord God Almighty of the hosts of heaven. The flaming cherubim that attended him cried out one to another, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!” (Is 6:2). These are the words of the Sanctus. And when Isaiah saw the Lord, he fell down on his face in the dust and cried out, “Woe is me! …For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is 6:5).
This same King was now entering Jerusalem, riding on a humble donkey. When a king went out to wage war, he rode a mighty stallion. But when he came in peace, he rode a donkey. Jesus had come to make peace. The Lord of Glory was entering Jerusalem to purchase peace for his people with his own blood. The spotless Lamb of God had come to the slaughter, bearing the sins of the whole world. For thousands of years, God had promised that this day would come. He had spoken through the mouths of his holy prophets. The pages of Scripture foretold the coming of the Savior, and on this day the promise of God was being fulfilled. Emmanuel had come, God with us, to atone for the sins of his people, to end our self-declared war on God, to make peace.
But what did the people see? They saw a man riding on a donkey. A carpenter from Nazareth. Perhaps they saw a military leader who would drive the Romans out of Palestine and usher in a new kingdom of God on earth. But they did not recognize that God himself was riding among them. He was hidden from their eyes, and Jesus said, “You will not see me again, until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Mt 23:37-39). Once again, these are the words of the Sanctus.
Jesus entered the temple and found it full of merchants and moneychangers. Everyone was engaged in buying and selling. The temple had become a den of thieves instead of a house of prayer. The center of worship had been converted into a marketplace. They dealt with every kind of business under the sun, except for the one thing that is the business of the church – the forgiveness of sins. The temple is where sacrifices for sin were made. This is where the lambs and bulls and doves were slaughtered. It’s where God had promised to meet his people and forgive their sins. And on that day, Jesus, God’s Passover Lamb, had come into the house of the Lord, according to God’s promise. He had come to be the great Sacrifice for all people and for all times. He had come… and his own people didn’t recognize him. The temple should have been swept clean and ready. They had no more need of rams and goats and pigeons. The people should have been bowing before the altar as Jesus entered, crying out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Here is the Lord of Glory, come to save us! The spotless Lamb of God has come to bear our sins and be our Savior! Hosanna!” But they were too busy with the hustle and bustle of life to notice him. The church had time for everything else, but no time for her Lord. So Jesus turned over the money tables. He threw out the merchants. And then he walked out the temple and never returned. He would be crucified, not in the temple, where sacrifice should have been made, but outside the walls of the holy city between two criminals.
Our churches today are often so full of coffee shops, day care centers, rock bands, and various other “ministries”, that we too are in danger of not recognizing our Lord. And our minds can be full of even more clutter. It’s easy to get caught up in this problem and that problem, running to and fro, chasing shiny things that won’t last, and ignoring the only problem that really matters – you are a sinner and you need the forgiveness of sins. You don’t need saved from the Democrats or the Republicans, from the IRS or the credit card company. Your problem is not that you need to make peace with the North Koreans, or the Muslims, or your mother-in-law. You need peace with God. You need to have your sins forgiven. You need to be where Jesus has promised to be, so that you can receive what he has promised to give. And where is that? Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt 18:20). We began our service in his name – in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So, according to Jesus’ promise he is here among us. And what has he promised to do? When Jesus appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection, he said to them, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The peace that Christ gives is nothing other than the forgiveness of sins. Sin separated you from God. Sin made you God’s enemy. And the forgiveness of sins restores you to peace with God. This is why you come to church – because Christ has promised to be here for you forgiving your sins and giving you peace. By faith the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes so you can recognize Jesus when he stands among you. And how does this happen? Does Christ really, physically come to us today? Oh, yes he does!
Before you come forward to the communion rail in a few minutes you will sing these words, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.” This is your confession that the Christ who comes to you is not simply a man, a teacher, a prophet, but God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made – the same God who appeared on his glorious throne to Isaiah. With Isaiah you bow before him and cry, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.” Sabaoth is a Hebrew word that means “heavenly hosts of armies.” The Lord God who commands the armies of angels is keeping his promise to visit you today. This is the day of your visitation and, unlike those who once did not recognize their Lord, you cry out in faith, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” “You will not see me again”, Jesus said, “until you say these words.” And so we sing them in the Sanctus with expectation, for Jesus promises to show himself to us. And he keeps his promise.
“With my own eyes,” Simeon said, “I have seen the promised Salvation of our God. Now I can depart in peace.” You too will sing these words today. With your own eyes you will see, not simply bread and wine, but the true Body and Blood of Christ. Here is Jesus bodily present among you, just as he promised. By faith you see him and recognize him. Here is Christ coming to you in the name of the Lord, announcing that he has made peace between you and God. Here is Christ poured into your lips for the forgiveness of all your sins. You cried out, “Hosanna in the highest! Save us, Lord!” and he hears and answers your prayer. This is why you came to church, for Jesus has promised to meet you here today with forgiveness and peace – none of the other clutter matters. None of the things that we often fill our minds and our churches with are important compared to this: Here is Christ, come to serve you. This is the Divine Service. Christ comes to you. And we respond in faith and joy, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Amen.