It’s okay to be happy during Lent…because of Jesus
- Order of Service: Procession with Palms, Word and Sacrament (CW, p26)
- Lessons: Zechariah 9:9-10, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-10
- Hymns: 131:1-5, 134, 133, 130
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Occasionally I wonder how much of what Jesus said and did He said and did with us in mind. For example, Palm Sunday. As much as Palm Sunday fulfilled the prophecies of Zechariah 9 and Psalm 24 about the King of glory coming to Jerusalem, it also perhaps rebukes us a little for our Lenten disciplines. It’s almost as if Jesus knew we would try to turn these weeks before Easter into a grueling, emotionally wringing sob-fest and wanted to gently say, “Not so fast, my friends.”
We think of Lent as a time of groveling penitence. Give something up. Come to church extra sad. Come to church extra often (which sometimes makes us extra sad, but that’s another topic for another sermon). Sing in minor keys. Get rid of the “Alleluias” and the flowers and any happy-colored banners. Drag out that old rugged cross to shame us and keep our smiles from getting too big. And yet today, at the beginning of the biggest, most solemn, most reverent week of the Christian year, a week that includes talking about Jesus’ betrayal, beating, torture, and murder, stripping the altar, worshipping in ever growing darkness, jumping at the sound of the strepitus during Tenebrae, perhaps even weeping as we sing “O sacred head now wounded,” or “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,” at the beginning of this week we have dancing, singing, shouting, rejoicing! We have forbidden “Alleluias” and unmuted rejoicing. We have happiness. And you know what? It’s alright to be happy during Lent. I’m not saying all those Lenten practices, disciplines, and traditions should go out the window. We observe many of them and they serve good purposes. Sin still sickens us, so we still need the medicine. We still must turn to God in repentance and faith and say, “Hosanna! Save us, please!” I’m just saying that it’s okay to be happy during Lent. It’s okay to be happy during Lent, because of Jesus, who said on Holy Monday or Tuesday, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (John 12:23, NIV84).
Glorified, Jesus says. It means to be praised, honored, given high status or rank, being wonderful or having exceptional value. When you glorify someone you magnify them, extol them, celebrate them, and clothe them with splendor. You acknowledge their dignity and worth. That word doesn’t seem to fit this week of Jesus’ life. Degradation fits. Humiliation fits. Stricken, smitten, and afflicted fits. Despised fits. Rejected fits. Hated fits. Murdered fits. But glorified?
Maybe we can see some of that glory in the Palm Sunday entrance. Crowds of hundreds or thousands sing praises to Jesus. They honor him with titles like “King of Israel,” and “Son of David” and “He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna! Save us, please!” Certainly they glorify Jesus on Palm Sunday. But it’s just a burst of glory before the doom of the cross, right? It’s one day of triumphant songs before a week of dirges, isn’t it?
Except maybe we’ve been looking at things slightly off-kilter. We’ve forgotten that everything that happens this holy week glorifies Jesus. It praises Him. It honors Him. It gives Him the highest status and rank – the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9, NIV84). Because of what He does here. Because of my sin Jesus must ride into Jerusalem. In lowly pomp He rides on to die. He bows His meek head to mortal pain. Because of me. But this is not defeat, it’s victory. O Christ, your triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin (CW 133:2). Then take, O Christ, your power and reign (CW 133:5). What once held us captive, Christ Himself takes captive. What once ensnared us, Christ now ensnares. The Large Catechism describes it this way: He has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. For before I did not have a Lord or King, but was captive under the devil’s power, condemned to death, stuck in sin and blindness…. Let this, then, be the sum of this article: the little word Lord means simply the same as redeemer. It means the One who has bought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same (LC II:27, 31). This could be a simple summary of everything that holds our focus so much in the Lenten season, Jesus is my Lord. And now, on Palm Sunday, we declare it publicly. The King is here to do His conquering: Though not arrayed in splendor, He shall make death surrender (CW 134:2).
No wonder the two great prophecies of Palm Sunday shout so triumphantly. Zechariah sings: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10, NIV84). The King comes not to punish us, but to punish sin, death, and the devil. The King comes to take our punishment, our sickness, our infirmity, our hell, upon Himself. He comes righteous, holy, and perfect, and He comes having salvation, our salvation, our rescue, our ransom, our forgiveness, our eternal life! Thus the season of Lent means not just heads bowed in penitence, but heads lifted up, as Psalm 24 proclaims: Lift up your heads, o you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle (Psalm 24:7-8, NIV84). Oh, He may not look it. So meek, so mild, so human He appears. But don’t let that fool you. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11, NIV84).
It’s okay to be happy during Lent. Without necessarily encouraging a spate of Lenten weddings (because I have enough sermons to preach as it is during this season), still, the prohibition of weddings during Lent seems to fly in the face of the joy of seeing Jesus come. We just sang, O bride of Christ, rejoice! Exultant raise your voice to hail the day of glory foretold in sacred story (CW 134:1)! In other words, Lent really weds us to Christ. Because Lent shows us the treasure of forgiveness won, and dispenses that treasure in the Word preached and the Sacraments distributed.
To those Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, our Lord said, Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Christ, our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven, our King, gave His body and His blood for us, for our sins, the most glorious, praiseworthy, noble, worthy of honor deed ever. We can’t celebrate this enough: that Jesus rode on to die. For me. You have nothing more wonderful or of more exceptional value than this: the Son of Man came to be glorified by giving His life as a ransom for you. It’s okay to be happy during Lent. Because of Jesus, Lent means eternal life. Amen.