Sermon for April 9, 2017 (Palm/Passion Sunday)

Sermon for April 9, 2017 (sixth Sunday in Lent—Palm/Passion Sunday)
Scripture readings (Liturgy of the Passion):
Isa. 50:4-9, Psalm 31:9-16, Phil. 2:5-11, Matt. 26:14-27:66

On this, the last day of Lent, the RCL has two liturgies---one for the liturgy of the Palms and one for the liturgy of the Passion.  The sermon below is related to the latter. As to why the RCL has two liturgies for this day, click here.

THE END OF GRACE (Psalm 31:9-16)
By Lance McKinnon

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, which begins Holy Week, which includes Good Friday when we focus on the crucifixion of Jesus. As we do, there is a question that may rise up in our souls: Does God’s grace come to an end on the cross? And if Jesus is the Son of God, what assurance do we have that God’s grace will not at some point come to an end for us? During Holy Week, headed toward Easter, let’s ask and answer an important question: Is there an end to grace?

One of the lectionary Scripture readings for Palm Sunday is Psalm 31, which helps answer our question. This was a Psalm Jesus must have been praying during his crucifixion—the language clearly mirrors his own experience. The language also mirrors our experience as we find our need for deliverance from sin, death and darkness. As Jesus hung on the cross, he quoted Psalm 31:5, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” So if this Psalm was on Jesus’ lips and heart on the cross, what answer do we see the Father giving to the prayer in Psalm 31:9 (ESV), “Be gracious to me, O LORD…”? Was God gracious to Jesus on the cross? As Jesus identifies with us as our brother, the answer he receives from the Father is the same answer spoken to us. So again, is there an end to grace?

Christ Carrying the Cross by Titian (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

As we read further in the Psalm, we find a running list of all that Jesus was seeking grace in, including relief from distress, grief, sorrow, sighing, weakness, misery, sickness, death, being unknown, emptiness, hearing words that tear us down, and fear. Reading this Psalm, it doesn’t take long for our souls to say amen to Jesus’ experience on the cross. His prayer is also ours. “Lord,” we pray, “be gracious to us in the time of our suffering.”

How will God answer that prayer? Is there an end to his grace?

After making this list of our sufferings, we long to hear the answer to Jesus’ prayer for grace. Our souls and body call out for deliverance from the mess we find ourselves in. We are wrapped up in the cross with Jesus and we know that if grace runs out for him, certainly we are without hope. So we wait and listen. Then Jesus breathes his last.

After all the suffering, sorrow and scorn, praying for deliverance, praying for grace, the answer to Jesus’ prayer was resounding silence.

Jesus died. Is there thus an end to grace? The answer is clear. YES! But if our hears are sinking at that answer, let me explain.

Think about a woman who has just delivered her baby. Referrring to her situation, we might say, “Ah, the end of labor!” By that we mean that the pain of her labor in childbirth had ceased. But what if we were to take that baby in our arms and lifting her high in the air exclaim: “Ah, the end of labor!” By saying that we would not be referring to the cessation of pain, but to the goal—the final result of herlabor, the newborn baby!

This is what we see at the cross. Was there an end to God’s grace there? Absolutely—not that his grace ran out there, but that the goal of his grace was fulfilled. At the cross, God was gracious to his Son, and through his son, to us.

The “endgame” of grace was the death on the cross of the list of sufferings articulated in the Psalm that Jesus quoted. The end—the outcome—of grace was deliverance from our distress and grief. The end of grace was the wiping away of our sorrow and sighing, replacing our weakness and misery with Jesus’ own strength and joy. The end of grace was to restore us from sickness and death. The end of grace is for us to be known and filled, hearing words of affirmation from the Father of his great love for us, setting us free from all fear.

The ultimate end of grace is found in the final verses of our passage. “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God'” (Psalm 31:14 ESV). Also, “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love” (Psalm 31:16 ESV). This was the endgame of the Father, Son and Spirit on the cross. Jesus took all that stood in the way of our face-to-face trust relationship with the Father and utterly destroyed it on the cross. His death was the death of all sin, death and darkness. The cross can be seen as the mighty “NO” of grace the Father speaks to all that is against us. It is on Easter, with the resurrection of Jesus, that we hear the thunderous roar of God’s definitive “YES” to all that he created us for. Yes, there is and endgame of God’s grace. And to that we say, hallelujah!

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