Sermon: A Love Story

Sunday, April 10, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Palm / Passion Sunday
watch this service online (readings start around 12:35, 22:04; sermon starts around 41:37)

This is the story – the great story – the central story of our faith.  It’s the story that the church has been remembering and retelling in many and various ways for thousands of years, through wars, famines, floods, plagues, and even persecutions.  Like generations of the faithful before us, we follow Jesus on this Lenten journey to Jerusalem.  And no matter the circumstance – whether we are physically together or forced to be apart – the journey always leads us to the same place: here, at the threshold of Holy Week.

Today, we read the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem amid shouts of “Hosanna in the highest, hosanna!” – a cry that, in Hebrew, roughly translates to “Save us!”  And yet we read in the story how quickly this shouting turns into chants of “crucify, crucify him!”  We follow Jesus all the way from a stable in Bethlehem to the cross on a hill in Jerusalem – and beyond it, to the empty tomb.

It’s a story of violence and hope; a story of faithfulness and betrayal, a story of life and death – but above all, this extraordinary story is a story about love.  Jesus Christ is God, who chooses to be born among us as a human, and every moment he walks upon the earth is marked by love, especially in these last days.  With love, Jesus helps his grieving followers to understand what is coming; he tries to prepare his disciples for the mission they must undertake once he’s gone.  He even forgives those who betray and kill him as he hangs on the cross dying.  Jesus pours himself out freely for others, giving himself away like bread for the hungry.  He gives away his body and blood and even his very life out of undying love for the world.  

It maybe sounds like a silly comparison, but I’ve noted before that this sacrificial love Jesus embodies sometimes makes me think of the character Westley from the movie The Princess Bride.  Westley goes to the ends of the earth for his true love, Buttercup, even risking his own life for her.  At first she takes delight in ordering him around the farm where they live.  But he simply does what she asks, replying to every demand she makes with, “As you wish.”  Eventually, Buttercup comes to realize that each time Westley says to her, “As you wish,” what he’s actually saying to her is: “I love you.”

This is the resounding message of the story we remember again this week.  In the same way, Jesus makes his love known again and again, freely giving whatever is asked of him.

When he prays to God in the garden to take this cup away away from him, Jesus ends his prayer by saying, “yet, not my will, but yours be done.”  
As you wish.  (I love you.)

When Judas comes with the crowd to arrest him and take him away, Jesus asks, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you betray the Son of Man?” 
As you wish.  (I love you.)

When the chief priests and elders and the authorities ask Jesus repeatedly, “are you the king of the Jews?” he replies, “you say that I am.”  
As you wish.  (I love you.)

When the crowds get riled up and start shouting for Jesus to be crucified, he doesn’t resist, but goes willingly to his death on the cross.  
As you wish.  (I love you.)

And when the criminal hanging on the cross beside him asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, he replies, “truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.”  
As you wish.  (I love you.)

Jesus freely gives himself away.  He is so full of love that he readily pours himself out for others in response to all their demands.  As Paul writes in our second reading, he doesn’t flaunt the fact that he is God made flesh; he doesn’t demand the praise and love and adoration God deserves.  Instead he empties himself, humbly taking on the role of a servant.  He really is like the lover in a great love story.  He does anything to be with the one he loves, gives everything to try to win over his beloved.  He never stops, even when his beloved demands his death.  And even after his death, he still doesn’t stop.

And he’s still not stopping.  Because Jesus is the lover in a great love story – he’s the lover in the great love story – in this love story.  And he’s still calling to his beloved – to humanity – to us – calling us with that same persistent, gentle, unstoppable love, calling us to turn back to him and come home.  

This week, I invite you to answer that call – to answer it as Westley would: “As you wish.” (I love you.)  Take the time to let yourself be fully drawn into God’s great love story once again.  Let the cries of “Hosanna” – “Save us” – and the shouts of “Crucify him” roll off your lips. Come to the table this Thursday for a last supper with Jesus and his disciples on the night in which he is betrayed.  Come on Friday to lament and grieve at the foot of the cross where Jesus is crucified.  Come wonder at the empty tomb on Saturday and Sunday and rejoice once again in the victory of love over death.  

Come.  Come and see.

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