MATTHEW 26:14-27:66
APRIL 9, 2017

          “So they went with the guard and made Jesus’ tomb secure by sealing the stone.”  That’s how today’s Passion Gospel ends.  It seems anti-climactic.  After all we’ve just heard, after all the emotions we’ve just experienced, they sealed the tomb.  And that’s that.  That’s the end of today’s gospel.  That’s where we’ve been left.

We’ve been left hanging, so to speak.

It’s a day for hanging.  Today we saw Jesus hanging on the cross.  This is not a new image, of course, but today it holds uncommon power.

Today, Palm Sunday 2017, I remember all who have been left hanging.  I remember Jesus and countless others crucified by the Romans.  I remember all in our country who were lynched and shown no mercy.  And I remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Today is Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017.  On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1945, exactly seventy-two years to the day, Lutheran Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken by Nazi guards from his prison cell in Flossenberg, Germany and put to death.  They put a rope around his neck and hanged him.

Why?  It’s a long story, but here’s the short version.  Our Lutheran brother Dietrich stood in opposition to Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime.  In the face of evil, he did not shrink.  He stood firm, and he paid the price with his life. 

Years before Bonhoeffer was murdered by the Nazis he preached against what he called “cheap grace.” Cheap grace, he said, was “forgiveness without repentance; baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without contrition… grace without the cross.”

In opposition to cheap grace, Bonhoeffer preached the cost of discipleship.  He admonished the rest of us to take up our own cross and follow Jesus.

On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1945, just a few weeks before the end of World War II, our brother Dietrich paid the cost of discipleship.  He gave his life.  The Nazis put a rope around his neck, and they hanged him.

And so, on this Palm Sunday seventy-two years later to this very day, I wonder: what price do I pay for discipleship?  On a scale of one to ten, where do I fall?  And where do you fall?  Do we pay the cost of discipleship, or do we simply rely on cheap grace?

Discipleship costs more than a nickel or dime or a quarter.  It takes more than an hour or two on Sunday mornings, once or twice a month. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way:  “If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life.  We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. The psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected… and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross.  But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life committed to Christ.  The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest.  Only those thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross.” [from A Testament to Freedom]

These many years later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges each of us to follow Jesus, to reject cheap grace, and to pay the cost of discipleship.

That cost will be different for each of us.  Dietrich was clear about that.  His way of martyrdom will probably not be our way, and that’s okay.

Still, he calls us to reject cheap grace and pay the cost of discipleship, whatever that may mean for each one of us.

In his words: “The cross is laid on every Christian.  The first Christ-suffering which every person must experience in the call to abandon the attachments of this world.  It is that dying of the old person which is the result of our encounter with Christ.  As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death – we give over our lives to death.  Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.  When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die.  It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like [Martin] Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world.  But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old person at his call.”

Earlier this morning we blessed palm branches and carried them in procession.  We do this on Palm Sunday in remembrance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when the people “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” in honor or Our Lord.

So when it comes to Christian symbolism, most of us probably relate palm branches to Palm Sunday. But there’s another symbolic meaning for palm branches.  Do you know it?  In early Christian art, palm branches were carried by the martyrs.  Especially as depicted in early Christian mosaics, those who carry palm branches are those who died for Christ.  They are those who paid the ultimate cost of discipleship. They gave their lives.

In my mind, the palms they carry are symbols of their own lives: lives they offered to God.

How much of your life have you offered to God?

Those who carry palms gave everything.  How much do you give?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer and all the martyrs gave everything.  Have you given enough of yourself for the cause of Christ?  He gave everything for you.  Palm Sunday reminds us of that every year.

We began this season of Lent on Ash Wednesday.  During Lent the church calls us to self-examination. In the sermon on Ash Wednesday I challenged you to use your baptismal vows as a framework for self-examination.  As we enter Holy Week, let’s review The Baptismal Covenant, examine our lives, and renew our commitment to Jesus Christ and his church.

The Baptismal Covenant begins on page 304.  Please stand.

Celebrant:  Do you believe in God the Father?

People:       I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant:   Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People:        I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

                   He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

                   and born of the Virgin Mary.

                   He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

                   was crucified, died, and was buried.

                   He descended to the dead.

                   On the third day he rose again.

                   He ascended into heaven,

                   and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

                   He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant:   Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People:       I believe in the Holy Spirit,

                   the holy catholic Church,

                   the communion of saints,

                   the forgiveness of sins,

                   the resurrection of the body,

                   and the life everlasting.

Celebrant:  Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers ?

People:        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People:        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People:       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People:        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People:        I will, with God’s help.


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