A Hearty Welcome
Matthew 21:1-11

We’re celebrating two unique but intertwined events today, the first and most obvious is Palm Sunday, the second is the baptism of Luke and Maisey.  As you entered the church it was plainly obvious that it is Palm Sunday, with all the Palm fronds decorating the entrance way and the carrying of fronds at the beginning of the service.  Then when you sat down you may have noticed the Paschal candle lit and the lid of the font removed and filled with water.  The former we see once a year, the latter happens often during the year as families bring their children to be baptised.

Both are times of rejoicing.  We heard in the gospel reading the crowds who had gathered to welcome Jesus were shouting in the fulfilment of ancient prophecies, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  They were cutting branches and laying them in the road and even taking off their cloaks and laying them in the dirt, marking the way for the procession and giving the Son of David a clean path to travel on.

We rejoice when a child is brought for baptism too, we choose a special song to welcome them, we join with them and their families as they confess their faith and make promises to pray for them and set them a good example and we usually applaud them too as we welcome them into God’s family.  Sure we don’t stand and yell at the top of our voices for the world to hear, but in our way we are doing a similar thing.  This is a fulfilment of Christ’s commission to us, to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded us, this is something to be excited about.

Baptism is a time of welcoming too, we welcome the one who is newly baptised into God’s family.  The crowds were welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem in the same way as they would welcome a King, and we welcome those who are baptised in his name.  We are connected to Jesus and his people through baptism, in baptism our sins are washed clean and we are set free from the bondage of sin.  So baptism also marks a new beginning, a new era of life, life as a forgiven believer in Christ.

Today marks a new beginning for Luke and Maisey and we also celebrate the beginning of Holy week.  Today there are Hosannas and branches and palm fronds, as the week progresses we will make the move into Jerusalem as we gather again around the Lord’s Table and remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Then we will progress from table fellowship through betrayal, trials, denials, floggings to the crucifixion.

These are difficult stories to hear, they are challenging to us to hear, to understand, to recall, to experience again, but it is beneficial to hear them all over again, or even for the first time.  Too often these days we see Easter as a chance for a long weekend and this year it’s a super long weekend, or we pick and choose which services over the period of Holy Week will suit us to get to.  Easter is a time in the church year to live our faith and experience the journey to the cross and the resurrection on Sunday, to be reminded of the lengths God went to in order that our sins would be forgiven.  How do we truly hear the Gospel unless we hear the good news in its entirety? 

Yes it is spread from today, through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, yes some of you have experienced it as you have attended Lenten Services over the last few weeks since Ash Wednesday but I encourage you to come and hear it again.

When you take the journey through to the end, joining together with the crowds during the triumphal entry, being served by Jesus on Thursday in the Lord’s Supper, feeling yourself as accuser and judge on Friday as Jesus is convicted and sentenced to death, and rejoicing with Mary and the others on Easter Sunday as they discover the tomb is empty and that Jesus has risen from the dead, then you have heard the story in its fullness, having been convicted yourself by the law and set free by the Gospel.

No your salvation doesn’t depend on your being at every service over the coming week, but it sure would help us to fulfil the promises we make at each baptism of bringing our children to the services in God’s house, of teaching them the Lord’s prayer, the creed and the Ten Commandments, and praying for them along the way, and to remind us of just how much God loves each and every one of us.

As we heard this morning in our Psalm, give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever.  Not just back at 2000 odd years ago, but today and forever, this all happened for you, so that your sins would be forgiven, so that you might live in the hope and knowledge of eternal life, and so that you would grow to love the Lord and serve him in response to his gift to you.  Is that too much to ask?  Is that really such a burden?  I’ve probably made it sound that way, I want this to be an invitation, a welcoming and a beginning, not a binding and burdening contract.  Live your life in the love that is given to you through Christ Jesus, and give thanks to the Lord for all his goodness to us.

Take the small cross made from palm fronds with you, let it be a reminder to you throughout this week, that Jesus began his journey into Jerusalem as a humble king, riding on the back of a donkey, with his eyes firmly on the cross on which he would suffer and die for our sake.  Take that journey with him through scripture and worship this week, and live in the knowledge and hope of the resurrection into new life that he welcomes us into.