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Palms and Victory / Lenten Mid-Week

Revelation 7:9–17

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

This coming Sunday brings one of the sharpest, remarkable twists in the life of the Church. As Jesus Christ enters His Holy City of Jerusalem, He’s enjoying and receiving praise by all the people before the Feast of Passover. They wave palm branches and sing, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” However, all these victorious chants were faithless because in only a few short days, those same chants will end when they start shouting, those “Crucify Him!”

When you consider the Bible as a whole, palms held an even greater distinction at another ancient, annual Jewish festival, the Feast of Tabernacles (or tents). All Jewish men were required to celebrate it, in person every year in Jerusalem, so that they would remember how God provided for Israel during the forty years in the wilderness. During this feast, they came with leafy boughs and palms, and they lived in tents. It’s similar to how some of us might go camping in a tent for a week in the summer. In this way, the people of God remembered how God provided for His people in the wilderness. He gave them manna, meat, and water.

Unlike Passover in the spring, the Feast of Tabernacles happened in the fall, usually in late September or early October, close to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

On this particular day, the high priest would take two goats. One would have all the sins of the people confessed over its head and be released into the wilderness as a scapegoat. The other goat was sacrificed, then the high priest would take that blood when he entered the Most Holy Place in order to place it on the Mercy Seat. During the Feasts of Atonement and Tabernacle, the Israelites reminisced their unfaithfulness and rebellion against God in the desert. Further, they knew that most of the first generation who left Egypt never entered the Promised Land.

When Israel camped in Jerusalem every year, they not only remembered their past failures and sin but beyond that, they remembered all of God’s wonderful and generous provision. Their sandals never wore out, they ate manna and meat, and they had water every day. Moses said, and you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord. . . . You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year (Leviticus 23:40–41).

On Sunday, you will be given a palm, primarily to remember Palm Sunday, but mostly to joyously celebrate your victory in Christ today and every day! Yes, we know we are on the verge of Holy Week. We will witness our Lord instituting His Supper, battling Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer, and being betrayed by Judas. We will also witness Good Friday and Christ’s suffering and Passion. But remember why Jesus does it all: to give you an eternal victory. Therefore, you wave palms now, as John shares in His Revelation vision of heaven. There, all the saints will hold palm branches in their hands with white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb, crying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).

Even though you may feel naked and alone right now, remember you are as brightly clothed as the saints in heaven because you are Baptized and covered in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Adam and Eve were ashamed and naked after they sinned, grabbing for leafy fig leaves. God eventually covered them with skins and forgave their sin. It’s never comfortable to be naked at any time or in any weather. However, remember this! Jesus was stripped naked by Roman soldiers and beaten for you! They even placed a purple robe on Him and crowned Him with a crown of thorns. Shortly thereafter, He was shamefully hung naked on a cross so that you and I never face eternal nakedness and shame.

Remember today that you are not naked but victorious. That’s why you will be given a palm cross. Very soon, other leafy plants, such as tulips, hyacinths, spring flowers but especially Easter lilies, will be displayed in front of and around this altar as well. Such greenery always symbolizes rest, beauty, peace, and tranquility for the people of God. Therefore, many of you still provide greenery and flowers for God’s house to joyfully celebrate people, family, God’s gift of life, or an anniversary. Palms and green symbolize life and strength, and Baptismal white robes are your covering.

In the Song of Solomon, the palm tree is referred to as a symbol of strength, vigorous life, and abundance. In a hot Mediterranean climate, the shade of a palm offered relief from the direct heat of the sun. Palms were also carved in the walls of Solomon’s temple. Rest today and recline joyfully, Baptized and clothed in white through Christ’s blood. That’s why you will  hold palm branches in your hands! You are Baptized into Jesus Christ and washed in His blood! Even though you and others face sickness, disease, or death, despite it all, the victory is yours in Jesus! Your eternal victory is won by Jesus!

Even if your life drastically turns upside down from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, remember who always holds the ultimate victory for you! Jesus Christ is why we hold palms, and in Jesus, you are Baptized and given white robes washed by His blood. Never lose heart! You are always His child, protected under His heavenly wings. That’s a promise. So, celebrate the thrill of victory this day, knowing that the agony of defeat never lasts. Amen.