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Psalm 118:19-29

“Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. 

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. 

Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

It was late afternoon; the sun was getting low in the sky and we were standing on the top of the Mount of Olives. Looking West, the old City of Jerusalem sprawled out before us. The Dome of the Rock, an Islamic mosque standing on the site of the Old Temple in Jerusalem, with its iconic gold domed roof was reflecting the rays of the bright sun in the western sky. Our tour group had been on the move for about a week now and so many of us were exhausted and drained by the time we stood here overlooking the old City of Jerusalem. We had made bricks with straw and mud in the heat of the Egyptian sun; we had toured temples and climbed mountains; we had wandered in the wilderness; swam in the Dead Sea; and hiked up and down the mountains around Masada.

For a week, we had been walking in the lands of the Bible. We had been standing in the places that so many of us grew up reading about and, now as pastors had been preaching on for years. And I think it's fair to say that at some point along this trip, for every person who was there, all 45 of us, there was a moment it clicked - where it became real and the emotion of it all was overwhelming. 

For me that moment was standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem, walking the path of Jesus on Palm Sunday. All the Synoptic Gospels recorded the people shouting out the refrain, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” from Psalm 118. But what got me in that moment, standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city, is a little line from Luke's gospel. The people are crying out and proclaiming Jesus as king. The Pharisees tell Jesus to make them stop, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” And Jesus responds, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” – which is itself a beautiful image. But the part that spoke to me in that moment, the part that affected me deeply, is recorded in Luke 19:41, “As he [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” He wept over it… the next verses tell us why, Jesus says: “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace….you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

In that moment my heart broke for all those in my life who don’t know Jesus; for all those who I have ever interacted with and I missed the chance to reveal Jesus to them. My heart broke for the ways I have contributed to other people’s blindness to God – or at least (because I am reformed after all) the ways I missed being used by God to end people’s spiritual blindness. My heart broke for family members who have walked away from church and from Jesus with it; my heart broke in prayerful dependence for my own kids in longing for them to know God and be known by God.

In that amazing moment, I believe I shared the heart of God for his lost sons and daughters; his heart for a world in rebellion; and his desire that all be saved and none perish. And with Jesus I wept for all those who have (and will) miss him.

I share that story, not only because of the obvious connection to the New Testament usage of Psalm 118 as the people take to their lips the phrase: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (vs. 26); especially as we approach Palm Sunday. Additionally, I share this story not only because of the further New Testament usage of the imagery of the “stone the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone.” (vs. 22) as Jesus himself takes it on his lips in Matthew 21:42; or as Peter uses in his message to the religious leaders recorded in Acts 4:11; or Paul in Ephesians 2:20; or even Peter in 1 Peter 2:6-7; while all that imagery no doubt informs why this is a meaningful passage as it is filled with the now realized hope of messianic expectation fulfilled in Jesus’ coming… I share the story of my weeping as Jesus wept because it is a beautiful and compelling contrast of emotions with the joy that pervades the rest of Psalm 118. And it is that interplay of emotional realities that I think should define our approach to Christian mission, worship, and living for all of life.

One the one hand, we have a confidence and a conviction that comes from knowing that we will enter – and already have entered – the gates of the righteous and to give thanks to the Lord (vs. 29); that the Lord has already become our salvation; AND, on the other hand, we have a humility informed by the truth that such righteousness comes to us by grace alone, through no merit of our own, because we know that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (cf. Phil. 3:9; Eph. 2:8; and Rom. 3:23). Similarly and again, on the one hand the Lord “has made his light shine on us.” (vs. 27) and “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14b) – and while we may not have seen with our eyes, the eyes of our heart have believed and Jesus himself calls us blessed (John 20:29); AND, on the other hand, we know how easy it is to miss the light: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11) – and so, we weep for those who wander away and who have not heard; and our pride is held in check by the severity of the consequences we face if we are of those who push people away, who cause the little ones to stumble (Mk. 9:42-50).

This week in life, and this weekend in worship, we will, “with boughs in hand, join the festal procession” (vs. 27b) and we will sing, “you are my God, and I will praise you…” (vs. 28) And we can know with conviction and confidence that “the Lord is good; his love endures forever.” (vs. 29); but let us all remember that the palm branches, hosannas, and choruses of “Blessed is he who come in the name of the Lord" paved the way to the cross before we get to the empty tomb. Palm Sunday leads us to Good Friday. 

And so, it is right and good for us to worship and to weep; to sing songs and to surrender our lives.

Jesus I surrender. Break my heart for the things that break yours, for the kinds of people that caused you to weep. Help me to be the kind of disciple who leads others to you with confidence, conviction, and with humility and gentleness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.