Open the Gates of Righteousness -- Sermon for Palm Sunday (Psalm 118)

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 

The time has come to join Jesus in the festal procession to Jerusalem. Let us wave our palm branches and sing “All glory, laud, and honor, to you, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!” Yes, “You are a child of Israel, Great David’s greater son; you ride in lowly triumph, Messiah, blessed one!”  [Glory to God, 196]

If we take the 118th Psalm as our guide, our parade of palms serves to welcome Jesus not only into Zion but also into our lives. As we do this, we can give thanks to God who is good and whose steadfast love endures forever.

The reading from the Gospel of John tells us that a crowd greeted Jesus as he approached Jerusalem. They waved palm branches and shouted out “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:12-16)

When Jesus rode into the city that day mounted on a donkey, many in the crowd believed that Jesus was the one who would throw out the Romans and lead the nation of Israel into a glorious future. You can understand why the people of Jerusalem might get this idea. There’s a passage in Zechariah that describes just this scenario.  

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9). 

While the crowd might see Jesus as the nation’s deliverer, is that how Jesus understood his mission?  Only Holy Week can answer that question.

Now that we’ve reached the gates of Zion, we can return to the Psalm, where the Psalmist calls out: “Open the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord” (vs. 19). 

As we follow Jesus through the gates of righteousness and enter the Temple, we can join the Psalmist in declaring to God: “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation” (vs. 21). Yes, we give thanks to God who brings healing and wholeness to our lives. In our joy we declare: “This is the day the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Vs. 24). So, is this “the day the Lord has made?” And are you “glad in it?” These are the questions that lay before us. As we ponder them, we once again hear the Psalmist invite us to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Vs. 29). 

Both at the beginning and the end of Psalm 118, we find a declaration that sums up our core confession of faith. This is our confession: God is good and God’s steadfast love, God’s loving-kindness, endures forever. This is the word that sustains us through life, even when we experience difficulties. It is God’s steadfast love that enables us to give thanks to God our savior. 

So, are you ready to join the parade of palms? You know you want to. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a parade? Perhaps you’ve been in a parade yourself. You’ve probably watched a few as well. While I’ve never been to the Detroit Thanksgiving Parade, I’ve been to the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Parade. A good parade is exciting. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. I’m guessing that’s the way it went on that first Palm Sunday when Jesus led the parade through the gates of righteousness while the people waved their palms and shouted: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  

While parades can be exciting, we shouldn’t forget where this parade leads. Eric Wall reminds us that the parade ultimately “leads to sorrow, betrayal, and death,” [Eric Wall, Connections, 2, loc. 3599]. 

While Palm Sunday is a day of celebration, another shoe is about to drop. We can wave our palm branches in praise and thanksgiving, but let’s not forget that before Jesus gets crowned with many crowns on Easter morning, a group of soldiers will place a different crown on his head. 

There is a medieval hymn attributed by some to Bernard of Clairvaux that sings a different tune from the one we sing on Palm Sunday or Easter. It’s a Good Friday hymn: 

“O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down; now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown, how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!” [Chalice Hymnal, 202].  

Yes, before Jesus is crowned as Lord of all, he must first receive a crown of thorns and be nailed to a cross. This is the path taken by the crucified messiah.

The Psalmist does give us a hint of what is to come. The Psalm declares that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The early Christian community applied this declaration to Jesus. The message is this: Although humanity rejected Jesus, God made him the chief cornerstone of God’s Temple. Not only is Jesus the chief cornerstone, but we are the living stones that God uses to build this Temple called the realm of God. This is the vision cast by the author of 1 Peter: 

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5). 

The good news is that we are numbered among the living stones, which God considers precious. But, considering the words we hear from the Psalmist and 1 Peter, we also should be mindful of those whom the world considers to be weak and disposable. If I hear Jesus correctly in the Gospels, those who stand at the back of the line in our society, or live on the margins, will get moved to the front of Jesus’ line. 

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 about spiritual gifts and the body of Christ. He tells the Corinthians and us that the ones the world deems to be weak and insignificant are of the greatest importance to God. In fact, we should treat them with highest honors, because they are honored in the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 12:22-23). James describes pure and undefiled religion before God as “caring for the orphans and widows in their distress,” and keeping “oneself unstained by the world” (Jms 1:27). 

So, who does Jesus bring with him when he calls out to the gatekeepers? “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” I want to believe that I’m included in the ones Jesus welcomes, but I also believe that Jesus is most concerned to bring with him those whom our society deems disposable, like widows and orphans in their distress. These are the living stones rejected by the builders but reclaimed by Jesus.

As we ponder the questions stirred up by Holy Week, we prepare ourselves for what is to come by singing songs of praise and thanksgiving. We prepare by celebrating all that God is doing in our midst. So, together we shout: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” For “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We will sing and shout no matter where the road leads because God’s “steadfast love endures forever.” 

Preached by:

Dr. Robert D. Cornwall

Supply Pastor

First Presbyterian Church

Troy, Michigan

Palm Sunday 

April 10, 2022

Entry into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 9, 2022]. Original source:


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