O God, O Lord of heaven and earth, Thy living finger never wrote that life should be an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth. Your will, your design, your intention, was not death, it was not futility, it was not corruption. Life was not meant to be a slow drift to death, it was not to be worthless, without value. Instead, Thy Word meant life triumphant hurled in splendor through Thy broken world. You brought order from chaos, you spoke, and it happened, you formed the man from the dust of the earth, and you formed the woman from the side of the man. Since light awoke and life began, Thou hast desired Thy life for man. You breathed into our nostrils the very breath of life, life that was to have no end, life that was to be enjoyed in this perfect world, life that was unstained by evil. Work was no burden, worship no imposition. Abundance was our portion, freely given, to sustain our bodies and our souls; you gave us everything, the fruits of the earth and the fruits of your Word. You gave us a life of joy, that we would gladly serve you and serve our neighbor. Life was your decree, life your gift, given at the moment of our creation, as your hands knit us together in the wombs of our mothers, and then sustained in every moment since. Every breath, every beat of our heart, was never meant to be one step closer to our last, but instead a gift that had no end. O God, O Lord of heaven and earth, life was your gift, life to the full.
But our fatal will to equal Thee, our rebel will wrought death and night. We heard the serpent’s lie, and we listened: “You shall be like God.” We forgot that we were made in your image and likeness, that we were already like you, and we sought to make ourselves your equal. Our will had been your will, we had desired what you desired, we had sought what you sought, but no more. Our will set itself up in opposition to your will, our desire was for what you had in wisdom not given to us, and we grasped after the fruit of death, rather than rejoicing in a world of life. We seized and used in pride and spite Thy wondrous gift of liberty. We were free, free to love you and live in joy, receiving your gift of life from your abundant hand, but we put ourselves into bondage. And like the flipping of a light, darkness and death entered in. O God, O Lord of heaven and earth, Thy living finger never wrote that life should be an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth, but now it was. Birth could only deliver death; one heartbeat, one breath meant that we were one step closer to the just consequence of our sin. Our pride, our rebellion had cut us off from life.
We housed us in this house of doom, where death had royal scope and room. We put ourselves into prison, into bondage. It was our sin that did it, our fatal will to equal Thee. We put ourselves into prison, we gave the jailer the key, and we ourselves shut the locked door. We have no one else to blame, no one else to accuse. We fell in Adam’s Fall, and we have fallen every moment since. Now, this house of doom is our home, this dominion of death, this kingdom of the damned. We put ourselves here, and we cannot escape. Every cut, every scrape, every cold or fever, every drop of blood we shed is a reminder that we are slaves, in bondage to sin and death. Death is our ruler, death is our king; he rules this house of doom, and we follow his commands to the grave. None can escape, none will escape; death claims us all. We put ourselves into bondage, and now we cannot get out. The door is shut; the dead made it, and the dead keep it. We will all die. By our perverse, rebellious will we call this house of doom freedom, we call the chains and shackles of sin liberty; we rejoice to live what we foolishly call independence, but our jailer still holds the keys, and there will come a day for us all when the illusion of liberty will be replaced with the reality of death.
But then the cry comes over the walls of our prison: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of donkey.” We housed us in this hall of death, where death had royal scope and room, until Thy Servant, Prince of Peace, breached all its walls for our release. He has come, He has come. Your servant, Prince of Peace, humble and mounted on a donkey, righteous and having salvation. He comes to bring peace, He comes to put an end to our warfare, to cease the conflict between nations, between neighbors, between us and you. You declare, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” O God, O Lord of heaven and earth, your Son has come, and He has come bringing peace. He has come to reconcile us with you, to restore to us the life that we cast away in foolish rebellion. He has come to breach the walls of our prison and set us free.
Thou camest to our hall of death, O Christ to breathe our poisoned air, to drink for us the dark despair that strangled our reluctant breath. You breached the walls of our prison, O Jesus, you breathed the air that we poisoned, thick with the stench of death. And you drank down to the very dregs the cup of death that was our portion. Your lungs filled with our poison, your belly filled with our judgment, you gave yourself into death to set the prisoners of death free. “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.” A new covenant you brought, O Jesus, a covenant founded in your blood. Your blood set us free, the blood shed upon the cross of Calvary, the blood of your sacrifice pouring down Golgotha’s hill of horror. On the cross, your lungs took in the air poisoned with death, on the cross, you drank of our despair and drained the cup of your Father’s wrath. You came into our hall of death to give yourself up into death for our sake. Your blood forgives our rebellion, the transgressions of our fatal will, and so your blood sets us free; in triumph, you lead us out from our prison as you went forth from your grave.
How beautiful the feet the trod the road that leads us back to God! “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey.” How beautiful are your feet, O Jesus, the feet that walked the roads of Palestine, living a perfect life in our place, the feet that dangled from the donkey’s back, entering Jerusalem in triumph, entering Jerusalem in humility, the same feet that walked the path of the cross, bearing our sin, the very feet that crushed the serpent’s head, trampling our jailer and taking his keys. The stronger man entered the strong man’s house and plundered all of his goods. The humble King did not spurn the cross, but gave Himself up into death, shedding the blood of the covenant to set the prisoners free. How beautiful the feet that trod the road that leads us back to God!
How beautiful the feet that ran to bring the great good news to man! “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” You have made us prisoners of hope; no longer prisoners of death, no longer captive to the predations of our ancient foe, but now prisoners, captives of hope. We are enslaved by hope, the hope of resurrection, of final victory, the sure and certain hope that just as you O Christ were raised in victory on the third day, so we too will be raised on that Day when the cry goes up once again: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He.” We are no longer housed in a house of doom, a hall of death, we are prisoners of hope in your stronghold, O Christ, the stronghold, the fortress that is your bride, the Church. In your Church we receive double; double forgiveness for all of our sins, double grace and mercy for our rebellion, an overflowing abundance of love flowing from your pierced side.
In your Church we are captive to hope, the hope that you will come again, a hope sustained because you do come, week after week, humble and joined to bread and wine, water and Word. You come as the Son of David and the Son of God, as God and man, as our Creator and our brother, as our servant and still our King in the Holy Sacrament. Your humble coming on Palm Sunday, the coming of your kingdom on the cross, and your coming on the clouds of heaven are all contained in bread and wine. In this world we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, captive to hope, living on these words, proclaimed every Lord’s Day and trumpeted on the Last Day: “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you.” O Spirit, who didst once restore Thy Church that it might be again the bringer of good news to men, breathe on Thy cloven Church once more, that in these grey and latter days there may be those whose life is praise, each life a high doxology to Father, Son, and unto Thee. Amen.