Summary: 6th Sunday in Lent, Year B.
ANTICIPATING HOLY WEEK.
As the crowd approaches Jerusalem for the great annual feast, the mood is one of thanksgiving (Psalm 118:1-2).
The leader of the pilgrims cries out to the gateman of the Temple: “Open to me the gates of righteousness…” (Psalm 118:19). Jesus is the forerunner, gone into heaven on our behalf (cf. Hebrews 6:20). We too may “enter the gates of righteousness and give thanks (praise) to the LORD.”
The reply comes from within: “This is the gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter” (Psalm 118:20). The righteous are those who have been rescued by the LORD: those who have been made ‘right with God through the Lord Jesus Christ’ (cf. Romans 5:1). It is Jesus who has ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:8), and we in Him (Ephesians 2:6).
The lone voice is heard once more (Psalm 118:21). In effect - “Thank you, LORD, for hearing and answering my prayer: it is you who have saved me.” The sufferer acknowledges his deliverance; Jesus acknowledges the Father’s hand in overcoming death; and the repenting sinner embraces the full free salvation which is ours in Christ Jesus.
The use of this Psalm in Christian worship, and the association of these words with Jesus, is firmly underlined in Psalm 118:22-23, which is quoted extensively in the New Testament. The irony is that the One who was cast aside and left for dead, is the very One who holds the whole building together (Ephesians 2:20). “The stone which the builders rejected” who is made “head stone of the corner” is Jesus.
Jesus uses these words of Himself (Matthew 21:42). Peter argued for the resurrection from this text (Acts 4:10-12). It is the touchstone (no pun intended) which marks out the difference between those who believe, and the disobedient (1 Peter 2:6-8).
As the feast approaches, every day is acknowledged as the day of the LORD. To the Christian, every day is “the day that the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24). Every day with the Lord is a season for rejoicing.
Our pilgrims prayed for a holistic salvation (Psalm 118:25; cf. 3 John 1:2). The gatemen welcomed them as those who came in the name of the LORD. The travellers received a benediction from out of the house of the LORD (Psalm 118:26).
The term “save now” (Psalm 118:25) - transliterated as ‘Hosanna’ - was used by the crowds who met Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:9). They recognised Him as the Messiah, and cried with this Psalm “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD” (Psalm 118:26).
It is the light of the LORD which has brought us thus far (Psalm 118:27). Jesus is the light (cf. John 8:12). Out of several possible translations of Psalm 118:27, we may surmise that “the procession is drawn to the altar with branches”, or that “the sacrifice is bound to the altar with cords”.
When the pilgrims entered Jerusalem for any of the festivals, the first place they would want to go is to the altar. When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover Week, the palm-waving crowd (John 12:13) strew branches in the way before Him (Matthew 21:8). Yet He entered as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), the full, final sacrifice for our sins.
It is only right that we should praise the LORD, and honour the name of Jesus (cf. Psalm 118:28). Our Psalm ends with the echo of its own refrain. “O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 118:29).
(B) Mark 11:1-11.
Another group of pilgrims was arriving in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and those already there were shouting the traditional welcome: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9). The words are from Psalm 118:26 – a Psalm which is often heard at this feast. It was a festive hope that perhaps ‘this year’ the ‘Son of David’ would arrive to conquer Israel’s enemies.
Pilgrims would usually enter the City on foot: so this one traveller was noticeable in that He came riding on a colt. A humble enough animal, but there was something about the man. Mark does not mention Zechariah 9:9, but other gospel writers do: could this be the King, humble and riding on a colt?
The crowd evidently thought so, as the traditional welcome went a stage further with not only the waving of branches purposefully taken down from the trees, but also the spreading of their garments in the way (Mark 11:8). The liturgy became pregnant with hidden meanings - “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:10). Hosanna means, ‘Save now’ – an appeal to God for deliverance, which is also used to express praise and adoration to God.