A sermon given Palm Sunday, 2022 to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) by Fr. Justin Clemente.
Holy Week: Witnesses to Jesus
One of the beautiful things about our church’s worship in Holy Week is that we are unmistakably brought into the events we celebrate. Today, we processed with Jesus into Jerusalem, Thursday we will sit with him at the Supper, and Friday we will stand with him at the Cross (even as most of his disciples run away!). Put differently, we become witnesses to Christ.
Similarly, I have just one goal in my preaching this morning: I want to help each of you exalt and rejoice in the work of Christ this Holy Week. And here I want to exhort you to make all you can of Holy Week. Don’t miss out on it! Be a part of the drama.
Go ahead and open your Prayer Book to page 292. We’re going to be living in Psalm 22 with Jesus this Holy Week. This is the Psalm of the Cross of our Lord. Most of us probably know that Jesus quoted from Psalm 22:1 on the Cross. But we might not know that the whole psalm – from beginning to end – is about everything the Cross accomplished. Undoubtedly, Jesus prayed through the whole psalm on the Cross. Today, we’re just looking at verse 6. I find preaching on the Cross of Christ like trying to hold the ocean in your hands. So I liked to just break off a morsel to savor together this morning:
“But as for me, I am a worm, and no man, scorned by all, and the outcast of the people.”
This verse contains more than meets the eye!
Christ Became Sin
We probably do see that means Christ became sin for us (as if that were not enough!). On top of the mystery of sin is stamped a more profound mystery: the light of life took on our darkness to expel it. St. Paul says that “for our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin.” Jesus here says in verse 6, “I am a worm and no man – I am sub-human.” Jesus, who enjoyed eternal union with the Father and the Spirit, who was robed in the praises and accolades of heaven, now becomes a worm. Truly he did empty himself, as Philippians 2 tells us.
But there is more. Are you ready to go deeper into the heart of Psalm 22?
Christ Became Sin to Redeem Us and Make Us Pure
A particular worm is spoken of here – and this worm is redemptive. This little worm, hidden in creation, is a picture of the Gospel. Christ became sin to redeem us and make us pure.
Now, it’s going to get weird here, but remember – I didn’t choose this image, God did! If our kids don’t go home at least a little perplexed and asking questions, I’ll be mildly disappointed. The Lent, my family and I have been blessed by David Roseberry’s fine work, The Psalm on the Cross. His quote is lengthy, but worth it:
“Remarkably, the Hebrew word for worm, ‘tola’at’ is also the word for scarlet. The “tola worm” is scarlet or crimson because it is filled and colored with its own blood. In the ancient world, the Jews would harvest these grubs and crush them to obtain a dark crimson dye to color the fabric of the curtains in the Temple. …
The ugly image of this fleshy grub is a beautiful image which, as we consider it, changes our perception of the verse. You see, when the female worm is ready to lay her eggs, which happens only once in her life, she climbs a tree or some other wood structure and attaches herself to it. Then a crimson shell forms a hard, protective covering under which the female deposits her eggs. The larvae hatch and feed off the blood and nutrients of the mother for about three days. Then as her life ends, she secretes a scarlet dye that stains the wood to which she is attached. The same dye colors her offspring; these baby worms remain scarlet or crimson for the rest of their lives.
But then something even more remarkable takes place. After three or four days, the tail of the mother pulls up into her head forming a heart-shaped body. The crimson color disappears, and it is replaced by a snow-white substance. It looks like a patch of wool on the tree before it flakes off and falls to the ground like snow.
The message could not be more obvious or wonderful: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (The Psalm on the Cross, pgs. 44-5)
As I reflect on the sheer depth of this verse, four words come to mind:
Humility: see Christ, mounting not a throne of gold prepared for him by human hands, but a cross of wood, prepared by God. The people on Palm Sunday would have made him a bread-king, but here he becomes literally unrecognizable – he becomes a worm.
Nourishment: This morning, see Christ Jesus, feeding you, his blood-bought child, with no less than his own body and blood, nourishing, forgiving, cleansing, renewing you. Remember that Psalm 22 ends as a triumph, not a tragedy. Verse 26 promises that “the poor shell eat and be satisfied; those who seek after the Lord shall praise him.” Just as the tola worm died to give life to her offspring, so the Cross of the Christ stands for your cleansing and the table for your nourishment.
Transformation & Hope: Job, that greater sufferer, compared humanity to a worm (Job 25:6). But, in the cross, human forsakenness and suffering can be transformed. They do not have to be the last word over anyone’s life. Jesus, bearer of the cross, bearer of sin, scorned by all, suffered in a way greater than any other person ever has. And yet, he had more hope and assurance than anyone ever has. Listen to how the psalm ends: “But my life shall be persevered in his sight, and my children shall worship him; they shall tell of the Lord to the generations to come; And to a people yet unborn shall they declare his righteousness, that he has brought it to pass.” (vs. 30-31) What hope we hear there!
Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Jesus became as a worm, scorned by all, stamped under foot. And yet, in doing so, he secured the way for us to share in his resurrection. Hebrews 12:2 says that “for the joy that was set before him, [he] endured the cross, despising the shame.” That joy was the joy of bringing us into eternal fellowship and communion with him.
I am not asking for you to doubt the reality of suffering in your life or the world, quote the opposite. I am asking you to doubt that they are greater than what Jesus has accomplished and the hope that he gives. Just as God turned the greatest evil and the suffering of his Son into redemption, so your suffering and forsakenness, taken on in obedience, will never be meaningless. That perspective makes all the difference in the world, bringing transformation and hope.
Let me pray for you:
“According to the riches of his glory … may [the Father] grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19) Amen.