The Epistle reading for Palm Sunday (Philippians 4:4-9) is not directly related to the events we commemorate on this day. It does however remind us to rejoice in the Lord, which is what the disciples did on this day 2000 years ago. And despite the events we consider during Holy Week – Christ’s arrest, torture, crucifixion and death – the Epistle tells us to think about things that are good and beautiful. The horrendous events of Christ’s death hide the salvation that is being won for us. St. Mark the Ascetic reminds us of the importance of this New Testament passage:
“Take up the weapons of righteousness that are directly opposed to them: mindfulness of God, for this is the cause of all blessings; the light of spiritual knowledge, through which the soul awakens from its slumber and drives out of itself the darkness of ignorance; and true ardour, which makes the soul eager for salvation.
So, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with all prayer and entreaty, you will contend bravely against the three giants of the demonic Philistines. Through mindfulness of God, you will always reflect on ‘whatever is true, whatever is modest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, whatever is holy and deserving of praise’ (Phil. 4:8); and in this way you will banish from yourself the pernicious evil of forgetfulness. Through the light of spiritual knowledge you will expel the destructive darkness of ignorance; and through your true ardour for all that is good you will drive out the godless laziness that enables evil to root itself in the soul. When by deep attentiveness and prayer you have acquired these virtues, not only through your own personal choice but also through the power of God and with the help of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to deliver yourself from the three powerful giants of the devil. For when real knowledge, mindfulness of God’s word and true ardour are firmly established in the soul through active grace and are carefully guarded, the combination of these three expels from the soul and obliterates every trace of forgetfulness, ignorance, and laziness and henceforth grace reigns within it, though Christ Jesus our Lord. May He be glorified through all the ages. Amen.” (The Philokalia: Vol. One, pp. 159-160)
If we rejoice in the Lord always, we never forget God. The sojourn through Holy Week calls us to remember the events of the last week of Christ’s earthly life. It reminds us to be with Christ, even in His suffering. It reminds us to rejoice always, even in moments of our own suffering or doubt. Holy Week is walking with Christ in His life, as well as having Him walk with us in ours. Where is your heart and mind this week when your fellow Christians gathered to contemplate the sufferings of Christ? We remember every year the events of Christ’s last week on earth because despite His suffering, Christ is obtaining for us eternal life. We miss the beauty and truth if we stop reading the story too early or stop thinking about it. When we know the full story then we know God’s plan for our salvation.
“… looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)