Palm Sunday (2019)

Palm Sunday       

45993405974_e54c3e2920_nThe day after Jesus resurrects his friend Lazarus, Jesus is joyously welcomed as he enters into Jerusalem in what will be the only time in His three years of ministry that He received any kind accolades in a public display of hope and faith (John 12:1-18).  It is also the entry into His last week of life on earth.  Some historians note that at about the same time that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, was entering Jerusalem with an armed cohort to remind the Jews that they were in subjugation to the Roman Empire.  The contrast between the two entrances is part of the backdrop against which events are unfolding. The Jewish Temple leadership had aligned itself with their Rome overlords ostensibly to secure the place of the Temple in Jewish society, but the price they paid was they themselves were collecting tax money and funneling it to Rome.  And they accepted the responsibility for keeping the Jewish population in check to appease Rome.  They had little interest in encouraging Jesus and His band of followers and were working hard to contain Jesus and His disciples.  

Image result for Jewish–Roman wars

Jesus entry into Jerusalem attracted some attention, but it is hard from the Gospel accounts to know how much or even to determine what gate Jesus entered or what streets he was traversing.   The “crowd” is variously described as “the whole multitude of the disciples” (Luke 19:37), “many people” (Mark 11:8), “a large crowd” (Matthew 21:8), and John refers to “the great crowd that had come to the festival” (John 12:12) which means they weren’t there specifically to see Jesus.   Although Matthew says all the city was disturbed by Christ’s entrance, it is clear that many don’t even know who Jesus is and so are asking, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10)   And since there was no media coverage, Christ’s entrance would only have attracted those who knew he was coming and where he would enter the city.   Jerusalem was swamped with visitors for the Passover, so there was already a lot of chaos in the city.  This is also why Pilate and the Roman legion entered the city – to be a visible presence to remind the Jews who is lord and master over them.


Liturgically, Palm Sunday is kept as one of the Great Feasts of the Church.  It marks the end of Great Lent and the transition into Holy Week. There is a joyous tone to the weekend and the events it celebrates.  Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes:

.Palm Sunday: the Feast of the Kingdom, the feast of the reign. Everything is so clear during that feast. All of Holy Week is the revelation of the Kingdom. The Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem is the revelation of the King. The Last Supper – the revelation of the Kingdom. The Cross – the reign, the victory of the King. Pascha – the beginning of the eternal Passover, the entrance into heaven. “And He opened for us the gates of paradise…” (The Journals of Father Alexander Schememann, p. 232)

Palm Sunday is a day of rejoicing for Christians at the conclusion of Great Lent.  Even the Epistle for the day is joyous (Philippians 4:4-9).  Orthodox scholar Peter Bouteneff comments:

St. Paul tells us to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, worthy of praise (Phil 4:8). Why? Because they are imitations of God. They describe Jesus Christ. They are window to his presence. They soften our hearts. ( How to be a Sinner, p. 39)

We are to think about Christ and our life in Him, always remembering His connection to us involves the Cross.  “...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).


Palm Sunday (2017)

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)

Palm Sunday 2016

It was the miracle of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead which caused Jerusalem to welcome Christ on the next day, Palm Sunday as one who comes in the Name of the Lord.  An excitement was building among some people that the signs were there – perhaps Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is Lord.

“The people therefore that was with Him when He called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met Him, for that they had heard that He had done this miracle.

Who brings joy to a house? A welcome guest.

Who brings even greater joy to a house? The householder, returning after a long absence.

Happy the hands that received the Lord Jesus as a welcome Guest!

Happy the lips that greeted Him as a Friend!

Happy the souls who made their reverence to Him as the Householder with a song of welcome!”

(Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, pp 185-186)

Previous:  Lazarus Saturday 2016

Next:  Holy Monday 2016

Palm Sunday (2014)

Palm Sunday is considered to be one of the 12 great feasts of the year. Its origin, as that of the preceding Saturday, is from Jerusalem. In the account of her voyage, Egeria (4th c.) describes the particularities of this Sunday, which she calls ‘the Sunday on which they enter the paschal week, which here they call the great week.’ She tells how at the eleventh hour of the day they read the passage describing the children’s coming to greet the Lord with branches and palms (Mt. 21:8, Jn. 12:13), saying: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Mt. 21:9, Ps. 117:26). Then the people walked in procession before the bishop, holding branches, ‘in the same way that they escorted the Lord,’ from the top of the Mount of Olives, through the city, to the Anastasis, where the evening office was celebrated.” (Archimandrite Job Getcha, The Typikon Decoded, pp. 209-210)

 Alexander Schmemann says of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem:

“We know that the words shouted by the crowd, ‘Hosanna to the son of David,’ we know that those symbols by which they surrounded Christ, palm branches – all of this ‘smelled’ of a political insurrection, all of these were traditional symbols for greeting a king, they signified the recognition of Christ as a king and the rejection of the incumbent authority. ‘Do you not hear how many are witnessing against you?’ (Mt. 27:13) – this is how the authorities interrogated Christ. And at this point Christ did not reject such praise, he did not answer that this was a mistake; and so it is clear that he accepted this celebration on the eve of his betrayal, suffering, and death. He had wished that even for a few moments, even if only in one city, people would see and recognize and proclaim the truth, that genuine authority and glory cannot reside with those who acquire it through external force and power but with the One who taught nothing except love, profound freedom, and subjection only to the higher and divine law of conscience.

This entry into Jerusalem signified the unmasking, for all time, of power based on force and obligation, of power that demands for its existence continual self-adulation. For a few hours in the Holy City there prevailed the kingdom of light and of love, and people recognized and received it. And what is most important, they were never able to forget about it. Huge empires rose and fell, whole governments came to power and declined; they achieved unprecedented power, the unprecedented glory of all sorts of leaders and lords who just as readily vanished, faded into dark nonexistence. ‘What earthly glory remains strong and immutable?’ ask the poet, and we answer – None. But the kingdom of this impoverished and homeless teacher remains and shines with that very joy, with that same hope. And not only once a year on Palm Sunday, but always, truly unto ages of ages. ‘Thy kingdom come’ (Mt. 6:10) – this is the prayer of Christians that is still heard, which still triumphs, however unnoticed or imperceptible its victory in the noise of earthly and transitory glories.” (Tradition Alive, pp. 246-247)

Palm Sunday (2012)

Palm Sunday Epistle:  Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

St. John Chrysostom says about our Palm Sunday Epistle:

“The whole of time is a festival for Christians, because of the abundance of good things that have been given…The Son of God was made man for you; He freed you from death and called you to a kingdom. Therefore, you who have obtained and are still obtaining such things, how can it be less than your duty to keep the feast all your life? Let no one then be downcast about poverty, and disease, and craft of enemies. For it is a festival, even the whole of our time. For this reason Paul said: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.’ “ (St. John Chrysostom in The Way of Christ: Gospel, Spiritual Life and Renewal in Orthodoxy, pg. 28)

Palm Sunday (2011)

The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem

“Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’   Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!’ Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.”  (John 12:1-18)

St. Andrew Archbishop of Crete (d. early 8th C) wrote:

“So let us spread before His feet, not garments of soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in His grace, or rather, clothed completely in Him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before Him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of Baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the Conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of His victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’” (St. Andrew Archbishop of Crete, Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, pg.117)

Thinking about Palm Sunday (2010)

Palm Sunday  2010 Sermon Notes     Gospel:   John 12:1-18

1)     We know from Christian history that very early on a fast before the celebration of Pascha developed.  The fasting period evolved into the time in which the catechumens were being prepared for their Baptisms.  Great Lent became a catechetical time in which the question being answered was, “Who is Jesus?”  The Saturday and Sunday epistle and Gospel lessons from Romans and Mark focus on answering that question.

By the end of Great Lent the catechumens come to Palm Sunday feeling confident about their decision to embrace Christ and to accepts God’s call to faithfulness.  But they had to learn the hard lesson of discipleship:  following Christ is not just heavenly glory and eternal life.  It also is the way of the cross, suffering, the tomb.  It is a challenge to our faith – did we choose to follow the real Messiah?  Why then might I suffer, or why do I have to practice self denial?   As we know from reading the Gospels, the original 12 disciples did not like Jesus’ message about suffering and the cross.  They ignore Jesus when he speaks about such things or they even try to silence Jesus.  The message of the Cross challenges those who are following Christ – how will we behave when put to the test?  What will become of our faith in the face of the challenges of life- for problems do not disappear when we become Christian.

We will behave like the first disciples did.  Some of us will flee – some will not come to the Holy Week services as they are long and inconvenient.  Some will rather pursue their usual pursuits – their jobs, loves, wants and wishes.  Some will only show up again at the resurrection, hiding from the cross and fleeing the crucified Lord.   Some want only triumph but not the battle that must be waged to achieve victory.   Some will only want to be secret disciples – as long as nothing is demanded of us, no change, no giving up anything, no suffering or self denial, we will “follow” Christ.  We will be challenged at remaining faithful in the face of prosperity AND in the face of suffering for the faith.

Christ the Humble Son of God

2)   On Palm Sunday We are not just remembering what happened 2000 years ago, the question is not who was Christ? But who is He to us?  We are to walk with Him even to the cross.   Why we should is dependent on who He is.

While it is historically important what the first disciples thought about Jesus and who he is, Palm Sunday is not mostly about what the disciples said about Jesus 2000 years ago.  The issue is who do we say that Christ is?  Who is Jesus today?  Who do we say He is?   That is the profession of faith we make at our baptisms, at every Liturgy, every time we recite the Creed.

We are claiming to be His followers and disciples.  Who is He that we should want to follow Him?  Palm  Sunday addresses our relationship to Christ and our own experience of Him.  Who do we claim He is?  What are we willing to tell others about Him?   What can others see in us that would make them want to be Christians as well? 

3)  John’s Gospel says people came to see not only Jesus, but also Lazarus (John 12:9) who Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1-45).  Each of us Christians are Lazarus today – people come to see what Christ has done in our lives.  Yes people want to see Jesus and to know who He is.  But they can’t always find Him, but they can find those who claim that Jesus is their Master and Lord.   Those who don’t yet believe in Christ can see those of us who claim to follow Christ and who say that He has given us new life through baptism and the Eucharist.  They can find us and they can watch us.  Each of us is Lazarus, whom Christ has raised from the dead,  to the rest of the world today.  We are those who Christ has raised up from sin, from corruption, from evil and death, through repentance and baptism.  We hopefully live in such a way as Christian disciples that people want not only to see Christ, but also to see us – to see how we live and what we think and say.   When we assemble here in Church, we create a public image and we are always inviting others to come and see us in whom Christ has working His life giving power, overcoming in us sin and death.   Some want to know if Christ is real or not and the only way they can know is by coming  to see us.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week (2010)


(From Sunday Vespers)

From palms and branches,

from one divine feast to another,

let us make haste, we who believe,

to reverence Christ’s passion,

that mystery of salvation.

Let us see him suffer

willingly for us.

In thanksgiving let us sing him

a song such as we should:

Lord, source of mercy

and harbor of salvation,

glory to you!


HOLY WEEK     “We call the week great, not because it has a greater number of hours – other weeks having many more hours, after all – not because it has more days, there being the same number of days in this and the other weeks, of course. So why do we call this week great? Because in it many ineffable good things come our way: in it protracted war is concluded, death is eliminated, curses are lifted, the devil’s tyranny is relaxed, his pomps are despoiled, the reconciliation of God and man is achieved, heaven is made accessible, human beings are brought to resemble angels, those things which were at odds are united, the wall is laid low, the bar is removed, the God of peace having brought peace to things on high and things on earth. This, then, is the reason we call the week great, because in it the Lord lavished on us such a plethora of gifts. This is the reason many people intensify their fasting as well as their sacred watching and vigils, and practice almsgiving, thus showing by their behavior the regard they have for the week. After all, since the Lord in this week has regaled us with such great goods, how are we too not obliged to demonstrate our reverence and regard as far as we can?”    (St. John Chrysostom,  Homilies on Genesis 18-45, pg 221)

The Universal Resurrection

altarChrist is risen!

Bright Tuesday

On Palm Sunday, we sang the hymn, “By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You confirmed the universal resurrection, O Christ God!”   The universal resurrection is what we proclaim at Pascha.  The dead were freed from imprisonment and enslavement to death.  Christ tramples down and destroys death in order to give life to all of those in the tombs.   All?  You mean like everyone?  Good and bad?  Rich and poor?  Yes everyone. The Lord Jesus said, “…for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).   Orthodoxy does proclaim the universal resurrection – God offers salvation to the world – to those already dead and to all who live. (Obviously in John 5:28-29, the universal resurrection is not opposed to the idea of a judgment).

We have to remind ourselves that our Lord Jesus Christ came not only for the salvation of the poor but also of the rich, not only of commoners but also of kings. He refused all the same to choose kings as disciples, refused rich people, refused the nobly born, refused the learned; but instead he chose poor, uneducated fishermen, in whom his grace would shine through all the more clearly…And if he had first called a king, the king would have said it was his rank that was chosen; if he had first called a learned man, he would have said it was his learning that was chosen. Those who were being called to lowliness and humility would have to be called by lowly and humble persons.        (St. Augustine)

Jesus may have chosen common folk – uneducated fishermen – rather than the rich, the elite, the educated to be His heralds and apostles, but he told them to go into all the world and proclaim the resurrection to all.   So too St. John Chrysostom‘s Paschal Homily proclaims the joyous message of the universal resurrection: 

pascha22Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

 Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

 (the emphases in all the quotes are mine and not in the original texts)

Palm Sunday: Victory yet Disappointment


palmsundayIn order to appreciate the full depth of this text, in order to feel the joy of the annual feast, the feast of Palms, it is important for us to remember, first of all, that this victorious entry into Jerusalem was the only evident victory in the course of Christ’s earthly life. Nowhere and at no time did he ever seek fame, or power, or glory, he never even asked for the most basic comforts of life. “Foxes have holes”-he would say-“and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay down his head” (Mt 8:20). He rebuffed all attempts to glorify him, and his whole teaching was about humility and meekness: “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29). From our earthly human point of view his whole life, from the moment of his birth in a cave to his shameful death on a cross beside condemned criminals, was a complete and tragic failure. And by the end even those crowds that followed him, expecting miracles and healings, abandoned him, and all finally ran away. It is important to understand that at the heart and very core of the Christian faith there really is earthly disappointment, tragedy, and failure. And it is this fact that evoked the scorn of the opponents of Christianity, beginning with those who stood by the cross and derided the suffering Man: “Save yourself! If you are indeed the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt 27:40).     (Alexander Schmemann)

Until the day when Revelation 11:15  comes true – “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” – Christians will continue to experience disappointment in this world.   The disciples hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, only to experience the disappointment of the crucifixion.  Then their hope revived with the resurrection, only to experience the disappointment of the delayed Second Coming.  In Christ we experience the most hopeful foretaste of the Kingdom, and yet we are disappointed to be denied the fulfillment of the promised Kingdom of God.  The current world is not the Kingdom of God, and yet we hope for the transfiguration and transformation of the world into the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.   Come, Lord Jesus!