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.  

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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.

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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).

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Palm Sunday (2018)

When the Lord entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was the only time when there was public acclamation of Him as Messiah and King.  In our joining the celebration, we declare Jesus to be our Lord, which has great implications for our daily life.

The significance of this ascription of lordship to the risen Christ is also fairly clear, though it can be exaggerated. At the very least, kyrios denoted an asserted or acknowledged dominance and right of disposal of superior over inferior – whether simply master over slave, king over subject, or, by extension, god over worshiper. To confess someone as one’s “lord” expressed an attitude of subserviencey and a sense of belonging or devotion to the one so named. And if the confession was used in baptism (as seems likely in Rom. 10.9), it would also indicated a transfer of allegiance and change in acknowledged ownership. At the very least, then, the confession of Jesus as Lord betokened a life now committed to his service.   (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul, p. 247)

“The followers of Jesus of Nazareth founded an early Jewish movement centered on a charismatic figure who offered hope for an ideal future in which the power of the God of Israel would be dramatically manifested and universally recognized. The movement they began was not however, the only one of its kind. Other such movements, dating back from the first century BCE to the second century CE, promised a sudden end of the present age, which they regarded as evil and corrupt, and the inauguration of a new age in which God’s people would see the wicked punished and the world ruled in righteousness.

Notably, this king accomplishes his goals not by military might; his weapon is ‘the word of his mouth,’ based on Isaiah 11.4.

One major function of the Messiah is to bring about God’s justice by defeating all agents of oppression, human and superhuman (Pss. Sol. 17.34, Ezra 13.38). However, the focus of the texts is less on the messianic figure than on the messianic age, the time when God’s justice rather than Satan or Empire, would prevail.”  (The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 530, 531)

We are in Holy Week – the week in which God reveals His true nature to us.   God is Holy and it turns out that holiness also means humble and self-sacrificing.

Lazarus Saturday (2017)

26459992532_fa78fda5db_nHoly Week is designed to be a spiritual sojourn, a chance to reflect not only on Christ’s last week on earth leading to His crucifixion and resurrection, but also on our own relationship to Him and to His Church.   Great Lent officially ends on a Friday in the Church’s liturgical calendar.  The first thing we do at the end of Lent is to commemorate Christ raising His friend Lazarus from the dead on Saturday.  The next day, Sunday, celebrates Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem which is also one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the liturgical year.  This Feast marks the transition to Holy Week.  Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday both pre-figure the events of Christ’s resurrection and entry into the Heavenly Temple.   Think about them as you make your spiritual journey toward  Pascha.   The Cross and the tomb will both be empty, and yet they are  full signs of the divinity of Christ.

Lazarus Saturday: Jesus Wept John 11:1-45

“‘Jesus wept.’ The perfect joy of His divine nature did not exclude tears from His human nature. The evangelist adds other touches to his reference to the Savior’s tears. Near Lazarus’ tomb the Saviour “groaned…troubled Himself.” How are we to understand this emotion of Christ, because in the end Jesus knows that He is going to raise Lazarus? Perhaps we must see in the Saviour’s sorrow something more than compassion for a friend who has died, but who will soon rise again. Jesus weeps over the universal destiny of men, over death which afflicts this human nature of ours which the Father had made so beautiful. Jesus weeps over all of man’s suffering, the consequences of sin. The God-Man takes this suffering on Himself. His sorrow is His share in the world’s sorrow.”  (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus: A Dialogue with the Savior, pp. 71-72)

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The sins of the world cause the Son of God to weep. How should I feel about my own sins?  What about the sins of others?    In Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11 God says He had no desire for the death of anyone, even of sinners.   Yet death reigned on earth – at least until the coming of Christ (see Romans 5).  It is my sins that lead to the death of Christ on the cross. If I confessed my sins, how do I now live the remaining time of my life in repentance?

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 (2015)

“We are so used to the idea that Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, that we forget that he was in fact recognized as King, even if only on one day and for a few hours. And although his kingship is hidden from the world now, we still acknowledge him as our King.

We made this confession in baptism: that everything in our life and in the world belongs to him; that there is nothing over which he is not, for us, the true ruler; that we subject every area of our lives to him, to save and redeem. Taking up the palms and making this proclamation is a renewal of our baptismal pledge: that Christ and his Kingdom is our only reality. . . .

This is what happened to all those who today greet Christ with palms and the Hosanna. When they realize that his sight is not set on their goals, it only takes a few days before they begin to clamor for his death.

We know that this is the tendency or the momentum of the world, the world which lives in us, too; and we know that the death of Christ is not only the result of our sin and insanity, but it is, more importantly, God’s answer to that insanity—that this is what divine love looks like.

We know this already; we knew it when we were baptized—we were, after all, baptized into the death of Christ, in order to rise with him. Knowing this, we must make sure, as we once again follow Christ to Golgotha, the Passion, to his crucifixion and exaltation, that it is this Jesus that determines for us what is good, true, beautiful, and gracious. We need, as it were, to allow our notion of what is good to be crucified with him, to take a new shape in what he reveals to us about truth and love.” (John Behr, THE CROSS STANDS WHILE THE WORLD TURNS, pp 54-55)

It is the God incarnate who dies on the cross who determines what is good and true and beautiful.   The world showed its hatred for Him. It still does. ISIS hates Christ and still wishes to crucify the God who is love. It is however, the God who voluntarily submits Himself to crucifixion whom we follow to death, not only in baptism, but whenever it comes to our own will. In Holy Week we reaffirm our faithfulness to this Christ, the one who dies on the cross for the salvation of the world rather than summoning armies of angels from heaven to save Himself from the evil of the world.