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.

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: Ushering in God’s Kingdom

“Thus, for example, if one understands the meaning of Palm Sunday as being the great messianic feast, the solemn liturgical affirmation of Christ’s Lordship in the world, and, therefore as the inauguration of the Holy Week, which is the fulfillment of Christ’s victory over the ‘prince of this world,’ if one has, in other words, the vision of the whole – the interdependence of the Lazarus Saturday, the Palm Sunday and Pascha, one has the key to all the proper ‘recreation’ of the liturgy of Palm Sunday. One sees, first of all, the central position and function within the service of the messianic greetings: ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,’ the theme of Jerusalem as the Holy Sion, as the place where the history of salvation is to find its fulfillment, the constant reference to Zacariah’s dichotomy: ‘King’ and ‘lowly’ as reference to the Kingdom of peace and love which is being inaugurated, and, finally, the leit motiv of the whole service ‘Six days before the Passover’ by which this feast is set as the ‘ante-feast’ of the Holy Week, the real entrance of the Messiah into His glory.”  (Alexander Schmemann in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly: Volume 8, Number 4, pg.182)

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)

Palm Sunday (2002)

Sermon Notes for Palm Sunday  2002

palm_sunday1Sunday gives us opportunity to reflect on the paradoxical spiritual world in which we live. On the one hand, in the Church, Great Lent is over, and we come to a Festal Weekend – the celebration of the raising of Lazarus and the entry of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem. It is that rare moment in which Jesus is given some sort of welcome by the children of God. But this brief respite in Lent is marred by the fact that now we will plunge into Holy Week where we see how our world deals with the Love of God. We see this week that the same crowd which today welcomes Jesus as Messiah, will by Friday demand his death. We see the disciples who today bask in the glory of their Lord, will abandon Him when they realize He is going to have to suffer.

We see this week, Jesus’ hand picked disciples will betray, deny and flee from their Lord.

St. Gregory Nazianzus once mused about why it was that the road to heaven was so much harder to traverse than the road to hell. He concluded with a bit of wit that it is for the same reason that going up a hill is harder than going down a hill.

The Feast of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem offers us a chance to think about what is it we want from Christ?   Many people aren’t really that interested in a God who they must serve. Rather, many are looking for a Genie who will serve them.

Christ offered to people the love of God – a love which reveals itself in humility, in poverty, in suffering, in shame, in crucifixion, in death.

Unfortunately such love is not very attractive to those of us interested only in prosperity and success.

Jesus really did speak about the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom not of this world. But throughout history the Israelites wanted someone to establish the Kingdom of Israel on earth. That too has been the sad interest of Byzantine Orthodoxy.

The Jews lost interest in One who would conquer death, but would not conquer their enemies of the Roman army. The Byzantines wanted a Pantocrator who would destroy the enemies of the Roman Empire. And too often the Church leadership itself became obsessed with power in this world.

It strikes me that exactly such attitudes are the ones which lead people to deny Christ and demand his crucifixion.

As Christians, we should want to serve Christ. As Christians we should want to serve one another. We should want to imitate Christ and wash the feet of others, to be willing to die for others, to live for and love one another.

Palm Sunday is a judgment day for us. Are we only willing to follow Christ if He is willing to smash and destroy all of our enemies? Or are we willing to follow Him in his humble love and embrace the way of the cross?

From the Epistle Reading for Palm Sunday:

(Phil 4:4-9 NRSV) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. {5} Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. {6} Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. {7} And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. {8} Finally, beloved,

whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.

Palm Sunday: A Blessing Undone?

palm_sundayDeborah Krause in an article, “The One Who Comes Unbinding the Blessing of Judah” asks some interesting questions about the common interpretation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem as described in Mark 11:1-10.  Commonly Christ’s Palm Sunday entry into the city is interpreted as a fulfillment of the Zechariah 9:9 prophecy which is related to the coming of a peaceful Messiah-King.

In Mark’s Gospel there are 2 references to the donkey being tied/bound, and 3 times a reference is made to untying the donkey.  Krause thinks the wording of Mark’s text is drawing attention to Genesis 49:11 in which the dying Patriarch Jacob blesses his Son Judah saying he will be so abundantly blessed agriculturally that he will bind his donkey to a grape vine.  Krause thinks Mark’s version of Palm Sunday is also offering an undoing of Jacob’s blessing – Judah is about to lose the blessing of God because of their misunderstanding of what the Messiah is about and because of what they are going to do to Jesus the Messiah. 

So in the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, Krause speculates that the people are actually celebrating the wrong thing – for which God will not bless them.  The crowd thinks Jesus is there to re-establish the Kingdom of Israel, and so they welcome him.  However, Jesus in having the donkey untethered is symbolically telling them they have misunderstood who and what the Messiah is, and their demonstration on Palm Sunday is thus misguided.    The crowd is celebrating Jewish nationalism and thinks that Jesus the Messiah is about to make Israel victorious over Rome.  Unfortunately for them, the vineyard God gave to the Jews is about to be taken away from them because they have rejected God’s real intentions that Israel be a light to the nations.  Israel has failed to bring light to the world and instead is wishing darkness upon the world.  God will not support this total failure of Israel to understand its mission to the world.  Jesus will accomplish it in His own person and thus He, not the nation, becomes the true suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Mark 11: The Entrance into Jerusalem and the Rejection of Jewish Nationalism

I appreciate “unusual” readings of scripture by various scholars as it opens my own mind to see the scriptures in a new and different way.  Even when I don’t agree with the interpretation offered, nevertheless I appreciate when I am pushed to rethink my ideas of a familiar passage as this often leads to new insight from the scripture.  In a very short article, “The One Who Comes Unbinding the Blessing of Judah: Mark 11:1-10 as Midrash on Genesis 49:11, Zechariah 9:9, and Psalm 118:25-26,” Diane Krause offers just such a rethinking of the story of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (article is in EARLY CHRISTIAN INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES OF ISRAEL, pp 141-153).

Zechariah 9:9 has been seen by Christians as the quintessential prophecy of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”   It is a hopeful prophecy of the Messianic age in which the Jerusalem residents rejoice.

However, Krause notes that in the Mark 11 version of the entrance story, Mark mentions the untying of the colt three times – 11:2, 11:4, 11:5.  She argues that Mark does not just have Zechariah’s prophecy in mind, but is drawing the reader back to Genesis 49.

Genesis 49:11 is part of the dying Patriarch Jacob’s blessing on his son Judah, and it reads:  “Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes…”   Though the verse, as frequently true of prophecy, is a bit obscure, Krause offers one interpretation of it: “The agricultural production of Judah will be so great that young animals can be hitched to the choice vines, and clothing laundered in wine.  Jacob’s blessing announces that Judah’s provision from God will be so abundant that Judah can live without a care, all his needs will be fulfilled.”

Krause argues that Jesus command to untie the colt is actually not just fulfilling Zechariah 9:9, but actually a reversing of Genesis 49:11.  Mark in effect is metaphorically rejecting the idea that “Jesus comes to restore Jerusalem to its Davidic glory.”  It is the crowd who misunderstands Jesus as the Messiah who will bring glory to Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.  Mark’s message is that in fact Jerusalem has lost the blessing of Jacob and the favor of God.  The ultimate proof will be in Jerusalem’s crucifying the Messiah.  Jerusalem and the Jews have rejected God’s promise.

Krause argues that Mark’s real message is to the Gentile community that is embracing his Gospel that Jesus is the Messiah at the very moment in history when the Jews have completely rejected Jesus.  Mark in effect is rejecting Jewish nationalism as a misinterpretation of Messianism.  Mark’s telling of the Palm Sunday story connects the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (11:1-10) with the cursing of the barren fig tree (11:12-14), the driving out of the money changers from the temple (11:15-18), and the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants (12:1-12) where the vineyard is ultimately taken away from the undeserving and ungrateful tenants and given to others.  Mark according to Krause is offering to his Gentile readers/converts scriptural justification for why they have become the chosen people of God.   Jesus is not there to fulfill the Jewish understanding of Jewish messianic nationalism, but rather to prove that the Jews have in fact rejected God and their chosen destiny, and so God must turn to those who will believe.