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 (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 (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.

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)

Think About Things Beautiful and Lovely

The Epistle for Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church is 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.

Father Sergius Bulgakov writes about beauty:

“‘God saw everything that he had made: and, behold, it was most beautiful’ (Gen. 1:31). God is good; he is goodness itself. God is true; he is truth itself. God is glorious, and his glory is beauty itself. Beauty is an objective principle in the world, revealing to us the divine glory. The divine source of objective beauty is also the source of the human creation of beauty, that is, of art. God created man in his image, granting to this image three gifts: a will directed towards the good, the gift of reason and wisdom, and the gift of aesthetic appreciation. Man is meant to be the wisdom of the world, just because he participates in the Logos; he is also meant to be the artist of the world, because he can imbue it with beauty.

Man must become not only a good and faithful worker in the world; he must not only ‘dress and keep it’ (Gen. 2.15), as he was commanded in paradise, but he must also become its artist; he must render it beautiful. Because he has been created in the image of God, he is called to create. Things are transfigured and made luminous by beauty; they become the revelation of their own abstract meaning. And this revelation through beauty of the things of earth is the work of art. The world, as it has been given to us, has remained as it were covered by an outward shell through which art penetrates, as if foreseeing the coming transfiguration of the world. Man has been called to be a demiurge, not only to contemplate the beauty of the world, but also to express it. Does this not speak of a new service of the Church ,one that has not yet been fully revealed in the heart of man and in his history: the service of realizing the work of human participation in the transfiguration of the world? Is it not of this that the words of Dostoevsky speak, ‘Beauty will save the world?’ ” (in The Time of the Spirit: Readings Through the Christian Year, pg. 11)

We begin Holy Week with the reading about things of beauty on Palm Sunday and we are asked to think about them.   St. Ephrem of Syria penned some beautiful words about Paradise.  Paradise created by God to be populated by His chosen human creatures, was emptied by the sin of Eve and Adam.  Paradise like all creation groaned for the day when it would be filled again with humans, and thus fulfilled (Romans 8:19-22).

“Blessed is the person

      for whom Paradise yearns.

Yes, Paradise yearns for that person whose goodness

     makes them beautiful”  

(St. Ephrem the Syrian in TREASURE-HOUSE OF MYSTERIES, p 38)

As we enter Holy Week, we are to think about things true, pure, lovely, noble, just and of good report, so St. Paul tells us.  Passion Week is a period in time for us to especially focus on God and His work to save the world.

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.