The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) Fr. Andrew
Today we join with the crowds in shouting Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna means “Save I pray!” This is a joyous day, let us wave the palm branches and sing praise to our Lord and Saviour. Celebration, pure joy, the incarnate Son of God is among us! Christ lights our way! When we come out to do the little entrance today, we will do a great entrance loop all around to the royal doors and I would like to have the children lead us waving their Palm branches.
All four of the Gospels contain an account of this glorious entry. Every word and action of Christ is purposeful. He has already celebrated 3 previous Passovers in Jerusalem rather quietly with His disciples. Often before when he healed the blind, the sick, the lepers, the demoniacs he would tell them not to tell anyone. He kept things rather quiet as he went about fulfilling all of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. As Christ says to John the Baptist’s questions: “…the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them…” Obviously Christ was becoming well known – you can only do so many miracles without word getting out – but now for the first time He was accepting and encouraging the people to praise and glorify Him. As Christ says a few verses later in the Gospel reading; “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”
The crowd is excited, they have all heard about the glorious raising from the dead of Lazarus. This must be the Messiah, who else could raise a man 4 days dead! They are ready to celebrate the joy of having their Messiah among them. He who created all things now rides on a donkey colt through His creation. Christ does not discourage the crowd, but allows that which is absolutely right and proper for all of creation. We would hear the very stones crying out in praise if we could tune in to their wavelength. This is an hour of Sanity – when what should always be happening, in all of creation and in all of our hearts is being truly proclaimed. The Son of Man is glorified! The Kingdom of God is at hand. Of course, we as Christians know that the Kingdom of God is always at hand. As Christ tells us “For Indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” However, it is wonderful to see the world proclaiming reality and shouting Hosanna as Christ enters Jerusalem.
We do not just historically observe and think about these events as we celebrate the Holy week services; travelling with Christ and His faithful from now until the Pascal celebration of Christ’s resurrection, we fully enter in and experience them, as they exist in eternal time and are ever presently part of our reality, existing outside the bounds of time and history. These events are more real and eternally present in true history than anything we might usually consider to be real and present right in front of our noses!
So the crowd is filled with Joy and celebrating that the Messiah is among them. How is Jesus reacting to this? In Luke it says; “As He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it.” Earlier Christ had said “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather up your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.” He is weeping for all of us. He stretches out His hand to heal and bring us into His Kingdom. Are we willing? Will we turn to Him and take His outstretched hand and invite Him to completely enter into every moment of our lives. Will we follow Him on His terms?
The crowd does not understand the prophecies of the suffering servant Messiah. They are celebrating Christ with their understanding of what He should be doing for them, of how He should behave according to their understanding. They are celebrating a conquering Messiah who is coming to turf the Romans and give them what they deserve. They want their Messiah on their terms. Today, much of modern North American “Christianity” is still focused on “what Christ can do for you.” The hideous aberration of the prosperity gospel, where if you aren’t blessed financially you don’t have proper faith, if you are suffering then you must not be following Christ properly, is the twisted version of this. Now all are shouting praises but soon, even the disciples will scatter when Judas betrays Christ and He allows Himself to be taken by the soldiers. In the end, the Apostle John, the myrrh bearing women and the Theotokos are the only ones recorded to be with Him.
Christ understands fully His purpose in this final journey to Jerusalem and he says, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” “Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This is not some morbid council, but a simple statement about where true joy and reality exist. The pleasures of this world are very transient. They flee almost immediately when we do achieve them and leave us seeking another high. True lasting joy is only to be found in the kingdom of Christ.
The first clue that Christ wasn’t about to fulfill the crowds selfish and short-sighted vision of the Messiah should have been His mode of transport. Entrance celebrations held to honour some conquering General or Caesar were done with a great number of prancing horses and Chariots. Christ comes riding on a donkey’s colt. This would be the humblest means of transport possible. The donkey was an unclean animal in Jewish eyes.
When I was first ordained Fr. Anthony, our son Michael’s excellent priest down in Colorado Springs, told me a little story about the donkey carrying Christ and the donkey’s mouse friend. The donkey was quite proud prancing down the streets with all the adoring crowds laying palm branches and even their clothes under the donkey’s hooves and shouting Hosanna in the highest! He said to his mouse friend who was running along with him “Look at me, all these people, they love me! I’m doing a great job!” The mouse just replied, “It’s about Christ not you, you idiot” Good to remember.
Everything quickly reverses shortly after this triumphal entry. Many of these same people now excitedly waving Palm branches and shouting Hosanna, will soon be spitting upon the Lord and shouting, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him”.
We are very similar. We often follow Christ for what we think He can give us. Help us to prosper, help us to get a better job, help us to get healthy. Of course, Christ will often bless us in these material ways, and this is a good thing. However, when things don’t work out like we think they should, and we judge that He is not answering our prayers how do we react? Do we think Christ has abandoned us or perhaps we are too sinful for Him to bless us? Christ always wants want is best for us. If we turn to Him, He is always there. He does not give us a scorpion when we ask for a fish. But we need to understand that His knowledge of what we need is often far different from what it is we think would be good for us. His vision is complete and ours is completely clouded. He knows what is coming tomorrow and next year and even unto eternity in our lives. He loves us far more than we even know how to love. He is concerned that our eternal soul grows and is saved. Our prosperity and worldly contentment, and many other things we think would be helpful, can sometimes get in the way of this. His concern is that our hearts be softened and truly converted, and that we learn to love Him and all of mankind in true humility. That our “stuff,” our “blessings” don’t become idols, more important to us than God. Usually we do not grow ever closer to God through ever increasing material success, even though we are convinced we are the exception to this rule.
We can relate to Tevia as he asks in Fiddler on the Roof; “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I was a wealthy man?” We too ask “Would it be so bad if I won the lottery? Think of all the good I could do!” Actually, for most of us the answer is yes. God loves each of us specifically and individually and if we were missing, it would be a great spoiling of His “vast eternal plan.” Perhaps not for some, but for most of us, great wealth is not a trustworthy path to true eternal wealth and salvation. The Fathers tell us that gold coins are very dangerous and can sting terribly. The truth is that Christ is bringing all things together, to best allow us to cooperate with His plan of salvation and transformation for us. He asks us to trust Him in the middle of our often very painful and bewildering circumstances; to pick up our cross and follow Him. This is difficult, but ultimately all we have to give to God is our free will and our trust. We need to learn to pray, as Christ prays to His Father just before going to His death on the Cross a few short days from now, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”
We raise our children understanding that we need to keep a long-term vision in our mind, of who they are created to be and to become as mature adults. It is often difficult to not just go the easy route, allowing them to do things that are not helpful for their long-term character development, for a little short-term peace when they are testing us. They certainly don’t understand or appreciate it when they can’t get away with “what everyone else gets to do.” But they will be most grateful when they are adults and they understand their parents’ motives for the firm love given them as they grew up. When we multiply this long-term vision into our destiny as children of God for all of eternity, we can start to understand God’s long-term perspective in our lives. Someday, we too will also be most grateful for those bewildering circumstances we have to navigate while here on our short earthly journey. If we can learn to in faith “give thanks in all things” while still on this earthly journey it will certainly help to bear the cross we have been asked to take up.
Our Epistle reading today tells us; “…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 are is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” This is a great test for what we should try to fill our minds with. We should attempt to fast by controlling our intake with not only our mouths, but also all of the other senses; especially the eyes and ears. May God be quick to help and give us His grace in this great struggle.
Our Epistle today also has a great bit of advice on true joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” Let us join with those today in crying out to Christ; Hosanna in the highest, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord! Glory to Jesus Christ!