This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, or Sunday of the Entrance into Jerusalem; the starting point of Christ’s salvific Passions and third day Resurrection.
The biblical reading of the Divine Liturgy on this day is from the Gospel of St John 12:1-18. But at orthros, it is from St Mathew (21: 1-11, 15-17).
Both readings speak of the Lord Jesus entering Jerusalem to the reception of cheers: “Hosanna for the Son of David, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna on high.”
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The Gospel reading for the Liturgy begins with Jesus’ arrival to Bethany, six days before the Jewish Passover, where Lazarus was raised by Jesus from the dead before His victorious entrance into Jerusalem. We must comprehend that what happened in Bethany is very important as it paved the way for the Lord’s death and His resurrection. Also, the resurrection of Lazarus differs from earlier ones mentioned in the Gospel; after Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, and then the son of the widow of Nain, He raised His friend Lazarus after he had been dead for four days, his body already decomposing. The raising of Lazarus was an expression of proof that the Lord Jesus is the Master of life, He is the true witness and a clear manifestation of the general resurrection, the resurrection of all those who have fallen asleep and will fall asleep in the Lord. We chant: “O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion: Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection.”
The raising of Lazarus was a precursor for new life; it was radiant and conclusive evidence of the divinity of Christ. This holy evidence became the reason why many began to believe in Him and then became the reason why the priests constructed a plot to kill Lazarus as well “because many Jews were going to believe in Jesus”.
The other occurrence during this time also happened in the house of Lazarus; “Mary brought a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair, while Martha served Him.” This work of Love provoked Simeon the Iscariot who saw it as an unjustified extravagance. Obviously, his interest was not charity, but the motivation of greed and love of money as a keeper of the money purse; the Gospel states “he was a thief, and bore the money bag, and what was put therein”. Jesus stopped him, saying, “Let her be! But let her save it for the day of my burial.” This blessed act was the preparation of and declaration of the death, shrouding, and burial of Christ.
The second part of this reading speaks of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where He was met with a huge crowd. “The multitudes spread their clothing on the ground and some cut branches from trees and took the palm’s branches and went out to meet Him.” With these branches, they were pointing to the predominance of Christ over death, as it was usually the custom that victorious kings be honoured in the war by victory processions using similar branches. However, the entry of the victorious Messiah was different from the entry of other kings; he did not arrive in vehicles, with weapons or soldiers, through murder, destruction, and blood, but on a humble donkey of “Athan”. He arrived in humbleness, meekness and peacefulness, accomplishing the prophecy of Zakharia (9:9); “Rejoice, daughter of Zion, because; Behold your King comes to you riding on the donkey of the line of Athan.” He is the God of Peace, as the Apostle Paul says in today’s message, “God of Peace Be With You” (Philippians 4:9).
The Evangelists understand and claim that what happened during Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was difficult for the Apostles to make sense of at that time. “These things His disciples didn’t understand.” It was incomprehensible at that time to fully grasp what Jesus meant when He said that He did not come to establish an earthly kingdom, but rather “the Kingdom of Heaven”. He is the King, but as He said to Pilate; “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
The symbolism of Palm Sunday can be summarised as: The God of Peace (Christ) has entered the city of Peace (Jerusalem) in humble Peace and victorious, and it was a declaration for the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven. The paradox here is that those who welcomed His entrance were the very ones who sent Him out of the walls of Jerusalem to His crucifixion. Those who were shouting “Hosanna in the highest” were to in a few days shout” Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Those who had laid down their clothes to receive Him as King would share His clothes among themselves. Those who were carrying olive branches and palm fronds to His reception, will give Him vinegar and bitterness and raise Him on the cross!
They believed that Christ had entered Jerusalem to free them from tyrannical earthly authority and a tyrant ruler, or to establish an earthly kingdom and an earthly city. They were shocked when He called them saying: “Love your enemies and forgive those who offend you.” They were amazed, when He told them, “Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are you if they persecute you and abuse you for My name’s sake.” They did not realise that He had come to set them free from the bondage of sin and tyranny of death, to open the doors for them to a heavenly peaceful kingdom.
On this day we must look inward and reflect on where we ourselves stand on the Master’s entry into Jerusalem. Are we cheering Him shouting, “Hosanna our Savior, in the highest”? But do we, as soon as we hear Him imploring us to love and sacrifice, change our thoughts and attitude towards Him and go with those who chanted, “Crucify Him, crucify Him”? Do we remain faithful to Him until the last moment like the beloved Apostles, so we bare witness to His resurrection from the dead and rejoice, and we realise it?! Or do we betray Him like Judas, who objected to the pouring of the myrrh on the Master, citing loving the poor while he was merely loving his own desires?!
On this upcoming blessed Sunday, which represents the commencement of Christ’s salvific Passions, the Holy Church asks us to offer to Him divine virtues and righteous deeds instead of the fronds of the palm trees, and to chant for Him with pure hearts like the hearts of children who know no evil, “Hosanna in the Highest, Blessed is the name of the Lord.”
“O Brethren, let us offer the Palms of Virtues to Christ the God who by His choice as a man comes to suffer for our sake, to offer everyone relief from suffering by the power of the Godhead.”
+ Metropolitan Basilios