Our Lenten journey has come to an end. I hope these days have been different than the rest of the year. Each Lent we have an awesome opportunity to enhance our spiritual life and to grow in our faith. My only hope and prayer is that all of you, in some way, took advantage of this opportunity.
We now stand in the door of Holy Week and peer in to see the events that will unfold. During this week we will follow our Lord on his way to his voluntary death, a death that he faced not because of something that He did but because of something that we did. Jesus came, and died, to trample down death for the very last time by death. We no longer have to have an uncertainty if we follow what he commands to love God and our neighbor if we do this we can be assured of a place in his father’s house.
Yesterday we celebrated the feast of the raising of St. Lazarus from his earthly tomb. One of the 12 great feats of the Church and the official if you will, end of Great Lent. The resurrection of Lazarus is viewed in the Church as prophecy in action. The raising of Lazarus prefigures both the resurrection of Christ, as well as the general resurrection of all the dead in the end times. This feast points us toward the fact that the resurrection is more than an event it is a person, Christ Himself, who bestows eternal life upon all who believe in Him at this moment in time, not some point of time in history but at this very moment.
We also see in this feast for the first time a disclosure of the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human. Jesus knew Lazarus was ill and was going to die and He also knew the final outcome. Through these events he also showed forth one of his most human moments with the shortest verse in the Bible, Jesus Wept. Through this act Scripture records the immense emotions of the time and perhaps the emotions of the week to come. Jesus loved Lazarus there is no doubt about that and his death affected him in a very human way. He showed love, tenderness, sympathy and compassion. We are told that he sighed from the heart.
This was the first time that Jesus performed a miracle in front of a large crowd. Scripture tells us that along with the crowd that would have been following Jesus the crowd that had gathered at the home of Martha and Mary left and went to the tomb when they heard Jesus was there. Jesus looks to heaven and asks His Father to perform this miracle so that those present will come to the knowledge of who He really is. This was an act that would start the ball rolling toward the end.
Jesus knew that His end was near and He knew how he was to come to this end. Up until this point in time he was a rather unknown person outside of the people that were following Him. His fame had not really spread all that far and Jesus needed to get the word out if you will. Jesus used the Facebook of His time and performed this miracle of miracles, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, in front of many people and within ear shot of Jerusalem. This was His announcement to the world that He was in fact God!
Word of this spread through the surrounding country side like a brush fire on a warm dry day. No longer did he tell those around Him not to tell anyone, in fact Jesus wanted those assembled to tell everyone, in one sense he was inciting the people, He needed to…
Today we celebrate the second part of this two part feast day. Commonly known as Palm Sunday, in the Orthodox Church the title of this day is the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem. I think we sometimes forget that this day is less about the palms of green that we know all hold in our hands, and more about the fact that Jesus was being welcomed into the capital city of the day not as a humble preacher but as a King, this would get some attention.
The symbolism of the donkey is very important. The donkey was, and is, a very humble animal. It was a donkey that carried the Theotokos to Bethlehem to give birth, it was a donkey that carried the new family to Egypt at the prompting of the Angel to keep them safe, it was a donkey that carried them back to Nazareth and it is now a donkey that will carry Jesus to His death. The donkey was not a symbol of a military conquer but the symbol of a humble servant. Palm branches and other items were laid on the ground in front of His as he passed along the road and they were singing Hosanna to the Son of David, okay this is getting bad. By this action they have proclaimed Jesus the King of Israel, the big problem is there was already someone this this title, and this made the authorities very uncomfortable.
Understand that at this point in history the Jews were living under captivity of the Romans. Any riot would have called the Roman Soldiers in to quell this and the end would have been bad for many people. The Jews had many rights, but those rights could be taken away in an instant and the Temple authorities feared this. Jesus knew this and was using it to His advantage. He needed to get them so nervous that they would ask the Romans to kill Him. This had to be done.
In a very real sense Jesus was causing a riot, He was stirring up the crowd so the authorities would have to act. He did not want to enter Jerusalem, as He had many times before, as an unknown, no He wanted to enter with all the pomp and circumstance that He could whip up. If there had been a marching band I believe He would have used it. Jesus was saying to the authorities, go ahead, and make my day!
As we say the very human side of Jesus comes forth in yesterday’s feast and today we see a messianic event though which the divine authority of Jesus is declared. We are told through this feast to behold our King, the very Word of God, present before time, made in the flesh, the very God of the very God. We are called to behold Him not as a man riding on a colt but as God who is ever present in His Church, coming to us always in power and glory in each and evry Eucharist, in every prayer and sacrament, and in every act of love and kindness and mercy. He comes in glory to free us of our sins and to welcome us into eternal life, the life we were designed to live. He comes to deliver us from our own death by His death. He is the King who liberates us from the darkness of this world and the bondage of death, we no longer have to fear death, but welcome it!
Palm Sunday summons us to accept both the rule and the kingdom of God as the goal and content of our Christian life. We draw our identity as Christians from Christ and his kingdom, not a kingdom at some far off point of place or some far off point in history but the kingdom of God that is at hand, that is in each and every one of us the kingdom that is a present reality as well as a future one. The kingdom of God is indeed at hand.
The kingdom of God is the life of the Holy Trinity, that perfect object of love. It is the very kingdom of holiness, goodness, truth, beauty, love, peace, and joy. These are not qualities of the human spirit they proceed from the life of God and they reveal God. Christ Himself is the kingdom. He is the God-man, who brought God down to earth. St. John tells us, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not.” Jesus was, as we are and will be, reviled and hated by the world.
Tonight as we sing the Bridegroom Matins service we will carry in procession the Icon that depicts Jesus as the suffering servant. We cannot understand the kingship of Jesus if we do not understand His passion. Filled with infinite love for the Father and the Holy Spirit, in His inexpressible humility Jesus accepted the infinite abasement of the cross. He bore our grief and our sorrows, yours and mine; He was wounded for our transgressions and made Himself an offering for sin. His glorious resurrection and His ascension into heaven were accomplished through the cross. We have to do the same. We need to crucify our sins and our passions on the cross that Jesus tells us we need to pick up and carry each day.
We have the opportunity this week to walk this walk, the final walk of Jesus. We have this opportunity to be in the upper room with Jesus and his closest friends, we have the opportunity to pray with Jesus in the garden, we have the opportunity to be with His mother at the foot of the Cross, we have the opportunity to crucify our life’s and stand up and say once and for all that we will follow Him and do what He asks of each of us. We have the opportunity to turn our backs on this world and all of its desires for our lives and follow the King, not the King of this world, but the King of the spiritual world!
In the fleeting moments of exuberance that marked the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the world received its King. The King who was on His way to His death. His passion, however, was no morbid desire for martyrdom. Jesus’ purpose was to accomplish the mission for which the Father had sent Him.
Jesus is asking each of us to join Him on this journey this week. He is asking for you to set aside all earthly cares for one week and join Him on a journey that He took not for Himself but for us, for each and every person that has been created in His image and likeness. He is asking us to help Him on His journey this week. He is inviting us into His circle of close friends as He experiences His most human moments. He is asking us to be present with Him in the garden when He asks His Father to let this cup pass and if there is another way! He is asking us to be present with Him as he is whipped not for His crime but for our crime, the crime of Sin and love of this world. He is asking us to present with Him as the nails of our sin pierce His most Holy Body. He is asking us, each of us, to be present with His as His precious body is hoisted up on the cross as the world spits on Him. He is asking us to be present when He draws His last breath and dies on the cross. He is asking us to be with Him when the same wood that condemned the world to death brings the world life! He is asking us… What will your answer be? Will you be with Him as the women were or will you be crowtched down in the bushes as his Apostles were watching from a distance in fear of your own life?
He is asking… What will your answer be?