31 - Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010

Philippians 4:4-9

John 12:1-18

On this day, Palm Sunday, we celebrate the bright and glorious feast of the Entrance of Our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The troparion for this feast of Palm Sunday – “By raising Lazarus…” – shows a connection between the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the Savior’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and the Lord’s own Holy Resurrection.

What is that connection? Lazarus was the friend of Christ. Christ so loved him that he wept when he stood at his grave. He raised him from the dead because He loved him. Christ voluntarily ascends the Cross to destroy death by His death and to deliver mankind from the power of death because He loves the world. The Church worships Him as the only Lover of Mankind, the Greatly Compassionate One. What connects the raising of Lazarus with the Resurrection of Christ is the love Christ has for man, and how He saves from death those who put their whole trust in Him. For the faithful, the Lord’s triumphal Entrance into Jerusalem celebrates the triumph of Christ’s love for man in which He destroys death by His death and shatters the gates of hell and opens them onto Paradise so that all who love Him as His friends may draw near to Him and become partakers of the divine nature and communicants of life eternal.

The triumph of Christ is hidden to the eyes of the world; for the world has rejected God to the point of murdering Him on the Cross. But the eyes of faith see Christ voluntarily ascending the Cross in the triumph of His divine love in order to destroy death by His death and to give life even to those who are in the tombs.

In her prayers and in the haunting beauty of her melodies and in the reverent solemnity of her liturgical rites on this Holy Feast of the Savior’s Triumphal Entrance into Jerusalem, the Church sets before us the Lord’s compassion of such immensity and pathos that it can break the heart, and change even enemies of God into lovers of Christ, worshipping Him as their Lord and God and taking up the cry of the children bearing the palms of victory: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Who is so great a God as our God, the God who does wonders!”

This is the joy of Pascha that was set before us at the beginning of Great Lent, when we took up our cross in the form of the Great Fast, to deny ourselves for the sake of Christ, and to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death by putting to death in us our love for the world by means of the Great Fast. Over the last six weeks, we have been emptying our stomachs of worldly food; we have been emptying our eyes and ears of worldly images. We have followed Christ into the wilderness of our daily life, the emptiness of our inner soul, that we might change our hunger and thirst into hunger and thirst for the Living Bread and the Living Cup of Christ’s Holy Body and Blood, so that we might have in us no longer the life of the world that is forever cycling back to the dust whence it came, but the life of God that is forever ascending from glory to glory in the grace of Christ God, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

As an icon reflecting the spiritual realities of our own soul, I think that this bright and glorious Feast of Palm Sunday reflects the inner descent of the faithful into the depths of the human spirit as Christ draws near to Jerusalem. The passions of our body and soul, whereby we are still in thrall to the evil one and to the fleshly comforts of this life, may become even more visible to us this week. We should expect to find forces of resistance rising up outside of us and within us, taking many different forms. These are the forces of our passions, the greed, conceit and pride that we have not confessed rising up in anger against the Holy One of Israel, as did the religious leaders of Israel. The passions rising from the old man in us take different forms from extreme anger to cold indifference; but they all serve the same purpose of seeking to keep us from denying ourselves and uniting ourselves in love to Christ on His Cross.

We are now at, let’s say, the 10th hour. The Midnight of Pascha is but a week away, when the Heavenly Bridegroom comes, hidden from the eyes of the worldly but plainly visible to the friends of Christ, the faithful, in the heavenly joy they will experience on Pascha night. Regardless of how you have kept the fast the last six weeks, today marks the beginning of Great and Holy Week that will culminate in the joy of the Lord’s Pascha. There is still time to take up your cross and join the company of those who love Christ and who worship Him as their God, and who are crying out with faith and love: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” In the sacrament of holy confession we can make a new beginning even yet and renounce our love for the world, which does not love us at all; it loves itself. And it does not give its life for us. It takes our life from us and leaves us without pity for dead in the dust of the ground.

The Lord Jesus Christ alone is the Greatly Compassionate One, the Only Lover of Mankind, who does not take our life from us but gives His life for us. There is still time to act and to unite ourselves to the compassionate Christ as Our Lord and Our God. We have come to the gates of Jerusalem. The Lord’s Pascha is but six days away; but there is time even yet to take up the Fast and begin the work of preparing ourselves for the Heavenly Bridegroom who comes at the Midnight of Holy Pascha.

So, in the time that remains, take up the Fast and call your mind and heart to the love of the Compassionate Christ, who alone loves mankind. Come to all of the divine services this week and let the Church through the beauty of her prayers lead you into the mystery of the Lord’s Pascha. Like the children bearing the palms of victory, let us cry out together to our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!” so that we can all enter the Church on Pascha night together in the joy of His Glorious Resurrection, and proclaim in our common love for the Savior and in the joy of the Feast: Christ is risen!

By your ineffable compassion, O Christ our God, make us victorious over the irrational passions, and count us worthy to see Your manifest victory over death and Your joyous and Life-creating Resurrection, and have mercy on us and save us. Amen.