|32 PALM SUNDAY. A TRIUMPH NOT OF THIS WORLD April 9, 2023|
The prophecies we heard at Vespers last night from Genesis, Zechariah and Zephaniah, reveal that the LORD’s entry today into Jerusalem and into the Temple of Jerusalem is an unsurpassable triumph, global, even cosmic in scope. Having raised Lazarus from the dead only yesterday, the LORD reveals His power to subdue peoples, both living and dead, under His feet (Ps 47.3). It should follow from this that His Church should be a global empire, unconquerable, and without end. For if He has power over the living and the dead, who is there that could defeat Him?
Therefore, there is every reason to expect that today, Palm Sunday, should be the Feast of Feasts, celebrating the day when the Church’s eternal dominion of the world began.
But, of course, today is not the Feast of Feasts. And the Orthodox Church does not have dominion over the world. Instead, She is under constant attack by forces visible and invisible, from outside and inside, seeking to destroy Her and all Her faithful children. These are not the worldly Christians but the Christians who are striving to take up their Cross and follow Christ, who are fleeing the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Palm Sunday, therefore, is a riddle. Why is it that, having just raised Lazarus from the dead, the triumphant LORD Jesus comes into the Temple, looks around, and then leaves it? He won’t be seen publicly again until He is betrayed by Judas and is lifted high on the Cross, dies and is buried, as was Lazarus, in a tomb in a garden on the mountain of Golgotha opposite Jerusalem. (Cf. Eze 11.23 & Gen 4.25 LXX)
It’s a riddle, a Gospel koan, that has scandalized generations of so-called theologians. Thinking to find its solution in the conceit of their own wisdom, they have asserted that Jesus was but a kind of Don Quixote, a nobly failed prophet, or even that He had no historical existence at all, that He is just a mythologem, the ‘Hero’ in one of his thousand faces.
But the faithful know that on Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, we’re looking into the Icon of God, the pure, unspotted mirror of the Power [energeia] of God, the eternal Icon of the Father’s Goodness, the Icon, the uncreated Mirror, He Who Is Himself the uncreated brilliance of the eternal Light [Wisd 7.26], and that as the Icon of God, He ’reflects’ what’s really there. Standing before this icon, looking into it with the eyes of faith, we feel ourselves standing on a mountain of theology, and it’s shaking beneath our feet, as though it's preparing to be cast into the sea!
Now, we read from Moses: ‘And the Cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the Tabernacle was filled with the Glory of the LORD. And Moses was not able to enter the Tabernacle because the Cloud overshadowed it, and it was filled with the Glory of the LORD. And when the Cloud went up from the Tabernacle, the children of Israel prepared to continue on their Exodus.’ (Ex 40.31-36).
The Holy Elder, Archimandite Athanasios Mitilinaios, said to his listeners back in the early 1980s: ‘Do you know that this Cloud was the Son of God who would later become incarnate?’ (Seven Trumpets, vol III, p. 77.) The hymnography of Holy Week confirms this: ‘My people, what have I done to you that you deny Me? Was I not in the form of a Cloud’ that guided you on your Exodus through the wilderness to the Land of Promise? (p. 78)
When this Cloud becomes flesh in the womb of our Beloved Panagia, He is fashioned from Her pure blood by the Hand of God as the Temple not made by hands. So, when the LORD Jesus enters the Temple of Jerusalem, we are seeing the Temple not made with hands entering the Temple of Jerusalem and filling it with His Glory, as He filled the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. And when we see Jesus leaving the Temple to go to the mountain of Golgotha opposite Jerusalem, we are seeing what Ezekiel saw in his vision (11.23): the Glory of God leaving the Temple of Jerusalem to settle on the mountain opposite Jerusalem!
For what purpose? Why does Jesus turn and leave the Temple almost as soon as He enters it in triumph? Moses told us centuries ago: ‘When the Cloud went up from the Tabernacle, the children of Israel prepared to continue on their Exodus!’
Here is the riddle’s solution, revealed to us by the Wisdom of Holy Scripture itself! The true Exodus of Israel did not end at the Temple at Jerusalem. Jesus leaving the Temple on Palm Sunday reveals to us that the Temple of Jerusalem is not and never was the true destination of the Exodus. There is another destination, another Jerusalem, another Temple that are not of this life or of this earth. They are the Heavenly Temple of the Heavenly Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you (Lk 17.21).
So, if the incarnate Cloud of God’s Glory, Jesus Christ, the King of Israel, the Ruler of all the Nations, is leaving the Temple of Jerusalem on this, the Day of His earthly triumph, it means that the biblical Exodus is moving again. The hour is at hand! We need to prepare ourselves to follow the Cloud of God’s Glory, Our LORD Jesus Christ, on this New Exodus that we read about in all the prophets, but have never understood – until now! It is the inner Exodus of the Gospel, and it begins where the historical Exodus ends: on the mountain opposite Jerusalem, Golgotha, in the New Tomb in which no man had ever been placed before, the Tomb that is in the Garden! What Garden? Some earthly garden on Golgotha? No! The Garden of Eden! For Golgotha is not just any mountain. The LORD has ascended it with His Cross. It has been deified and has become the LORD’s Holy Mountain, even the Mountain of Eden – for Christ, the New Adam, the Theotokos, the New Eve, Christ, the Tree of Life, the Cross, the tree of learning good and evil, are all there, transfiguring the whole of creation, all of time and space, to create a new heaven and a new earth, even as Isaiah foretold – whose prophecy we read just this Friday last! (Isa 66.22)
Do you see? The old Exodus of Israel ends at the Tomb – but it does not end! It is transfigured into the New Exodus foreseen by all the prophets! The New Exodus, the inner Exodus of the Gospel, begins in the tomb of the human heart, transfigured into the Bridal Chamber for into the Tomb, into the mystery of the human heart, the body of Christ is placed as Adam was placed in the Garden (Lk 23.53, Gn 2.8).
And we step onto this Inner Exodus of the Gospel when we deny ourselves and take up our cross – the ascetical disciplines of the Church, prayer and fasting – to share in the LORD’s suffering by putting to death all that is earthly in us, that we may hear Him call out to us in the tomb of our heart, as He did to Lazarus in the tomb: ‘Come forth!’ and that we may follow Him and find our life in His Holy Resurrection beyond the grave.
The Kingdom of Christ is not an earthly Kingdom. No earthly Kingdom, no earthly power can transform a heart of stone, a dead heart, into a heart of flesh, a living heart! No earthly power, no earthly kingdom can put a new and right spirit within us! Every earthly power, every earthly kingdom is corrupted at its root by death, utterly enslaved to the prince of death, the devil!
Today, therefore, is not the Feast of Feasts. Pascha is the Feast of Feasts; and we celebrate Pascha most appropriately in the middle of the night, unseen by the world that sleeps. The faithful don’t celebrate Pascha as an observance. For it is a mystical reality, an unseen reality. It is the Body of Christ that is divided but not divided, eaten yet never consumed but sanctifying all who partake of it. We receive Pascha, we partake of Pascha. We eat and drink, we commune in our heart and mind with the Light of Pascha that shines in the darkness of sin and death, but is not extinguished. Far from it: it destroys sin and death, it illumines the darkness and makes those who follow the LORD as He commands children of the Light and of the Day! We hold our palm branches high. They are the emblems of our thanksgiving to Christ our God who cleanses us from our sins, raises us from death to life, and makes us children of the Light and of the Day! Amen!