Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Then Jesus, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, who had been dead and whom He had raised from the dead.”
The Church in her wisdom and Tradition unites Lazarus Saturday with Palm Sunday, forming a single focus with two sides, although the events themselves are separated by time. After raising His beloved friend (and future Bishop of Cyprus), our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ slips away to the city of Ephraim to hole up for awhile with His Disciples because the miracle in Bethany made both Jesus and His beloved, Lazarus, targets for death by those who despised the Master and the one whose resurrection caused many Jews to believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (Jn. 11:46-57). The raising of the four-day-dead Lazarus leads us liturgically to Palm Sunday in anticipation of what will transpire in Jerusalem, especially on the third day after the Crucifixion, and Palm Sunday refers liturgically to the great and salvific event of Lazarus’ resurrection, pointing to the “universal resurrection” that awaits us all, both good and evil alike, believer and atheist, the newly departed and those who have been in the grave for millennia (Lazarus Saturday/Palm Sunday Troparion; Jn. 5:28-29; 1 Th. 16-17).
In one way, the event of our Lord’s grand Entrance into Jerusalem might be liturgically akin to our Great Entrance in the Divine Liturgy, when Priest and Deacon and Altar Servers with Cross and censer and torches and fans bear up the sacred Gift of the Lamb prepared for the bloodless immolation on the Altar. There is great joy in our hearts as the Lamb comes forth from the Table of Oblation where He has been prepared, making His way through Jerusalem and to the place called Golgotha, where He will be slaughtered for the sin of the world – for my sins and yours. There is also a holy reverence in our Great Entrance procession precisely because we know Who it is that goes forth and why. Some, if not many, stretch forth their hands to touch the Priest’s phelonion like so many others in the Gospels in search of God’s healing, saving, and sanctifying grace. “’If I may but touch His garments, I shall be whole’” (Mt. 9:21; 14:36; Mk. 5:28; 8:56; Lk. 8:44), they say to themselves like the woman with the bleeding issue and the multitudes of others just like her, just like us, who need God. “That we may receive the King of all, Who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts” (Cherubicon), is our hope, our prayer, our desire. And, at one point, we even dare to lay hold of those words of praise and thanksgiving uttered by the multitude at the gates in recognition of just Who it is Who is before us on the Altar, just “Like the children with palms of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death, ‘Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord’” (Lazarus Saturday/Palm Sunday Troparion). Blessed is the Son of David, the King of Israel, Who comes to us – even us sinners – gentle and meek, riding upon the foal of an ass.
The people that day in Jerusalem watched as history was being made. The Messiah, long awaited since the first prophecy in Genesis (Gn. 3:15), was making His way into the city, into the lives of all those gathered for the feast of Passover, all those who lay in their graves asleep, the hoped-for fulfillment of God’s promise to restore His people, Israel, and to conquer their enemies once-and-for-all.
But, what they expected wasn’t what they got, or was it? They got what they needed, not what they wanted. A distinction to be sure that we, too, need to pay attention to at all times. At one place in the Gospels, Jesus asks all those who had gone out into the wilderness to see the Baptist and Forerunner, John, “’What did you go out to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see?,’” Jesus wants to know. “’A man clothed in soft garments? . . . But what did you go out to see? A Prophet? . . . .’” (Mt. 11:7-19; Lk. 7:24-35). In other words, why did you go out and what did you expect to see? Just why were those in Jerusalem going forth that day to meet Jesus? What did they expect to see? Perhaps, more poignantly, however, might be to ask, “What do we expect see today and every day we gather in this place? What brings us to this holy assembly? For what purpose do we come forth from our places of death-like sleep, wrapped in bedclothes? Who or what draws us here and for what purpose?” Perhaps another way of looking at it is, “Just Who is this Jesus for us? What is this Jesus to us? What Jesus or which Jesus do we come looking for? The One we have concocted in the imaginations of our hearts or the One we truly need?” The question is important because we know what transpired that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem and we know how the end of that Great and Holy Week turns out. Was it the woke mob of Jerusalem who clamored vigorously for Jesus’ crucifixion or was it the disappointed and disillusioned of that place because what promised to be a coronation on Sunday ended in an assassination on Friday?
And yet, our Lord goes forth, as the Church sings, to His voluntary Passion and Death. Voluntary, not coerced or contrived by fate. Voluntary. At just the right moment, Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah-King, Jesus the Son of God and Saviour of the world breathes His last, gives up His spirit. Not one moment too soon; not one moment too late. Not brought on by the mob or by His great sufferings. He is in perfect control, fulfilling all things, fulfilling the Father’s perfect will. The Son of God enters Jerusalem, enters the Church, on a mission: “’Behold the Man!,’” says Pilate in mockery and derision (Jn. 19:5) while the Church says, “’Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!’” (Jn. 1:29, 36). “Sacrificed is the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sin of the world, for the life of the world and its salvation” (Prothesis). Is this what we come expecting to see? Is this Who we want to see? Is this the One for Whom we raise our palms and sing, “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna!”? “’What is truth?,’” Pilate sneers (Jn. 18:38) and the Church echoes back, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cr. 2:2). He is “’the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through [Him]’” (Jn. 14:6). For there is no other Mediator between God and men (1 Tm. 2:5). Salvation is in none other. “’[F]or there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be [can be] saved’” (Ac. 4:12).
There is a pretty good chance that the Jesus we want more than likely is not the Jesus God knows we need. Be careful, beloved, lest we end up sending the Jesus we need away or, God forbid, and more horrifically, we crucify Him! “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” St. John writes right out of the gate in his Gospel. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe in His Name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:10-13). Jesus comes as King and Conqueror, but He will not be found in political ventures, power structures, science, or philosophies. His Kingdom is in the world, but it is not of the world (Jn. 17:14-16). If His Kingdom were, He tells Pilate, “’My servants would fight . . .; but now My Kingdom is not from here’” (Jn. 18:36). The King and His Kingdom are in the Church, and at the center of His Church and Kingdom stands the throne of the Cross upon which our God and our King has ascended in the flesh to deliver His creatures from the bondage of the enemy (Troparion – Entrance Prayers). He rides it to Victory as surely as He rode the foal of an ass in the city where He was crowned with thorns so that we might receive imperishable crowns (1 Cr. 9:25; Jm. 1:12).
“Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together, and we all take up Thy Cross and say, ‘Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest!’” (Palm Sunday “Lord, I Call” stichera).
Though the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God,
have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!