In the past I have taken part in historical re-enactments. It involves living a semi-medieval life style at fairs. I have many good friends who still participate. One in particular, Martin, who is an author, can handle a long sword with professional skill. If we ever had to fight a 15th century war, he would be very useful! We do not live in late medieval Europe, but by re-enacting, we can understand something of the way people lived and how they functioned. It means Martin understands how warfare happened then and that illuminates his mind when he works on his novels. In a way such things make the past occur in the present, one can get the feel for medieval life, its colours, shapes and even smells in a way that books or films cannot do. This re-enacting of history calls it to mind. It helps our understanding and we can gain real insights into how and why things are as they are now by connecting with the past. This, therefore, helps decision making in the present. The modern situation of the Church reflects, in some degree, its history in various times and places under Ottoman and the Soviet rule. Appreciating this legacy is important as we move forward. What was done then need not be done now, but unless we realise why we do certain things now in the light of this history we cannot adjust to different current situations.
We now face the start of Great and Holy Week when the Church goes through the last few days of Christ’s mortal life on earth. Some events we re-enact; some we think about and recall in prayer. We will be participating, as far as we can, in this, the most important week in history. Yesterday we recalled the raising of Lazarus, that foretaste of resurrection, when Christ returned His old friend to life. The greatest event of the next few days is the Resurrection of Christ. In one sense, that is an event that happened in the past. It is an historical truth. It is also an event that we can experience ourselves, assuming that we are not alive when Christ returns, and it is a present reality day by day. Indeed, in God’s time, all things are present, and it is no surprise then that key events in history were prophesied long before they happened.
Today we celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. We remember but we also participate in this event. For us the entry into Jerusalem happens in this way today. We carry palms, the ancient symbol of victory. Indeed the services make clear our participation: “TODAY the Word and co-eternal Son of God the Father, whose throne is the heaven and whose footstool is the earth, humbles Himself and comes to Bethany, seated on a dumb beast, a foal…” (from the stichera of Vespers). The fulfilment of prophecy is there also. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
The donkey famously has a cross along its back. Legend explains that this is because a donkey carried Christ today into Jerusalem to be crucified. Why a donkey? Well, it was an animal used in times of peace. It is a humble animal. A conquering king might enter a city on a warhorse or in a chariot, but this was a King entering his city in peace. In contrast some Jewish people were expecting Christ, the Messiah, to be the centre of an uprising to overthrow the Roman occupation and perhaps to re-establish Israel as a sovereign power again, with the Messiah as a new David. Christ was more than that and in a great twist did both more than that and less. His Kingdom was and is eternal. The Kingdom of God is not about mere temporal power and the vanity of earthly kingship is but a shadow of the rule of Christ, for all that it derives from it. In the same way parents echo the fatherhood of God; priesthood is an echo of the High Priesthood of Christ, and marriage echoes the relationship between Christ and His Church.
The expectation of earthly power was misguided. It is the children’s cry of Hosanna that is recorded and emphasised in the gospels. Psalm 8:2 is quoted in the services: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou prepared praise”. Children, the pure in heart, can see things well because they do not have false assumptions and they have no political agenda. The great cry is “Hosanna” which means “save we pray.”
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest”. This is a cry for the Messiah; it comes from Palm 117 and it was used in Jewish Liturgy. The entry to Jerusalem was thus a liturgical act; it was the entry into the great holy city of Israel by her rightful King and welcomed by the people as the fulfilling of national hope. Yet it is also proved to be a great disappointment. When the uprising did not happen, the same crowds turned against Christ. The challenge to Roman authority made Him dangerous to the Romans. Once the entry to Jerusalem happened, the way to the cross was almost inevitable.
Let us then be like the children. Let us be pure in heart as we too shout HOSANNA! Save us, we pray! We know that we are children of the Kingdom, an eternal Kingdom of Peace. Let us then follow and participate in the events of Great and Holy Week in that spirit, for soon enough we shall see the cross and beyond that new life arising from the tomb. Come to all the services you can as the Church follows those momentous events participating and witnessing to them.
I wish you all a Good Resurrection!
Now to Christ, who for us rode a donkey, be power and glory to the Ages of Ages Amen.