Welcoming Christ into Jerusalem
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is one.
This icon is known as “The Entry into Jerusalem”; and Jesus is coming from the village at the Mount of Olives, down the hill, toward the city of Jerusalem, riding a young donkey. There are lots of adults crowding around to welcome Our Lord, but what is striking about this icon is how active the children are. In the front of the icon, lots of children are spreading palm leaves in front of Christ as a sign of victory, to welcome Him. Three more children have climbed high up the palm tree to gather more palm leaves. One interpretation of this icon, given by Alfredo Tradigo in a beautiful book, Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, is that those children who have climbed up the tree to gather more palm leaves are growing up. They have been lifted from being catechumens—that is people learning about Our Lord—to people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. The children in the tree and those who are welcoming Christ by laying down palm leaves have moved “from spiritual infancy to the maturity of faith” (p. 130).
This is what can happen to each of us during this coming week. We can grow from being children and adults who know a little about Jesus and want to learn more, to children and adults who join Christ in coming to Jerusalem. In our hearts during this Holy Week, we can travel to Jerusalem and welcome Christ. We can do this by coming to church and participating in the worship; we can read the Bible and other books at home; and we can pray, both in church and at home, that we will understand more about this person, Jesus Christ, who is a human being and also the Son of God.
Something else that this icon makes very clear is how humble Christ is. He is riding a young donkey as a sign of His humility—of his low position in society. Christ could easily have been carried into Jerusalem by the Jewish people who wanted at that time to welcome Him as King of the Jews. Christ could also have chosen to ride a big and impressive Roman war horse, because many people hoped that He would lead his followers in war, throw the Romans out of Jerusalem and establish His kingdom on earth. Instead, as St Matthew tells us in Chapter 21 of his gospel, Christ instructed two of his disciples to go into the village and bring a donkey and her young colt back to Him, because He needed them. Then he chose to ride the young donkey, the colt, not the mother of the colt, who was much bigger and more experienced. There again Christ was saying: “Age is not what is important. What is important is how you as young people and young animals serve me.” The children are serving Christ by laying down palm leaves and cutting more palm leaves. The young donkey is serving Christ by carrying him triumphantly into Jerusalem.
My wife, Sylvia, and I have been to the Mount of Olives and walked down the hill that leads into Jerusalem. You can see the city spread out before you. It’s quite impressive. But you don’t have to go to Jerusalem to understand this icon of The Entry into Jerusalem. You just have to look at it, to see what it says to you. I like to recommend books to people, but I seldom recommend icons, although I am saying this icon speaks to me; and I hope to you. Everyone chooses which icon says something to them. What this icon says to me may be different to what it says to you. That’s OK. Icons speak in different ways to different people.
Today on Palm Sunday we celebrate and we prepare. We celebrate Christ’s remarkable entry into Jerusalem and how He was welcomed, especially by children. We prepare for Holy Week and the rejection of Christ by both the Jewish and Roman authorities in the days immediately after that triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I’ll leave this icon and the book about them here by the lectern; and you and older people can come to see them later after the Divine Liturgy. Let’s stand now and thank God for blessing us with Holy Week and Pascha.
St John Chrysostom once preached that “if we will be at peace with each other, God will be with us. . . Therefore, we must make a beginning on our part, and then we will draw God toward us.”
Lord, we pray that this Holy Week we will be at peace with each other, especially everyone within our families, and that we will draw God toward us. Amen.
Deacon Emmanuel Kahn