Preparing for Holy Week (John 12:1-18)

April 7, 2015 Length: 14:20

The celebration of Palm Sunday is juxtaposed against the dark events that we experience in the life of Christ during Holy Week. Fr Thomas reminds us that our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem is an example of having the "peace from above" even if you're marching to the Cross.

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! [Glory to him forever!]

I greet you on this great feast of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem, during which we begin the process of moving toward his death, burial, and resurrection. It seems almost antithetical to the spirit in which we will enter that those somber days, those dark days, where we will see Jesus betrayed by his disciples, where we see him delivered into the hands of lawless men, and we’ll see him being hung on a cross, reviled by his own creation, spit in the face, beaten, whipped, and left for dead; we’ll see him buried in a borrowed tomb, and then and only then will we see him rise, victorious, from the grave.

So why do we celebrate this particular day? We celebrate because it is a sign of the hope that is within us. The two great themes that we contemplate today are victory and peace. You see, when our Lord entered into Jerusalem, he entered victoriously, but it is not the sign of victory that the world gives. It is not the shock and awe that we’re used to seeing, a military victory with great power and with great might. It is the victory that Christ teaches us, the victory over sin and over death. He comes, it says, in the way in which he entered the world.

This is also a lesson for us in the way in which he enters Jerusalem. He enters not on a white horse, as a military victor. He doesn’t enter with armies behind him, but he enters riding on a donkey, the humblest of all creatures, a work-horse, if you will. He comes, riding, it says, while the children were holding palms in their hands, while people were laying coats along the ground for him to come, a sign of honor to Jesus.

This type of victory is what we are called to. It’s what we’ll see in the days to come. We will contemplate this mystery together, as a community. We’ll gather here on Holy Thursday evening to watch our Lord be delivered into these hands of the world, only to be crucified, only to be hated, even though he loved. How is this a victory? This is a victory because he does not fall into the temptation of striking back. He does not fall into the temptation that somehow might is right. And he teaches us this: to endure all things, to bear all things, to hope all things.

Our mind is with the suffering Christians, especially in the Middle East and now spreading to North Africa. Almost 150 Christians were slaughtered, not because of something they had done, but simply because of something they believed. We read the prayer this morning over Heather, who is about to be chrismated, and we said, like all of us, that she would have the faith to be able, if it is God’s will, that she would even love God so much to suffer and die for his sake. This is the great victory; this is the ultimate victory for us.

Most of us will not be called to die in that manner, but we will be called to die in another way. This began with our baptism. This baptism for us was a sign of victory, where we were raised to a new life. And the victory that we’re called to is the victory over sin and death. We are called to die to our own will. We are called to die to the things of this world, to not be chasing evil, to not be chasing sin, but to live in the victory which Christ has won for us and in which he empowers us to live in, even though it doesn’t seem somehow… like this Palm Sunday is about victory because he’s about to go to his death, this is the sign of victory for us: to be victorious over evil, to not call evil good, to not call sin a virtue. More and more these days, we’re being called to kind of change our mind about these things, and we must be resolute and we must be firm and unmovable and unshakable in the biblical commands and in the teaching of our Lord.

So the first sign that we’re given in this Palm Sunday, as we hold our palms and our flowering branches, is this victory in all of its aspects.

And the second is equally important to us. As we go through these times, in the midst of this storm, in the midst of all of these things that are happening in the world and even without them, whatever we face in our life, we’re called to contemplate on this victory and in the midst of it to have peace. We heard in the epistle reading this morning:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus.

You might say that the victory that Christ accomplishes and grants to us allows us peace in him. This peace is given to us by the Holy Spirit, and it is something which we have to be reminded of every day, that we have to face whatever difficulties we have in our life bravely, knowing that we are not alone, knowing that God is with us, knowing that Christ has destroyed sin and death by his power over them in his resurrection.

All of these things are very real to us. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean that once the chrism goes on Heather that all her problems go away. What it means is that for all of us, in Christ we can take comfort knowing that he has the ultimate victory, knowing that in humility—in his humility and in our humility—is ultimately life; that the definition of the world that gives us their view of how we should be only leads to death, only leads to difficulty; and that Christ, in the life that he offers to us, this life leads us to peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

The question today, when we hold these palm branches in our hands, is: Do we really believe that? Do we really mean that when we say, “Hosanna in the highest! Save us, O Lord, we pray! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!”? When we think about our Lord, when we think about his entrance into Jerusalem, it says that he comes in the name of the Lord; he comes proclaiming himself to be God. When we sing the hymn, we kind of flip it, because it says, “God is the Lord,” but what it really says, in the original languages, is, “The Lord is God.” The one who calls himself the Lord, the one who calls himself the Kyrios, Jesus, is actually God himself in the flesh. This should be a great sign of peace for us, that we take comfort in knowing that God himself has condescended to become one of us, and that he goes through the worst of our experience in order to show us the way to life, in order to show us how much he loves us.

And when we gather here on Holy Thursday, in the evening, and we read those passion gospels, and many of us will be moved emotionally, and we see Christ brought out on the cross, when we see that icon of Christ crucified, it is the icon of peace. It’s the icon of peace because, interestingly enough, and if you look at the Golgotha here where we commemorate our departed, over the cross in Orthodox iconography we don’t put the words that are inscribed in the cross as it says in the Scriptures, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” It doesn’t say that. It says, “The King of Glory—Tsar Slaviy. The King of Glory.”

And it shows him on the cross, not in agony—you will never see an Orthodox icon showing Christ in pain—what you will see is peace. This is the peace that passes all understanding. This is the peace that, even when you are being nailed to the cross or you’re being shot by terrorists or you’re being beheaded or you’re being told that your rights are being taken away—this is the peace that in your heart tells you, “It’s going to be okay. God has the victory. God loves me, and they can take away my life, and they can take away my rights, and they can take away everything, but they can’t take away my faith and my love of God. They can’t.” That’s the peace that passes all understanding. That’s the peace that we will see on Holy Thursday night, on Good Friday, when we gather in the church again and we see Christ taken down from the cross, and then we come to church on Holy Saturday morning and we see that first light of the Resurrection, where Christ has his victory over sin and death in Hades.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us rejoice today. Christ is victorious. The days that we will enter into, yes, we will enter into with a bright, hopeful sadness. Let us follow him up to the Cross, let us be with him in the tomb, and let us only then rejoice in his glorious Resurrection. To him who is our life, with the Father and the Spirit, be glory, honor, and majesty, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! [Glory to him!]