The Gospel today on Palm Sunday from St John, chapter 12, tells a story about how Jesus Christ was welcomed when He entered Jerusalem. The epistle from Philippians, chapter 4, sets out a response that each of us can make today as we too, like the Jews of Jerusalem, are confronted with Christ. Preaching on this epistle more than 1,700 years ago, St John Chrysostom advised his congregation and us: “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 towards us” [end of quote]. That is what we do today, young and old, we make “a beginning on our part” and we “draw God towards us.” Therefore, I’ve called this sermon “Let us Draw God towards Us.”
Tomorrow we begin Holy Week; and our goal is to be at peace with each other and with Christ, and then to grow in our understanding of and friendship with each other as Christians. The epistle begins “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Marius Victorinus, a fourth century African teacher and philosopher who converted to Christianity, preached on this passage, and I quote: “The consequence of having unity in understanding and faith is that [we] rejoice in the Lord and are always dear to one another. ‘Rejoice, in the Lord [writes Paul], again I say rejoice.’ For when you are joined in heart you rejoice in the Lord, and when you rejoice in the Lord you are joined in heart and stand together in the Lord” [end of quote].
Why do we rejoice in the Lord? Because as St Paul tells us in this epistle from Philippians, “The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Marius Victorinus again preaches powerfully about these verses, and I quote: “‘Do not be anxious about anything.’ This means,” he continues, “Do not be concerned for yourselves. Do not give unnecessary thought to or be anxious about the world or worldly things. For all that is [needed] for you in this life God provides. And it will be even better in that life which is eternal.”
Children, what was it like waiting for Christmas to come? How did it feel? . . . Well, the Jews in Jerusalem had been waiting for the Messiah—that’s the Hebrew word that means the Christ in Greek—for several thousand years. They too had become impatient—Would the Messiah ever come? Why was He taking so long? To be told that “The Lord is at hand” was very exciting. Children, that would be even more exciting than saying to you on Christmas Eve, after many weeks of waiting: “Christmas is at hand.”
St John Chrysostom preached about this passage, and I quote: “It is comforting to know that the Lord is at hand…. Here is a medicine to relieve grief and every bad circumstance and every pain. What is it? To pray and to give thanks in everything. [The Lord] does not wish that a prayer be merely a petition but [rather, the Lord wishes that a prayer be] a thanksgiving for what we have received.” St John Chrysostom continues: “How can one make petitions for the future without a thankful acknowledgement of past things?... So one ought to give thanks for everything even what seems [a cause of grief]. [To give thanks for everything] is the mark of one who is truly thankful. Grief comes out of the circumstances with their demands. Thanksgiving comes from a soul that has true insight and a strong affection for God” [end of quote]. The great fifth century preacher, St John Chrysostom, Bishop of Antioch and Constantinople, is giving us good advice here: Whatever your problem, pray and give thanks to the Lord for everything. Remember to thank the Lord for His gifts in the past before asking Him for more.
What happens when we give thanks to God for everything? St Paul tells us that then, and I quote: “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That is precisely the challenge that confronts each of us during Holy Week—“to keep [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”—to continue to give thanks to God for our lives—whatever our problems—during the most important week in the Christian year. We receive “the peace of God which passes all understanding” because in the midst of the grief of the crucifixion of Christ we rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ. What a remarkable week awaits us—to share with the apostles in Jerusalem both the sadness and the joy of the coming week! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”