Sunday of Palms – Orthodox Homily on Palm Sunday

Christ raises Lazarus from the grave after being been dead four days.  His full power as God Incarnate, the Word of God made man, is revealed in His power over death. He’s hailed as the long-awaited Messiah as He triumphantly, yet humbly, enters Jerusalem.  The children and those of ‘child-like’ faith lay down palms and garments, crying out, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Others and those without faith, not believing the prophets, saw in Jesus only a political figure, an enemy to their man-made religion, attributing to him their own desires and fears.  Many thought that Jesus was going to inaugurate a new dynasty of the Kings of Israel, a temporal kingdom, helping them overthrow those usurping Romans, but instead, Jesus reveals that His Kingdom is not of this temporal world.  

In our own day, this practice of making Jesus into what wewant Him to be rather than what He’s revealed Himself to be continues: Many read into the Gospel their own interpretations, others try to ‘modernize’ it, to make it what they consider more ‘relevant,’ what suits them—or the culture.  Perhaps most damaging are those who outwardly appear to acclaim Christ as Savior but inwardly prevent Him from doing the necessary ‘surgery’ to heal their souls.

Truly, the person of Christ defies those who would “re-imagine” Him or even disregard Him.  His own words, actions, and miracles, and the changed lives of the Saints for 2,000 years, prevent us from viewing Him as simply a prophet or great teacher.  We give Him lip-service but reject Him inwardly at our own peril and certainly to our own spiritual demise.  

Nothing, no heart, no doubts, no fears, no insecurities, are hidden from Him.  He’s the God of the universe made incarnate for our salvation.  By raising Lazarus from the dead, Christ demonstrates His power over death as the Creator, the Giver of life.  He reveals His glory as the God of the ages.  For this reason, the Jewish leaders plot to kill him in their jealousy and ignorance of the true meaning of the Law and the prophets.  They don’t have the eyes of faith to believe: Only God can forgive sins and give life.  Only God can heal a soul wounded by sin and this is always His aim.  As He calls Lazarus by name from the tomb, so He knows and loves each one of us as the only true “Lover of mankind.”  

Christ came to inaugurate a new kindof kingdom, a new spiritual and eternal kingdom, one fit for the new spiritual race of man that He became incarnate and suffered death to grant us.  Christ is our peace.  Christ is our life.  Christ offers us friendship with God.  We see this in Christ’s loving relationship with Lazarus and His sisters.  He calls Lazarus by name from his tomb of death.  He knows each one of us by name, as well, and calls us to become part of His eternal Kingdom as well. 

The restoration to new life in Christ is given us by “water and the spirit,” baptism and chrismation. By putting Christ on in baptism, we are called a new creation, born anew, and freed from enslavement to the passions and all the vain, humanistic attempts to save ourselves.  Any human attempts to obscure the Gospel or make it more ‘palatable’to modern sensibilities, to even to our own sensibilities, will always fail, will still leave us sin-sick, because it’s not the Truth in which you and I are enabled to become the children of God that He suffered, died, was buried and resurrected to make us.

Upon His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus launches no revolt against the Roman authorities; He doesn’t try to take Herod’s throne.  Instead, throughout His earthly ministry, He does the following, indicative of the new kind of Kingdom He inaugurates: He gives sight to the blind, multiplies the loaves and fishes, makes the lame to walk, heals the lepers, and casts out the demons.  He forgives the sins of those who come to Him in faith and, He raises Lazarus from the dead after four days.  For all these acts of mercy and messianic fulfillment, the Jewish authorities are indignant.  Those who reject Him don’t wanta new spiritualkingdom; they’re looking for a ‘military Messiah.’  Instead, Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem, humbly, on the foal of an ass, indicative of the fact that His Kingdom is not of this world.  

Those awaiting the Messiah with their child-like faith, depicted by the children in the icon of the Feast, saw Christ’s miracles and they, with open hearts, glorified God for this revelation of Christ’s true divine glory.  But those who rejected Christ out of fear and pride, saw the same miracles and sought to put Christ to death—and (imagine!) even Lazarus too after he was raised from the dead, viewing his testimony as a threat to their man-made religion. The prophet Zechariah saw this coming.  As we hear at Vigil for the Feast, he admonishes Israel, saying, “Do not fear, O daughter of Zion; behold thy King cometh unto thee: he is just and having salvation…lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foul of an ass.” (Zech. 9:9)  Even the disciples, we read, did not understand this truth until after His resurrection.  

St. Gregory Palamas writes, “Your king… does not arouse fear in those who see Him.  Nor is He an oppressor or evildoer accompanied by shield-bearers and spearmen… His banner is humility, poverty, and lowliness.” (Veniamin, St. Gregory Palamas: the Homilies)

The message of Christ’s Triumphal entry is this truth: Christ is the Messiah, the Holy One, the King of Israel, God incarnate.  He’s come to Jerusalem to accomplish the final life-saving acts of that redemption that will lead Him and us to the cross, the grave, and the glorious resurrection on the third day.  He’s come to call us by name to make us whole, humble, truth-loving, children of God.  

Are you ready to receive Him?  Are you ready to open your heart and soul to Him this Passion Week?  By means of repentance and obedience to Christ and the Church—by owning the fullness of the faith, the truth we have received from the Apostles and their descendents–we learn, step by step, to give up those vestiges of our former life, of our former patterns of broken living, of having to have it our way, of  giving into our passions, of having the Gospel, and Christ on our own prideful and selfish terms.  Instead, we plead to God for that ‘child-like’ faith to take up our cross in courageous humility and self-denial, the mantel of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian—to be in the world but not of the world, to live to Christ and die to self.  We live as inheritors and progenitors of the Faith once received and in continuity with all God’s promises to His people fulfilled.   

We do so today by readying ourselves for salvation.  We do so by participating this week in the holy services, by taking their lessons to heart, interiorizing their truth, and journeying with Christ, as if this were the last week we have to live and so be changed: we prioritize our life with God, the life of the world, above all else.  We apply the truth of the revealed Gospel to our daily lives so that we may celebrate Holy Pascha in faith and love, advanced in our true identity, that of a Christian with all that that true and eternal identity demands of us. Wedie to this world with Christ that we too may be resurrected with Him, our King and our God.  Only then will He truly be our Savior and Lord and God.

The humble of heart, those with child-like faith, cry out to Him today, follow our Lord, God, and Savior to His holy and life-giving Passion, singing, “O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!”

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Entry of Christ into Jerusalem/Palm Sunday
21 April 2018
Epistle:            Philippians 4:4-9            
Gospel:            John 12:1-18