Homily on the Feast of Palm Sunday

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (12:1-18) 

The city of Jerusalem was all abuzz. Things were more lively than usual and that is really saying something in a city that often swelled with many thousands of visitors during the time of passover. What was the news that had the city all stirred up and in a frenzy? Perhaps it was the new iphone? Perhaps it was the new avengers movie? It was in fact none of these things. It was a certain miracle that had been done in the city of Bethany by a certain man from Nazareth. That man was Our Lord Jesus Christ and the miracle He had performed was the raising of Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for 4 days. To this very day, there is nothing that would gain so much attention as this one miracle. Dead means dead. Yet again and again we are forced to change our way of thinking and our perspective, even our whole paradigm based on Jesus Christ. Dead is dead unless Jesus is present and in your midst. We know that Christ has the power to transform lives. But do we yet understand that He has the power to transform death, to overcome it, to destroy it? He performed a miracle that became the focus of attention for the whole city. The Jews, the Romans and everyone in between. No one could ignore this great miracle of our Lord.

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, the entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem. And as I have just painted a picture we can understand the fervor and the excitement and the enthusiasm of so many of the people as they beheld Jesus entering into the city. They had long awaited the coming of the messiah and for many the raising of Lazarus was the sign that He was indeed the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ! One can only imagine the scene that day as the Lord entered the city riding upon a donkey. The people hailed Him as their king. They gave Him a hero’s welcome. They even cried out to Him with these amazing words “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” Hosanna is itself a very interesting word. It basically means “We pray that you will save us!” So this was on the tips of the tongues of the people that day. However we should remember that they had no idea what they were actually asking. When they celebrated the coming of the messiah, they did not think of Him as we understand Him today. They thought of a messiah as an earthly ruler and king. They were ready to accept Jesus as long as He fulfilled their wishes and desires. They wanted to be free of Roman occupancy, they wanted to have their land to themselves. They believed that the Lord Jesus Christ would do these things. Our Lord had been trying to raise their expectations to the heavens for the last three years that He was preaching, yet they were determined to look only to what was on the ground. 

We are often the same in our relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. We want everything that the Lord offers us, but we want it on our terms. We want everything the Church claims to offer but we want it on our terms and our timeline. I want life without anydeath. I want glory and honor without anystruggle and dishonor. I want peace without first going to battle. I want healing without anysurgery. I want fruit of the spirit without working to cultivate anything. I want to live as the new man without first allowing the old man to die. I want resurrection without the cross. And just like this crowd, we all have moments were we turn away and deny the Lord because He does not give us what we want precisely when we want it. 

For me this is similar to the scene at Palm Sunday. We can be the first to cry “Hosanna!” “Save us Lord!” but are we prepared to follow Christ to be saved, no matter where that might lead? Most of the people that came out to meet Jesus that day were not committed to follow Him to their deaths. Even the disciples were not willing. Peter denied him three times in the early morning hours while the Lord stood at trial. Later he believed and understood. How long until we believe and understand? 

We don’t celebrate this feast every year in order to simply remember it. We celebrate it in order to acknowledge that it is part of our life and our story. This is the story of our spiritual heritage and our new life. Our God became man because He loves mankind, and He experienced all of these things on His way to His death upon the cross, which happened for us and for our salvation. So what happened two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, is ours today. The eternal God entered into time and space to sanctify all time and all space. He became man to redeem man. The events happened once but their significance is eternal and we are entering into this story when we follow Christ and make Him our Lord and savior. 

As He entered He received ahero’s welcome and heard their joy and their cries of “Hosanna” but as we progress through Holy Week in the life of the Church we will hear and see that the mood shifts quickly, in a matter of just a few days. By Friday (Thursday evening)we once again encounter the crowds but they have become more like a mob and they no longer are greeting Christ like a king or a hero. They are treating Him like a criminal and he hears their cries to “crucify Him!” Yet even here at this dark hour we are reminded of His mercy and His long sufferinglove for mankind. He will honor their wishes for “Hosanna” through their desire to “crucify Him!” He saves them using the unlikeliest way of all. God saves us by emptying Himself and losing His life. He grants us His life through His death upon the tree and through this death he reverses the curse of death that had fallen upon all of humanity. It had to be this way, and He is truly our king and worthy of all praise.

I want to share a quote from St. Augustine who writes,

“what honor was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? How great was it for the King of eternity to become the King of humanity? Christ was not the King of Israel so that he could exact tribute, put swords in his soldiers’ hands and subdue his enemies by open warfare. He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their souls, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into his heavenly kingdom those whose faith, hope and love were centered in himself.” Tractates on the Gospel of John 51.4. [NPNF 1 7:284**; CCL 36:440-41.]

I pray that this week we will lay aside all earthly cares and allow things in our life to come to a brief pause. Allow the life of the Church to become the center of your lives as best you can. For this is actually our natural orientation as Christians. This is our week to remember and to once again enter into our living faith in Jesus Christ. It is our time to center ourselves in Him, to find our healing and forgiveness through Him and to understand all that He has accomplished through the power of His love. May we all have the abundant joy of the Feast!

Source: Sermons