Monday, April 29, 2013

Palm Sunday

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. Today is the glorious Feast known as the Triumphal Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, or simply, Palm Sunday. Yesterday our Lord Jesus Christ raised His friend Lazarus from the dead as a foreshadowing of the universal resurrection of mankind. Today, He rides the foal of a donkey into Jerusalem amidst the praise of the multitudes who cry out “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who cometh in the Name of the Lord!” The word hosanna means save or savior or possibly even Lord save, and its use indicates that the crowd recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah sent by God to save His people Israel. Unfortunately, the Jews did not understand the nature of that salvation Christ came to bring. Expecting a conquering political hero who would free Israel from Roman rule and oppression, their hopes were utterly dashed when they saw Him arrested and beaten and put to shame before the hated Roman authorities. This was not the sort of Messiah they wanted, and their shouts of praise would soon turn to cries of “Away with Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” This rejection of Christ was by no means unexpected. It had been foretold by the prophets, and was portrayed even by the mount that Jesus had chosen to ride into Jerusalem. Have you ever wondered why He didn’t choose a horse or a camel or even a full-grown donkey, but instead the foal of a donkey, or in other words a very young animal? The donkey is an animal well-known for its stubbornness and frequent refusal to obey its master’s will and commands. Some of our holy fathers saw in this a portrayal of the nation Israel, which had so long and so often opposed God. Foreknowing the Jews’ final rejection of Him, Christ entered the Holy City on a new animal, young and not yet rebellious, representing the Gentiles, to whom the kingdom of heaven would soon be given. These two things--the Jews’ false expectations for Messiah which led to their bitter disappointment and rejection of Him, and their stubbornness toward God to the very end--offer much by way of instruction for us today. First, we must note that it is a trait of fallen humanity, by no means exclusive to the Jews, that we so want what we want in this life we can even become angry with the Almighty God when we don’t get it. Isn’t that true? At the very least, people can grow deeply disappointed with God when things don’t turn out the way they expect or feel they deserve. We can begin to doubt God’s goodness or perhaps even lose our faith if prayers seem to go unanswered and dreams remain unfulfilled. This reaction reveals a dark attitude in the human heart. It’s as if we expect God to be subservient to our earthly desires. God must give us what we want to keep us happy or else suffer our rejection. The problem here is not with God’s goodness or divine plan but with our expectations, which are often far too low. If we consider Israel once again, we see that all they wanted from God was political independence. God’s desire was to grant them eternal life. The Jews knew the prophecies that Messiah would set the captives free, but they could only think of their present situation with the Romans, not humanity’s far greater captivity to sin, death, and the devil. Our hopes nearly always tend to be focused on the things of this life, and rarely take into consideration that God has something eternal and infinitely better for us. Following along with this short-sightedness and the disappointment with God it causes is another dark trait of the human heart: rebelliousness. When we allow our hopes to remain fixed on this life and make no sincere effort to raise them any higher, we inevitably find ourselves at war with God. The scripture says that he who loves the world is at enmity with God. A battle of wills takes place in which we might resist our very salvation from this world of sin and death as we fight blindly and desperately to create our own little paradise here and now. Certainly this was the error of ancient Israel, but we might often fall into this as well. How do we express this rebellion? Well there’s a wide range. Sometimes people just leave the Church to go do as they please. Sometimes people stay in Church but ignore any serious Christianity to do as they please. And then there are others who remain in Church with some desire for salvation, but settle into a kind of listless, foot-dragging, subtle yet persistent resistance of God’s will. Perhaps they refuse to make any real, sustained struggle against their sins to pursue sanctification. Perhaps they neglect prayer. Maybe they miss worship because they’re too busy to come to Church. We might call these traits sloth or weakness, but these terms can disguise the underlying principle that we still want what we want and will fight God with a sort of passive-aggressive rebellion while claiming to be only poor, weak little sheep. Perhaps we are not always sheep, but sometimes donkeys. If we often claim to be slothful or weak, shouldn’t we take a closer look into this to determine if we could actually do a bit better? Are we simply expending too much energy resisting God; energy that would be better spent on taking up our cross to follow Jesus? The great historical irony of Palm Sunday is how quickly the people turned from worshipping Christ to crucifying Him. And all this because He did not give them what they expected. Are we any better or more noble? Likely not. Thus our salvation will come from the same thing that saved the many believing Jews who did confess faith in Christ, namely, to accept the will of God however it manifests itself, and abandon our trust in anything of this world to fix it instead on the kingdom to be revealed. Soon enough we shall all taste of death, and on that day all earthly hopes and dreams will perish with us. But those who have fixed their hope on Jesus Christ will rise again to eternal life. This is the reality that we encounter and experience even now, during Holy Week. In the days to come we will journey with Christ through every event leading up the the Cross and even through death itself, to be raised with Him gloriously on Holy Pascha. Holy Week is not a long, exhausting “passion play” in which we are the actors. It is our Christian reality. As we are joined to Christ through Holy Baptism, His sufferings and death, His resurrection and glorification become ours. This is true all year long, but is especially renewed during Holy Week. Let us therefore not fear dying to ourselves, dying to this world, nor even dying itself. Jesus Christ lives! And we must die to live with Him forever. +To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.