178. Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy


I said in the last Post that on Sundays we celebrate the Resurrection. Except for Palm Sunday. Today we begin Holy Week and our walk with Jesus  on His Way to the Cross.

Gospel: Read John 12: 1-18

On Saturday evening at table in Bethany, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment. Judas complained, “Why was this oil not sold and given to the poor?” Jesus (who so often commanded us to help the poor) answered, “Leave her alone. She is doing this to prepare for my burial… The poor you have with you always, but you do not always have me.” We can imagine the dreadful hush that fell over the table. Indeed, a week later Mary will be going to His tomb to anoint His dead Body.

After the raising of Lazarus, many from Jerusalem had come out to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus. They hoped that this, finally, was the long-awaited Messiah – and now He had come again to Bethany, so near the city.

The authorities figured that raising somebody from the dead could be faked. They had no doubt Jesus was a fraud. Did they never even consider the possibility that this one might really be the One? Did they never listen to Him? Did they never talk with Him? Did they never give Him a chance? (Could we also, in our blind certainties, sometimes miss the truth? even miss the Truth Himself?)

But what if He is worse than a charlatan? What if He actually believes He is the Christ? This was terrifying. People expected the Messiah to drive out the Roman occupiers. So what if this man starts an uprising and the people follow, and the Romans respond? Our nation will be wiped out. This was a valid concern. Forty years later there was a rebellion, and that was the end of the Jewish nation.

So now they got serious about killing him. As the high priest said, “Better one man should die than that the nation be lost.” Don’t make the Sadducees, Scribes, Pharisees and Priests into simply evil men. Yes, “it was out of envy that they handed Jesus over” Mark 15:10 , this young north-country upstart who so easily made them look like fools. But above all they were single-mindedly zealous for the nation. That was what really mattered. The Nation. The Land above all else.

So they would not see the One who was “in their midst”. Now they would violate their own moral law, God’s Law: “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent man to death.” Exodus 23:7 And so in the end it would be not because of Him but because of them – because they would kill this innocent sinless God made Man, their Messiah – that the nation they loved would lost. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” See Matthew 21 33:43.

On Sunday morning a multitude prepared to welcome Jesus as He came into the city. This was something more than the customary welcome for dignitaries. The people cried out quoting from Messianic Psalm 118(119): “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” – as we still sing as Christ comes to us in every Divine Liturgy. The Pharisees complained: Listen to what they’re saying about you. Stop them. Jesus answered, “If these were silent the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:4

So the Messiah came in, riding not in a chariot as a worldly conquerer but on a donkey. Who rode on donkeys? the underclass, servants, nobodies. John said that only later did the Apostles understand. He was acting out a prophecy: “Fear not, Jerusalem. Your king comes to you humbly, riding on the colt of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9  The Lord of all came not to lord it over us. He came in humility to die for us.

                                                     A Coptic (Egyptian) Icon

Jesus then went not to the governor’s headquarters to battle the “politicians”, as everyone expected, but rather to the temple, to the center of Jewish religion. For this was where the real problem lay. (Could this still be true today?) When He saw money-changers cheating the people, He drove them out crying, “You have turned My temple into a den of thieves.” Matthew 21:13 The authorities were aghast. His temple? Who does He think He is?! Indeed. But they were also pleased. They now had what they needed to charge Him with at His trial before the Sanhedrin. Once before He had been accused of it: “He makes himself equal with God”. John 5:18  Now He has said it Himself.

If they could just catch Him in time. For now they were also in a panic. The high priest said, “We’re accomplishing nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.” John 12:19 They must move quickly before it’s too late.

John said those words were a prophecy. Because they would put Jesus to death, He would now conquer death “trampling down death by death”. That is why He had come. There is something worse than losing your nation or anything else on earth, and that is losing eternity.

And indeed the whole world did go after Him. How could anyone that Week have imagined it? This Man soon to hang powerless, dead on a Cross… Within three centuries the Emperor Constantine will be baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and soon the mighty Roman Empire itself will have “gone after Him”. Today 2000 years later more than a billion Christians are “going after him”, following Jesus Christ through life, into death and with Him into the Resurrection. That is true power which has outlasted and will outlast every kingdom, every empire, every nation on earth. “The gates of hell (the power of death) will not prevail against [my Church]”. Matthew 17:18

Dear brothers and sisters, during this blessed Week, walk again with our Lord Jesus and his Apostles and His Church through this darkest of weeks into the light of the glorious Resurrection. Watch and listen and learn… and know that even our darkest weeks, our darkest times, can even now – even now – be redeemed by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Next Post: Palm Sunday evening Bridegroom Matins

2 thoughts on “178. Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy

  1. Kindly write on why after the resurrection, the world is still the same old same old;
    yes the gates of heaven are opened but we will only know that at death.
    In the meantime, nothing about the world has seemed to have changed; the resurrection might as well not even occured.
    Thank you.

    1. Once a Priest was trying to convince a Rabbi that their Messiah has already come. The Rabbi said “No.” “Why not?” asked the Priest. The Rabbi pulled open the curtain on the window so they could see down onto the street below. The Rabbi said “Look”.

      To me the even bigger question is: Why did God create the world as it is? Even the Garden of Eden story only tells what happened, but doesn’t really explain it. We can speculate, but we have been given no answer. Jesus said only that the wheat and weeds must grow together till the harvest. And He gives us a way through it, as we see this Week.

      So: Are things better because Christ came? Yes, in two ways: 1) Because we now have “a sure and certain hope” for Eternity. This works back into our lives. Without that Hope how often would we fall into despair? or into moral nonchalance, for what difference would it make in the end? In the present pandemic, hear and see how Christians are turning to their religion for hope and consolation in the midst of our fear. 2) Yes, Christians have caused a lot of trouble. Secularists make as if nothing ever came from the Church except the Inquisition! However, look at all the charity and good works and concern for individuals and human rights and so much more that have come to the world because Christ has come.

      Is this a satisfying answer? Most days I find it convincing. Most. But even on my unconvinced days I hang in here, because I love Jesus. I find Him compelling. I can’t get away from Him. His teachings are brilliant. His moral teachings have guided my life and have “worked”, within me and in my dealings with others. So I figure He must know what He’s doing with the world, even if I don’t.

      Kevin, thank you for making me think. Again.

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