Palm Sunday: Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem
Our Great Lent has come to an end; tomorrow, we enter the Passion Week. Great Lent is our journey to God, and it ends at the gates of Jerusalem. Today, we greet the coming Lord with palm branches in our hands (John 12:13), sing to Him “Hosanna” (Matt. 21:9), carpet his path with our clothes—such a solemn and joyous occasion! It seems that if we become silent, then the very stones will shout out (Luke 19:40). But what a terrible solemnity this is!
The tears in the Savior’s eyes have not yet dried up (Luke 19:41). He sees that we do not need Christ with His sacrifice, commandments of love, humility and kindness, with His salvation. We think that we do not need to be saved—we need to be rewarded, and we want our enemies to be punished. We are not interested in the kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36); we need an earthly king who will today restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)—not to God.
But Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life…” (Mark 10:45); the Lord willingly accepts suffering. Perhaps, it is because of this that the excited crowd that shouts “Hosanna to the Son of David” will be shouting just as loudly in a few days: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21). And together with the crowd, we too will beat the Lord with our passions (John 19:1), spit at Him with our lack of self control (Mark 14:65), and pound the nails of our sins into His Most Pure Body.
Today is the end of our Great Lent—our journey to God; this is all that we are capable of. But today is also the beginning of the Passion Week—God’s journey to us. The way of Christ is the way of the bearing of the Cross, the way of suffering for our sins. We cannot understand His ways; all of the Passion Week is a mystery, a Sacrament; a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to others (1 Cor. 1:23). Laws of time and space are suspended at the Last Supper; the King of all creation stands tied up and mocked before a Roman procurator; “hangs on a tree, He, Who hung the earth upon waters” (from a stichera of the 9th hour on Great Friday); the sun hides its light at midday (Luke 23:44-45); the temple curtain is torn in half (Luke 23:45); and “the eternal One is laid in a tomb” (kondakion in the 6th tone from Paschal midnight office)… Who can comprehend all of this with a human mind?!
But the end of the Passion Week is also wondrous, mysterious. The Cross, a tool of shame, becomes the sign of the highest honor; death is conquered by death; life shines forth from a grave; defeat turns into victory and salvation for the world. Our journey to God ends with a Meeting at a city gate, with our human rise and an equally human fall. His journey to us ends with Resurrection and eternal Pascha. The destroyer left, having seen the Lamb’s Blood (Ex. 12:23); it was night, and the sun rose (Mark 16:2); we were slaves and freedom came (Luke 4:18).
Today, the Church offers us who have reached the end of our journey and are singing “Hosanna” to part ways with the crowd at the city gate, not to follow along to Pilate’s judgment seat (Matt 27:19) where this crowd will demand crucifixion of the Savior and swear its allegiance to Caesar (John 19:15). The Church calls us to follow Christ in the Grace of the Holy Spirit; having taken His Cross (from the stichera for “Lord I have cried…”), to “crucify our flesh with its passions and lusts” (Gal. 5:24), in order that, having been buried with Him, we might rise and live in Him (Col. 2:12).