From The Blog

Mission Monthly – April 2009

“Why do ye rage, ye heathen? Ye scribes and priests, why do ye imagine vain things, saying: 'Who is this to whom children cry aloud with palms and branches, Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord our Savior?”

9th Ode of the Matins Canon, Palm Sunday

“There is nothing new under the sun” says Ecclesiastes 1:9. This often-used quote I suspect is often used by many who do not know its source, and in using it unoriginally they prove its very truth and originality. There is nothing new to the unbelief that exists in the world today. Many today still wonder, “Who is this (Jesus)?” As we ourselves enter the season of Lent, as we encounter our Holy Church's Lenten tone challenging us to place ourselves in a state of repentance and anticipation, as we draw near to the Church's coming victory over sin and death, as we accept the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and training ourselves in the practice of virtue, we embrace the very possibility of answering this question, “Who is this (Jesus)”?

Palm Sunday is a day of great energy, especially when celebrating in an Orthodox church whose roots are in the Middle East. I will never forget my experience at St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Ottawa, Canada, an immigrant, 1,000 family parish, on Palm Sunday in 1989. Suffice it to say it was a day of almost unparalleled liturgical festivity. What was most impressive beyond the sheer number of people (they held the service in their vast church hall in order to accommodate hundreds and hundreds of people) was the number, and activity level, of the children. Most everyone carried tall palms, branches and candles, and the children were dressed indeed as if a king were coming into their midst! In many ways, for this Caucasian kid from Wisconsin, it was tremendously exciting, and it made Jesus' entry into the Holy City all that much more real as I could just close my eyes and see these very same people, these children, in procession as Jesus rode the young donkey into the Holy City, shouting out and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

In just a few days we will celebrate again this day of awe and question, and I am still and always will be excited for the energy and movement of this day of triumph. The triumph, however, is not the triumph of king, country or of men, but rather of Life over sin and death. In our lives, neither is it the victory of simply making it through another Lenten season, looking forward to a little grilled salmon and a glass of wine, or to seeing the light of this year's Holy Pascha at the end of the tunnel. These and other worldly thoughts only diminish the greatness of Palm Sunday and the movement of the King of Creation, humbly and courageously, en route to His greatest act of love: a funeral procession before the offering of His own death, the joy before the Joy.

“Look, the world has gone after him; there is nothing that can be done” (John 12:19). If this only were true! Fickle world! Just five days later those who had cried, “Hosanna” would be crying out, “Crucify him!” and demanding that the life of the murderer Barabbas be spared. There was plenty to be done and the Pharisees knew exactly how to build a case of lies against the God-man of Truth, a case that would arouse Roman ire and the insane wrath of their own people. Ultimately we learn the real reason why the people went out to meet Jesus with “palms and branches,” because of the sign given when he raised Lazarus from the dead. Ultimately we learn that the Pharisees had nothing to worry about. Their power was not threatened. Their positions were secure. And the prophesy of the high priest Caiaphas would soon be fulfilled, “it is expedient [] that one man should die for the people” (John 11:45-53).

“Who is this (Jesus)?” The question will be asked again as we celebrate his triumphant entry into the Holy City. The answer is beautifully given to those who are ready to listen to the immediate stikera following the above from Matins: “This is our God, and there is none other like Him; He has found out every righteous way and given it to Israel His beloved; and afterward He has shown Himself upon earth and lived among men. Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord our Savior.”Indeed He has “found out every righteous way and given it to Israel His beloved.” On this day this righteous way is unknowingly welcomed under the hooves of a simple donkey escorting the noble King and Savior of the world to His Cross and death. On this day we are shown that the glory of this world is fleeting. On this day God's Israel, and now His Church, witness not the beginning of the end but of the beginning of the true Kingdom which is to come, and our participation in it. Beloved, let us be prepared! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!