Monday, April 17, 2006

A Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday is the great triumphal arch of the Christian year, through which we follow our Lord and Saviour into the week of His suffering, degradation and death. Palm Sunday seems to be a bittersweet day of hope. Hope to be bitterly dashed on the hard rocks of the religious authorities of the day and the people that accepted without much apparent thought, their deviant teachings, teachings which over the centuries had moved far from the will of God. Yet, that having happened, we must not regret one whit the events of Holy Week and Good Friday, for, without them, we would not be saved. Without them, we have nothing but the old law by which, as Saint Paul says, we are condemned. We may and must sorrow for our transgressions, each and every one of which contributes to the necessity of the sufferings of God on the Tree of Life which we call the Cross. Because of that which we cannot now call back, the Arch of Palm Sunday must inevitably lead to that distant tree removed so far from the Garden of Eden whence it and we began.

The last week of Lent has always been observed by Christians as a time of special solemnity; and from the momentous events of the last week before the Crucifixion which this week represents to us, it has, from early times been called the Great Week, Holy Week or the Holy Week of Great Lent. During this week, as early as the time of Saint John Chrysostom, there was a general cessation of business among Christian people. Fasting was observed with greater intensity and strictness and, after the conversion of Byzantium, Emperors tried to set an example of charity and mercy of which our own Royal Maundy is a surviving relic.

Palm Sunday is mentioned early in the Christian era. Saint John Chrysostom tells of palm branches being shaken as one of the customs of the day and as recently as this past century in England, people customarily cut willow branches to carry after the Liturgy on Palm Sunday.

We have the Book of Exodus (15:27) telling of the Children of Israel coming to the oasis of Elim with its twelve wells and forty palm trees and we know too from Leviticus 23:40 the significance of palms and willows in the Old Testament. Then in Revelation 7:9, we are told of palms used liturgically. Hence the ancient ceremony of the blessing of the palms with its Lesson and Gospel telling us of the events which we commemorate today: Christ entering His Capital as King, welcomed and worshipped by His people, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9. The King had come to His City, the city that He had prophesied would be destroyed - as it was forty years later, the King Who had prophesied that here He would be put to death - as He was after four days. This King is our God, come for no other purpose than to die at the hands of men, that those who would believe, could be freed from the consequences of their transgressions. Here, on this bright, sunlit Spring morning, He came, riding through the city gate, praised and welcomed by the crowds - many of whom would cry for His death a few days later. Following Him in the procession were twelve men, one of whom would sell Him to the authorities, one of whom would deny that He was the greatest friend and all the rest of whom would run away from Him. Yet He came on to carry out the last acts of His earthly life, to forgive all these in advance, to ask the Father to spare them, to give to them the means of grace and the hope of glory: To set down for them the way of staying with Him, strengthened and protected by Him through the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist.

And so through the Arch of the gate of the City, and the arch of Palm Sunday, Jesus, King of kings rode on the humility of a peaceful donkey, the King of Glory has come in, upon Whose shoulders shall rest first the Cross of suffering, succeeded by the government of all who are given Him by the Father.
-- Fr. Michael, St. Petroc Monastery (ROCOR, Western Rite)

(Hat tip: Ari.)

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