Today is the start of Holy Week, the holiest week of the year. From today until next Sunday we will enter into a time of remembrance and participation with Jesus in his last week on earth.
Today is called Palm Sunday, but you will notice in your bulletin it has two names. “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday” Today is the first full day of Passover, which runs for eight days.
This because there are two distinct parts to our celebration today. The first part is a commemoration of the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, which we did at the beginning of this service.
We read from the Gospel according to St. Mark about this event.
“… they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”
Those leafy branches are the palm leaves that among the Hebrews, were used as a decoration of the temple (1 Kings 6:29) and they were a symbol of the righteous man in Psalm 92:12-14: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of Yahweh; They shall flourish in the courts of our God.They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and green.”
A palm branch is used in Isaiah 9:14 to signify the “head,” the or highest of the people. It is a symbol of Kingship. “Hosanna in the highest.”
On the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles the Hebrews were commanded to take branches of palms, with other trees, and rejoice before God. (Lev 23:40)
Lastly, there is this reference in the Revelation to St. John the Divine:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
Now you know why we carried palm leaves in our little parade this morning. It was just a small homage to what must have been a big event, which was the celebration of the new king coming into Jerusalem.
You know what happens when people see a parade go by, right? Everyone wants to watch, or join in the fun. The disciples were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It must have been very exciting to see the prophesy of Zechariah come true. They spread their garments and palm leaves on the path for this new King.
The big parade suddenly gives way to the second part of our service, The Passion. I always find it difficult to go from “Hosanna in the highest”, to shouts of “crucify him!” Don’t you?
Our participation in the Passion Gospel allows us continue our travels with Jesus during his very last days on earth. We get to experience the trial, the scourging, the crucifixion, death and burial of our Lord, and we can then better anticipate his resurrection. The word Passion comes from a Latin word that means Suffering.
Our shouts of “Crucify him!” could be turned to “Crucify us with him!”
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
What does that mean to me? First it means that my old sinful life is dead. I am no longer obedient to sin and death. I am no longer under the condemnation of sin. My sins were nailed to the cross with Christ.
Secondly, It means the Spirit of Christ lives in me, guiding me, leading me, speaking to me. In all of my actions, I try to model myself after Jesus, which means I am quick to forgive, and I am generous with love.
Do I sometimes slip into old habits that are contrary to my new life in Christ? Well, frankly yes, but I am not trapped there. When I fall on my knees, I can look up to Jesus, and I can once again seek his will for my life. I am not perfect by any means, but I am being perfected by the grace of faith in our Lord Jesus. The cross is the means of grace.
And it is in the Name of Jesus that I can do all things pleasing to the Father.
St. Paul wrote this to the Philippians, and it sums it up nicely.
“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This is a very important week in the life of the church. Tuesday, all of the priests and deacons of the diocese will gather with the bishop to renew our ordination vows, then we will concelebrate the Holy Eucharist. After the mass, the bishop will bless the sacramental oils to be used during the year.
On Thursday, we will celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, when he gave them the New Commandment to love one another, and he gave them the Sacrament of Holy Communion, his Body and his Blood.
Then on Good Friday, we will remember the day that our Lord was nailed to the cross, and died to pay the penalty for our sins. I invite you to come along on this journey and experience for yourselves the way of the cross.
It’s not an easy way, but if you let yourself participate fully in the events as they unfold, you will certainly experience the great joy of the Resurrection. Like Jesus said, “Come and see.” Amen.