Palm Sunday/Holy Week-A Reflection

This past weekend we celebrated one of the few days of glory for our Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly life. On Palm Sunday He was received by the crowds in Jerusalem as a victor, as their King. For they heard of the sign of raising Lazarus from the dead, and they believed He was their Messiah Who was to come. But who was it that received Him in this way?

It was the common people, who honored our Lord in this way. St. John tells us it was those who came up to the feast; not the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but the country people that came from various and even remote parts to worship at the feast. The Gospel reading says that the crowd there came up to the feast some time before to purify themselves. Many perhaps, would have looked down upon them as crude, but Christ “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (ICor. 1:27) For Christ, as we know, values men by the state of their souls, not their position and titles of honor. And so, it follows, that He is honored by the multitude rather than by the magnificent of this world. And it was probably a universal crowd not much different than Pentecost when St. Luke tells us that “the visitors consisted of Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.” (Acts 2:9-11)

So this simple universal crowd receives our Lord Jesus Christ and what do they say? It is interesting to compare what the four evangelists say:

St Matthew writes: “And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mat. 21:9)

And St Mark tells us: “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:9-10)

St. Luke briefly states: “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” (Luke 19:38)

Finally in the gospel of St John: “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” (John 12:13)

The people were looking to Him as the awaited Messiah, but they had a preconception of what the Messiah would be. Our Lord is called the Son of David, king, king of Israel and He Who would usher in the kingdom of David. So the multitude was really looking for an earthly kingdom and a warrior like David to deliver them from Roman rule.

It was the simple folk who were receptive to the Lord, but were they discreet, were they wise? We shall soon be reading the Passion Gospels and see how this same crowd that cried out, “Hosanna” will cry out, “Crucify Him!” Why were they so easily swayed by the Jewish religious leaders so as to turn against our Lord Who did so many signs in their presence? Their minds were set on things of this world, and on earthly glory. They saw before them Jesus bound like a criminal being judged by Pilate, and having been delivered up by their own high priest. They believed He would be a triumphant warrior and set up a kingdom of Israel. But here they see Him as someone helplessly bound standing before the judgment seat of Pilate. So they were swayed and led astray by their religious leaders.

This should be a lesson for us. Is there any danger of us being led astray? We are serving Bridegroom Matins for the first three days of Holy Week which instruct us to be watchful and look to the coming of the Lord. We indeed appear to be drawing close to that actual happening. But the Lord said, “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) The first Eldress (Taxiarchia) of the convent of the Birth of the Theotokos near Pittsburg once commented: “Our holy fathers feared the days that are coming upon us, and they said that those who merely keep the faith will be great.” St. Amvrossy of Optina wrote that in the last times heresies will begin entering because of the poverty in piety. In that letter he spoke as though he thought his correspondent could possibly live to see those days. We need to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. And Friday, when we venerate the Plachanitsa, when we behold Christ Who died for the salvation all; perhaps the theme of our prayers should be:

Preserve, O God, the Holy Orthodox Faith and Orthodox Christians unto the ages of ages.