Mindfully Embracing Christ’s Peace in This Most Challenging Holy Week: Homily for the Feast of Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church

Philippians 4:4-9; John 12:1-18

          In the world as we know it, there is a severe contrast between the circumstances surrounding Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and St. Paul’s statement that we should “Have no anxiety about anything.”  When the Savior raised His friend Lazarus from the tomb after four days and showed that He is the resurrection and the life, corrupt religious leaders concluded that they must find a way to kill Him.  The same crowds who hail the Lord as their anticipated military-political deliver today will yell “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” very soon.  How on earth can we “have no anxiety about anything” when we see the One Who came to bring us into eternal life ride into Jerusalem like a lamb led to the slaughter?

We know that in one week we will celebrate His glorious resurrection from the dead, His destruction of Hades and victory over the tomb.  We are not there yet, however, and we live in a world that still longs for its redemption.  We remain all too subject to the fear of death, whether caused by the current pandemic or something else.  Our minds are filled with concern about the health of our loved ones, the economic impact of the crisis, and the disorienting challenges presented by social isolation.  So much that we took for granted is now in question and well beyond our control.  We understandably wonder what the “new normal” will look like.  Instead of allowing the challenges of the pandemic to keep our minds distracted by a variety of future possibilities, we should use them as reminders that we need peace beyond what we can give ourselves, regardless of what the future holds.

Our calling this week is to enter into the profound contrast between the ways of the world as we know them and the life of our crucified and risen Lord.  Especially today, it is easy to focus on what is going wrong, on what we have lost already or may lose in the future.  It is tempting to fall into despair about how things have changed for the worse and what even more difficult things may come our way.   While we cannot fully control our thoughts or feelings, Saint Paul tells us that we can mindfully offer our deepest concerns to Christ “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…”  That is how “your requests [may] be made known to God” Whose peace “which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  This is what we must do, if we are not to be so overcome by distressing earthly cares that we become blind to the deep mystery of our salvation.  As he writes, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The point is not, of course, simply to speculate about holy things with our rational minds, but instead to become fully present to the Lord, to unite ourselves to Him from the depths of our hearts, in ways that put the very real problems of our life in this world in the perspective of His Passion.  Christ knew that He would die on the Cross.  He was aware that Mary had anointed Him with precious ointment as a prophetic sign of His burial.  He understood what His enemies would do in response to His raising of Lazarus.  He knew that the crowds would turn against Him.  The Savior entered into the tension between the deadly serious realities of the fallen world and the eternal life of His Kingdom.  In order to bring salvation to us who were enslaved to death, He offered up Himself, enduring the full consequences of the wages of sin in order to triumph over them in His glorious resurrection.

When Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a humble beast of burden, He carried no weapons and had no army.  He had no well-oiled political machine to tell the people in power what they wanted to hear or to manipulate the masses.   His Kingdom was and is not of this world; it is not normal life as we know it. The crowd did better than they knew when they “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel!’”  For this was not a new King David who would make their nation great by conventional standards, but the Lamb of God Who will take away the sins of the world through the shedding of His own blood.  He will reign by being lifted up on the Cross, dying an awful death as a victim of capital punishment, descending to Hades, and miraculously rising in glory on the third day in a way that still confounds the sensibilities of our world of corruption.

If we want to follow the Savior to His Cross and empty tomb, we must offer our pain and brokenness to Him without reservation, for Christ has made even the black night of the grave an entryway into the brilliant light of the Kingdom.  If we refuse to see our “real life” problems in light of His triumph over death, we will never escape the inevitable anxiety of those who think that they must become their own saviors, that the healing of everything in this world is up to them.  If that were the case, then who would ever be free from despair, for who could have hope in a world in which everyone suffers and dies, and in which no one has the power and knowledge to make everything come out right?  Indeed, it is well beyond the ability of anyone even to know what it would mean to do so, for our perspectives are always limited and imperfect.

Especially this week, we must mindfully confront the contrast between our darkest fears about life in this world and the brilliant glory of Christ’s victory over death, if we are not to fall into despair about our challenges.   The Savior did not waver from the difficult path that He had to follow in order to liberate us from slavery to the tomb.  Especially this week, we must refuse to be distracted by anything from entrusting ourselves to the One Who has destroyed the power of death.  Because He has done so, we may unite ourselves in faith to Him as the true King of Israel, Who comes to heal every dimension of our brokenness and to calm all our fears.  Even as we celebrate His triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the knowledge of what the coming week will bring, we may know His peace and find healing from our deepest wounds.  For the Savior Who rides into Jerusalem on a humble donkey has shown power beyond what this world knows.  He took upon Himself the very worst that the forces of evil can do and then rose triumphantly over them.

This week, we must learn to see our problems and fears in light of His great victory.  When we know from the depths of our souls that the joy of Christ’s empty tomb comes through the terror of His Cross, we will gain the peace that enables us not to despair about even the worst sufferings of this life.  He has won the great battle for our sake. We celebrate today that the Messiah enters Jerusalem to make even death itself an entryway to eternal life.  That is why we must always say with St. Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice… The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything…And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father. I had just finished reading the news and was about to start worrying again. Thanks be to God that He hears us

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