The Shadow of Golgotha
All life is a preparation for death. All of life is a journey to the tomb. All these palms, readings, and rituals are meaninglessness if they do not wake us up to that truth. Palm Sunday is a day for celebrating and for sobering. The crowd laid their cloaks and branches on the road, shouting, “Hosanna!” We join them when we take up our palms and process through the church. Yet, it remains to be seen if we will follow him to the end. He leads us first to Jerusalem. He will then lead us to the grave.
Palm Sunday is the climax of our Lord’s journey. “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mt. 21:8-9). The people are rejoicing. They are jubilant. Yet, the whole scene of joy is cast under the shadow of Golgotha. The Pharisees are already plotting his death. The prophetic woman is preparing her perfume in the alabaster jar. He is King, and his inauguration is his crucifixion. He is savior, and he saves by death.
As soon as he enters the city, the tone takes a turn. All was not well. “[He] entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Mt. 21:12). He did not arrive to shake hands and say, “You’re okay and I’m okay.” He stepped into the world of man to overturn tables. We need to take this to heart. As a culture where comfort and tolerance are our highest values, we may be shocked when we encounter the true God. Christianity has been so diluted that it no longer has room for Christ. Religion can hardly be called religion. It is more like moralistic therapeutic deism. We want a god who will condone our lifestyle. God wants a man who will die to the world and be reborn. It is urgent we grasp the meaning of Palm Sunday. Jesus Christ has come to bring an end to a world.
Palm Sunday is a day for reevaluating our lives. On whose side will we be? It is easy to say, “I’m a Christian,” “I’m the good type,” but what is the condition of our heart? When Christ rides into our personal Jerusalem, our soul, what will he find? In his commentary on Palm Sunday, St. Nicholas Velimirovich compares the scene to our heart.
“The multitudes of people, crowded and pushing one against another, joyfully awaiting and greeting Christ, symbolize the noble sentiments and exalted thoughts of a person who joyfully greets God, his Savior and Deliverer. The leaders of the crowd of people, who hate Christ and want to kill Him, personify the lower desires and earthbound thoughts, which take the upper hand over man’s noble nature and oppress it. Now this lower human nature rebels against God’s entry into the soul, for when God is enthroned there, the lower nature will inevitably be destroyed.”
Where is our heart? Are we fasting? Are we obeying scripture and the Holy Church? Have we isolated ourselves? Do we trust our own opinions over the teachings of our bishops and priests? Does our heart yearn for innocence or are we lured by the world? Of course, a hundred voices tug in our hearts, just like all the voices on that first Palm Sunday. Christ comes inside nonetheless. If we let him, he will save us.
During this Holy Week, I pray that you all find time to be quiet and to prepare for Pascha. We cannot enter eternity as we are. We have to follow Christ through his descent into Hades and only then up into paradise. We must die to ourselves, and then we will live. This means that we have work to do in our soul, but it is beautiful work if we are willing to let go.
We live in the dawn. While writing this sermon, I was struck by the first light of the morning. Why is a sunrise so refreshing? It does not last long, just for a moment at best, before we get distracted by all the responsibilities of the day. But for one fleeting moment, the dawn reminds us that we are not home. All of this must die, our sin, the world, the devil, in order for something better to be born. This is Palm Sunday. We see the darkness, and we see the hope. May God give us grace to prepare our hearts for the dawn, the Bright and Holy Pascha.