Behold, Your King is Coming to You: The celebration of Palm Sunday

In heaven upon the throne, on earth upon the colt,
You were carried, O Christ our God;
and the praise of the Angels, and the hymns of the children,

You received as they cried to You,
"Blessed are You, the One, who is coming to call Adam back again."

-Kontakion of Palm Sunday
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, from the shrine of the Monastery at Bethphage
 
 
 
The Sunday before Pascha commemorates the triumphal entry of Christ into the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Gospel reading that is read at Liturgy today (John 12:1-18) begins with Jesus and the Apostles returning to Bethany, the place where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. It is six days before the Passover feast.
 
Passover is the highpoint of the Jewish calendar. When God's chosen people were being held captive under the tyranny of Pharaoh, God sent ten plagues to Egypt. The final plague was the presence of God himself in Egypt, who would go from house to house slaying the firstborn of each household. But God's chosen people were to anoint their doorway with the blood of an unblemished lamb, and this blood would be a sign to God to pass over that house. Exodus 12:3-13 has God tell Moses the plan:

 

"Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.

"Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

"Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.
 

...

"The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt."
 
On the day of Passover, God entered into Egypt to bring freedom to his people. The blood of the spotless lamb was the source of their salvation through God's power. On the day of Palm Sunday, the God-man entered into the Holy City to bring freedom to his people. The blood of the spotless lamb is the source of our salvation through God's power.
 
Before his entrance into Jerusalem, Christ is anointed by Mary with an expensive ointment.
 
Mary anoints Jesus' feet

 

Judas, the Apostle who we will see this week betraying the Lord to his death, objects to Mary using this expensive ointment. Although he says that the ointment should have been sold for the sake of the poor, the Gospel reading tells us that he actually wanted to keep the money for himself.
 
Jesus rebukes Judas, telling him that Mary is anointing him for his burial. Mary's ointment prefigures the anointing that Jesus' body will receive from Joseph of Arimathea prior to his burial. Mary is also one of the myrrh-bearing women who went to Jesus' tomb early in the morning on the third day after his death to anoint his body. They found the tomb empty, but Mary certainly would have remembered the ointment that she had already anointed Jesus with.
 
Jesus and the Apostles then make their way to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives just to the east of Jerusalem. Jesus instructs them to go into Jerusalem, where they will find a donkey tied up. They are to untie the donkey and bring it to Jesus.
 
Today, the spot where Jesus first mounted the donkey and began his procession into Jerusalem is marked by a small shrine at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Bethphage. Every year on Palm Sunday, the Patriarch of Jerusalem will lead a procession that begins at this shrine and retraces Jesus' route into Jerusalem.
 
Katholikon of the Monastery at Bethphage

As Jesus began his descent down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, the disciples and many of the bystanders began praising God loudly, and shouting words from Psalm 118:

Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου· ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.
"Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

The word hosanna is a Hebrew word meaning help us or save us. The crowds are crying out Jesus' praise, but at the same time asking him to intercede in their lives, to rescue them from the fallen conditions of their lives.

Some of the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his disciples for saying these things, but Jesus tells them something very astounding: "If they were to be silent, then even the rocks would cry out!"

The triumphant entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into the Holy City of Jerusalem is the entry of the King of all creation into his kingdom. He is taking his throne in the middle of his creation. This entrance is an act and an event so wondrous and joyful, but also awe-inspiring, that his praises cannot but be sung to mark the occasion. Jesus tells the Pharisees that the rocks would cry out his praises if the disciples were silent because that all creation praises God continually. Psalm 148 (vss. 7-10) speaks about the forces of nature singing out God's praise:

Praise the Lord from the earth, ye serpents, and all deeps.
Fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy wind; the things that perform his word.
Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:
wild beasts, and all cattle; reptiles, and winged birds.


As Jesus travels along the path to Jerusalem, the crowds lay their garments on the road in front of them. They also cut down palms from the trees to lay on the ground for Jesus. It is especially the children that do this-- and they are among the loudest voices singing Jesus' praise, which they continue to do all the way to the temple.

The Pharisees again tell Jesus to rebuke the children, but Jesus corrects them by quoting the eighth Psalm: "Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have perfected praise."

The fact that the children know how to praise Jesus better than the religious authorities should not be surprising to us. Jesus has already spoken many times about our need to become like children in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven. In Matthew 18 (vss. 1-5), when the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in his kingdom, Jesus responds by showing them the example of a child:

"Calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.'"

Although we tend to speak about 'maturing' and 'growing' in our faith, it would be better to understand our daily task of returning to Christ as a kind of becoming young again. When a child welcomes Christ into their heart, they do it as a total and simple accepting and embrace of him. There is nothing preventing a young and innocent child from seeing Christ's presence in their heart completely. It is as we grow, as we mature, as the disappointments in life begin to pile up, that Christ's presence in our heart begins to be covered over. He never leaves us, but his presence becomes obscured like a layer of dirt over a photograph. Returning to Christ means scraping away the dirt that has covered over our heart so that we can become, like children, completely open, completely opaque to his presence in us.

Jesus' glorious procession enters into the Holy City by the Golden Gate.

The Golden Gate, Jerusalem

Today, this gate has been walled off. Sitting along the east wall of Temple Mount, in Jesus' time it would have given him quick access to the Temple.

And that is where Jesus goes now: to the temple. He immediately begins his ministry of healing the blind and the crippled. Let us follow him to his temple this week as he ascends the Cross for our sake, as his flesh, like the curtain of the temple, is torn for us, and as he remakes all of creation into his temple by filling it with his grace through his glorious resurrection.