Palm Sunday Sermon

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nick cobb

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Apr 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/11/98
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Palm Sunday (John 12:1-18)
Rev. Deacon John Chryssavgis
Holy Cross School of Theology
Brookline, MA

Palm Sunday is crucial for the understanding of Easter: the Orthodox
Liturgical ethos has as its characteristic the
absence of abrupt celebrations. In our Calendar, one feast leads to, is
a preparation for, and is fulfilled in the
following feast. Today, there is the temptation to lose this uniqueness
of our worship as we think of going to
Church on several important days during the year without fully
comprehending their interrelation and their
relation to Easter, the Feast of feasts. Palm Sunday is a prefeast of
the Resurrection; and our hymns refer to it as
"the fore beginning of the Cross".

As we finish Lent, we enter into Holy Week with the celebration of two
major feasts: the resurrection of Lazarus
and Palm Sunday. The Lenten "mood" is broken as we celebrate two major
events in Christ's life. In the 20th
century we cannot readily appreciate how our Church can rejoice after 40
days of solemnity and fasting, and only
several days before Christ's Crucifixion. Yet, already the joy of the
Resurrection is apparent. Already we begin to
catch glimpses of that light which on Easter Sunday "fills all things".

On Lazarus Saturday, we remember how Christ declared war on death; in
speaking the words "Lazarus, come
forth" Christ challenges death face to face in the person of Lazarus,
his friend.

On Palm Sunday, we remember Christ's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.
Now, why palms? Unfortunately, Palm
Sunday has become a great feast for children in most places because the
children enjoy seeing, holding or even
throwing palms during the service. In America, there has been no such
problem because we like to have our
Churches clean. And so we do away with the palms or place them neatly in
some corners. What, then, is unique
about the palms? Some say "well, one more holy thing in Church can't do
any harm"; and others "because it says
so in the Bible". Yes, but why? What is unique about this event?

It is unique in one way: Christ always, systematically, and radically
avoided to be glorified, exalted, or even called
"God"; He would disappear from among the people--think of the one
incident where the crowd wanted to
proclaim Him King. Yet today He accepts all their Messianic greetings
"Hosanna". He is the "Messiah"; He is the
"King"--and these are not so much religious, as cosmical and political
terms. Christ provokes all this because for
at least a short length of time He wants to show that He is King of this
world too, not just of another,
metaphysical world: His Kingdom is a reality "to come" but is also "at
hand". It is as King that He will be nailed to
the Cross. And the palms to be given out at the end of the Liturgy are
precisely a symbol of our obedience to Him
who will be crucified and who is King of the world.

Today Christ arranges and provokes His personal fight with death. As in
the account of Lazarus' resurrection,
Jesus does not want to come early and merely heal Lazarus but His
movements are slow, planned, exact... because
He is not afraid of facing death; so, too, in the Gospel reading today,
Christ slowly mounts the ass and enters
Jerusalem. But in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark, the details are much
more precise; every word bears weight;
every move is history; the account is slow, the action gradual: see Mark
11:1-10.

And so Christ proceeds voluntarily and surely to His Passion and to our
Resurrection.


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