Palm Sunday
APRIL 30, 2019 0 COMMENTS Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday. We celebrate with Lazarus, Mary, Martha and all of Jerusalem, the triumphant coming of Jesus into Jerusalem. Lazarus was raised from the dead! The blind were receiving their sight, the lame were being healed, God Himself was among His people. People’s hopes were high, everyone had fantasies about what the coming of the Messiah meant. And then Jesus Himself was betrayed, reviled and shamefully killed. The disciples fled and St. Peter denied Christ. All of the wonder and ecstasy of Palm Sunday devolved into heartbreak and despair. Christ’s Mother, and His community had heard Him speak about being raised on the third day, but I doubt any of that hope seemed real or even possible as they beheld the boulder in front of His tomb, and they were full of grief and confusion.  And then, He rose! Their lamentation was turned back into joy and wonder. Perhaps their fantasies about what the coming of the Messiah meant bubbled up like leavened bread rising in the warmth of a kitchen. Anything was now possible! Expectations ran high. We live as Orthodox Christians in the light of the knowledge of Christ’s death and Resurrection. 2,000 years later, we celebrate Palm Sunday in the light of Christ’s betrayal, and we mourn on Good Friday in the knowledge of His Resurrection. We know He triumphed over death. We know He has opened our way into Paradise. However, we also know that Christ was not a worldly Messiah. He did not come to overthrow the government and lead the Jewish people into victory. He had a very different mission and hope for His Church, for His people. How many of his followers were disappointed and felt betrayed all over again when He still did not live up to their expectations? How many of them fell away because they were not up to the long haul? Because dying to self, to the way we think things should be, the way we want them to be is simply too painful and heartbreaking? Because, in our fight against evil, evil too often seems to win? How are we to comprehend this? We live in between Christ’s two comings, and we see through the glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12 ) We still live in a fallen world where heartbreak and seemingly unanswered prayer are all too common. We live in the hope of the resurrection, but for many of us, that may seem as ephemeral as did Christ’s predictions to His disciples. I am reminded of Martha running out to greet Jesus, telling Him that her brother was dead because Jesus had not come at once to heal him, but still trusting Him.  Mary appears so betrayed that she didn’t even bother coming out. We all so often live in that tension between sorrow and hope. And this is the meaning of Holy Saturday, of the time of waiting between Christ’s burial and His Resurrection.  Holy Saturday is a figure of our time on Earth. It is also a figure of the 40 years the Hebrews spent in the desert. If we remember, Moses’ sister Miriam danced a great dance of rejoicing on the other side of the Red Sea, after Pharaoh’s army had drowned. But what happened after Miriam stopped dancing? God had to take His rescued people and transform their souls. They were not ready to inhabit the Promised Land. The old generation, the generation of slaves, had to die off first. The new generation had to grow to adulthood, and to full leadership before they could trust God enough. And even then, God did not hand them the Promised land on a silver platter. They had to fight for it city by city, growing spiritually with each victory. Likewise, during our personal “Holy Saturday”, our own time on earth, we live redeemed by the Blood of Christ and are given new life in the Spirit, but we are still not granted the fullness of the final Glory. This is a time of transformation for us as well. As St. Paul dictates, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil 2:12 NIV). God does not leave us abandoned. Again in the powerful words of St. Paul: “… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 NIV). While we are being crucified with Christ, we are also in the process of being raised by Him. As we read in Alexander Schmemann, (“In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death the Christ continues to effect triumph….We sing that Christ is “. . . trampling down death by death” in the troparion of Easter. This phrase gives great meaning to Holy Saturday. Christ’s repose in the tomb is an “active” repose. He comes in search of His fallen friend, Adam, who represents all men. Not finding him on earth, He descends to the realm of death, known as Hades in the Old Testament. There He finds him and brings him life once again. This is the victory: the dead are given life. The tomb is no longer a forsaken, lifeless place. By His death Christ tramples down death.”Thus, in the life of the Christian, in between the two comings of Christ, joy is followed by sorrow, is followed by joy, is followed by………… We DO experience small resurrections. We do experience answer to prayer, and victory over sin. And we keep falling, and God Himself keeps raising us up. And in the process, our souls are being transformed, we are “taking on Christ” and we are learning to love.

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