Today, with our celebration of Palm Sunday, we enter into Holy Week. This week, beyond all other, is a time of revelation, of showing us all about God and all about ourselves. This week we will see revealed before us the Mysteries of the Kingship of Christ, of the Eucharist, of the Life-giving Cross, and the Mystery of the empty Tomb. The liturgies of the Church make these sacred events present to us; as we remember – as we walk with Christ – we enter into that most Holy Week.
Yesterday, the day before Palm Sunday, Christ had revealed his power over death by raising Lazarus from the tomb in Bethany. His fame quickly spread and, as he came down the road from Bethany to Jerusalem, the crowd gathered, spreading branches of palm and olive, and shouting the ancient greeting reserved only for kings. “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” “Hosanna” means “save us.” The crowd joyfully greeted the king of Israel. He came, not with a mighty army and not to conquer by force, but to win our hearts and to save us by his actions and by his love. He came riding on a donkey, the humblest of creatures and this fulfilled what was spoken long before. It was the prophet Zechariah who proclaimed, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion… behold thy king cometh unto thee: he is just and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”
Today is a day to celebrate the kingship of Christ. We might well be tempted to say, “but those very people who hailed his kingship called out for his crucifixion just five days later” and this would be true – even as we sometimes hail Christ as king with our lips, then deny him in our lives. But that kingship that was celebrated on this day did not fail, did not pass away, and even those who stumbled and faltered for a moment, like Simon Peter, were still welcomed into the kingdom by God’s forgiving, healing love.
The 19th century Russian bishop St. Theophan the Recluse wrote this about the rule of Christ the King: “The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master… This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our wilful sins, is re-established.”
Christ has come to be our king. He asks for our complete loyalty and obedience, our service and our love. He desires to reign in all areas of our lives, so that we may truly live in his kingdom of peace. We allow him to reign and to be our king when we walk in his ways and follow his commandments. By our faithfulness, we add our voices to those shouting “Hosanna!”
When Christ entered Jerusalem on this day, this entry was unlike any other. He had been brought as a child to the Temple in Jerusalem, to fulfil the Law. As a grown man, He had come as a teacher and as a healer. Now He comes as King, as Christ the Conqueror and the battle begins in earnest – the battle between God and the powers of evil, the battle for mankind, the battle for my life and yours. God has come to rescue and save His beloved creation – to enter into our struggle, to help us and show us the way. The events of this Holy Week are clashes in a War, in a real battle between good and evil, between One who loves us and one who hates us. Today the final campaign begins; next Saturday night we celebrate the astounding victory, as after the sorrow of Good Friday, light banishes the darkness, and then we see the true glory of Christ’s kingship.
Behold, our king comes. In the eighth century, St. Andrew of Crete, a native of Damascus, urged us to celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem in this way: “[Christ] comes, willingly taking the road to Jerusalem, he who came down from the heights for us, to raise us who lie in the depths to exaltation with him… He comes without display, without boast… Come then, let us run with him as he presses on to his passion. Let us imitate those who have gone out to meet him, not scattering olive branches or garments or palms in his path, but spreading ourselves before him as best we can, with humility of soul and upright purpose. So may we welcome the Word as he comes, so may God who cannot be contained within any bounds, be contained within us… let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet… Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: “Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”