Palm Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Who is Jesus Christ ?
Palm Sunday
20 April, 2008
Philippians 4:4-9 ; John 12:1-18

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We celebrated yesterday the raising of Lazarus. Today, we are with our Lord as He is entering Jerusalem. We are not just remembering these Events as they were a long time ago. Although we are not really there physically, in our hearts we are there. As the Gospel is being read, we are present with our Saviour when He is entering Jerusalem. Although our presence with Christ is a liturgical presence, this does not diminish the reality of our being present with Him.

I remember a long time ago when I was young there used to be a television programme called “You were there”. It used to try to take the viewers back to events long, long ago. When we are in church, serving the Divine Liturgy, hearing the Gospel, hearing the words of life from our Saviour, Himself, we are there. We are in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, when our Saviour is entering into the Temple. That is why Orthodox Christians today are carrying their branches (or pussy willows in some parts of the world because there are no palm trees growing). Liturgically, we are with our Lord. We are hearing the words of life. We are with Him. He is with us. We are carrying our palm branches. We are with our Lord in Jerusalem.

In the Gospel for today, we hear the Apostle John say to us that the people are coming out of Jerusalem to meet our Saviour, and that they are shouting : “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord’”. After they put our Lord on an ass, the foal of an ass, they are putting their clothes on the ground, and so forth. They are doing this, and why ? The Apostle John says that it was because they had seen the resurrection of Lazarus. If they had not seen it, they had certainly heard about it.

In the days soon to come, we will find that the same people who were shouting “Hosanna !” will be crucifying Jesus. We are going to be there, too. In a few days, we are going to be in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion. We are going to be present as Jesus is condemned to death, and as He is crucified. (Of course, we are also going to be present when He rises from the dead, but we are getting too far ahead here.)

You and I here today are also with those crowds of people in Jerusalem. The question we have to ask ourselves is a question similar to that question that people thought that they had answered then, and that is : “Who is Jesus Christ to us ?” “Who is Jesus Christ to me ?” To those who witnessed the miracle of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus must be the Messiah. He must be the Christ. He must be the Anointed One sent by God to save His people, to heal society, and to bring it back into harmony with God’s Will. To Judas, and to certain other people who were primarily politically motivated, Jesus must be the political leader and leader of armies who would release the Jewish people from their slavery to the Romans (as they had been oppressed by the Greeks, and others, before). They were certain that it was a political leader that they were going to be greeting this day, and that this leader was going to assemble an army, throw out those Romans, and establish a theocratic kingdom on the earth in Palestine.

By this time, the Jewish people seem to have forgotten what is their real purpose in the world (of which the prophet Isaiah reminded them). They had forgotten, just as we do. We are not different. They forgot that they were supposed to be a light shining in the world to draw attention to the truth of the one creating, loving God who saves everything that He creates, and who loves all that He creates. The Jewish people were supposed to be a sign that God loves them and all His creation. As so often happens with us, because of various circumstances of life, they forgot. They began to protect their faith from everyone else outside (and even from themselves).

We Orthodox Christians are not so different from that. We are the legitimate inheritors of that same faith ; we are the legitimate spiritual descendants of this people. We are participants with them in their betrayal every time we neglect Christ, every time we turn our backs on Him, every time we try to reduce Him to what He is not. Who is Jesus Christ to you and to me ? Who is He ?

Jesus Christ, as we heard the Apostle say yesterday, is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus Christ, the Word of God, by whom everything is made, and is being made – that is Who He is. And Who is He to me ? Someone to be feared ? Just some political figure or a philosophical idea ? No. He is the Son of the living God, who directs everything in creation. He is in charge of my life because He loves me. He wants us – you, me, and us all – to love Him in return in the same way. This is the meaning of everything.

That is really why you and I are here today. If there is another reason why you and I are here today, maybe it is time to re-focus, and remember that the first priority in our lives is that Jesus Christ loves us. He loves us, and He is our reason for being. He is our everything. I would say personally that if that were not the case for me, I do not see how I could have lived through all sorts of things that I have lived through in the course of my life. I certainly do not know how I could have lived through things that I have experienced more recently if it were not for the fact that the Lord, Himself, in the course of my life convinced me that He loves me. He keeps reminding me that He loves me. It is possible for me, therefore, to carry on no matter how difficult and painful things might be.

The Lord, who is the Giver of life, is Who He is. The Lord, who loves us, and sustains us, and gives us life in His love, is Who He is. If people in other times (or even in the present time) will say : “‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9) to our Saviour Jesus Christ, for another reason (even for the wrong reason), this does not change anything. He is still Who He is. It is our responsibility to live our lives according to Who He is, according to Who He continues to show Himself to be to us – our Love, our Life, our Everything.

It is true that by our failures, by our laziness, by our negligence and so forth, we do contribute to the suffering of our Saviour, to the Crucifixion. Often, we are really not better than Judas, whom we seem to like to sneer at during this week (which is not so nice). Nevertheless, it is important for us to remember that our Lord, who loves us, was ready to forgive Judas, but Judas did not open his heart and accept that forgiveness. Forgiveness was given to the Apostle Peter, and to the other apostles who ran away afraid, because they turned about, repented and said, in effect : “I am sorry”. The Lord came back for them.

Judas was too broken, somehow, and he was too out-of-focus. We cannot psychoanalyse him or the situation. Whatever it was that was wrong, was wrong enough that he could not (and would not) turn back to the Lord. This same Lord, who forgave the Apostle Peter, was ready to forgive Judas. Do not forget that it would have been possible for him to repent ; but he did not repent, because I think that he probably felt too hopeless because of how he was condemning himself. We are told that he took money from the common purse of our Saviour and His disciples. Then, he accepted from the ecclesiastical officials some reward-money for handing Christ over to them. It seems that he treated Christ as a political person and event. He did not understand that Christ was not simply a human being.

Our Lord, who loves us, who is Everything to us, who is with us at all times, in every stage of our life, in all conditions of our life, is worthy of our prayer. He is worthy of our singing “Hosanna”. He is worthy of our faithfulness, our loyalty, and also our repentance. He, who loves us, who is with us today, is about to give us Himself as food for our life. He is about to refresh us. He is about to renew us. Even if we abandon Him, and are unfaithful to Him, He is never that way to us. He is always ready to be with us, to give us what we need.

Today, as we are holding branches, as we are standing in His presence as He is entering Jerusalem and coming to the Temple, let us ask the Lord to renew our love for Him, and to renew our awareness that He is truly with us. Let us ask Him to help us to live in accordance with that love, with greater and greater confidence, allowing that love to take away from our lives the fear which paralyses us. Let us ask Him to replace this fear with strength, energy, and the light of His love so that in everything more and more and more we may truly and sincerely glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.