My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever.
My dear friends, today we celebrate the great feast of the entry of our Lord Jesus Christ in to Jerusalem, or, as it is commonly called, Palm Sunday.
Now on this Sunday, we bless palms and branches of olives, willows, which we distribute and which we hold aloft in imitation the children of Israel, about whom we hear in today’s Gospel. But most of those children of Israel, we find out, ultimately rejected the messiah. They did so because He was not according to their own pre-conceived ideas and images. He was not a material conqueror, and His Kingdom is not of this world.
Likewise, today, a perhaps considerable percentage of those who will call themselves Christians also will reject the messiah as He is, and they will themselves not find the Kingdom. This is simply because they are not striving for the Kingdom.
They may go to church bodily. They may say their prayers with their lips. But they are not striving for the Kingdom with their hearts.
The branches we bless and hold aloft today stand for us as an opportunity of reflection, and an opportunity to be challenged. As we hold aloft the branches in our hands, let the very branches themselves be an inquiry into our state of heart, our state of soul. The branches ask those of us who hold them up in honour of the true King: Will you, too, be one who denies the Lord, turning the words of exultation with which you greet Him today into mockery and derision before the week is out? Or will you rather be faithful, staying close by the suffering King, crowned not with gold, but with thorns, but Who triumphs not over earthly kingdoms, but over death itself?
When we hold these branches, let us, indeed, let it be a rebuke of ourselves in all the many ways which we do not live the life of Christian love as our Lord has shown to us, as our Lord has commanded us. But further, let us let the branches be an outward sign of that resolve – with which we greet the triumphant eternal King – to make the great and fundamental and necessary effort of the struggle against our own passions, against our sins, against our own frailty and brokenness, assisted always in this great and necessary work by nothing less than the divine grace which our Lord communicates to us.
We must take up the struggle, daily take up the struggle. And this is done not in a vague, nebulous way, although it may often be described in such terms simply because no one can objectively know or read or judge the content of another person’s heart, that is the prerogative of God alone. And so the words and instructions on the struggle of sanctity can often be fairly broad and non-specific. In reality, through, in actual practice, the struggle is taken up daily in very concrete, very practical ways, my friends. As we live each day, we will encounter specific moments in which we can advert to the specific choice which we are to make. And that choice quite simply is: co-operate with grace or reject grace. And it is in these seemingly small specific moments that we must step-by-step, day-by-day build up the habit of co-operating with grace, the habit of doing the will of the Eternal Father.
In today’s Epistle, the Holy Apostle Saint Paul enjoins us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.” And he goes on to say that “the Lord is nigh.” Now “nigh,” simply means “approaching,” “close by,” “near.” “Rejoice in the Lord always! The Lord is near!”
And this, my dear friends, truly is a cause of rejoicing, that the Lord is near. The Lord is, in fact, closer to us than we are to ourselves. As we embark upon the struggle of living the Christian life, our Lord does not leave us destitute. Our Lord does not simply watch us from afar, taking no care in our daily struggles, in our daily challenges, in our thoughts, our relations, our feeling, our experience. No, the Lord is near to us in all things; so near to us, in fact, that He took our very nature upon Himself that we might be saved.
As our Lord entered Jerusalem on this day, He was greeted with shouts and cries of “Hosanna! blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel!” We, to this day in the sacred liturgy echo these words as we begin the anaphora, singing “Hosanna.” Now, apart from simply being a word of praise, “hosanna” does have a meaning, coming from a phrase meaning, “save us,” or “deliver us,” “free us.” It is an entreaty to one who has the power to effect the freedom of the one who speaks it.
And this, my friends, truly is a cause for the rejoicing that Saint Paul commands us this week. Though we stand at the beginning of that week in which we recall the most sorrowful Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, though we know that in this week our Lord will be betrayed, He will be denied, He will be scourged, He will be mocked and crowned with thorns, he will carry His Cross, He will be abandoned by almost nearly all those who followed Him, He will be crucified and the soldiers will gamble over His clothing. He will die upon the Cross, and He will be placed in the tomb. And yet Saint Paul’s words are true as ever: Rejoice. Rejoice, my dear friends for the Lord IS near. Rejoice, for He who created the universe is come to free us from the bondage of sin and death in which we have ensnared ourselves. He who is Salvation itself now draws near so that we might be saved in Him. This is truly a cause for joy, even while we face bitter passion. Truly, my dear friends, for God is with us. God is near. God is with us. In His grace He can be ever with us. He sees all; He understands all; and He helps with all.
Saint Paul continues, “Be nothing solicitous,” which simply means not to place undue importance on unimportant matters, “Be nothing solicitous, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
And here we come back full circle to the challenge we face with the branches which we hold aloft today, my friends.
“In every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.”
Pray. Make supplication. Call out to the God who saves, to the God who is with us, the Lord Who is nigh, make your petitions known unto Him. Truly God already knows all, He knows our hearts, He knows all of that which we need. And yet, He forces nothing, He imposes nothing on the heart, He goes only into those hearts where He is welcomed. As our Lord was welcomed into Jerusalem two thousand years ago with the waving of branches and the cries of “Hosanna,” let Him also today be welcomed into our hearts with the same acclamation.
“And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
This, my dear friends, is the remedy for our world, for our nation, our community, our families, our selves. Peace. That peace of which we stand in such sore, sore need today. It begins within us, with the very Kingdom of God which is within us, which we actualize by the entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into our hearts by His grace, just as in His eartly life he entered into Jerusalem. The way of the Cross also is there after the triumphant entrance of the King, and we daily must also pick up our crosses. But through all, we have the blessing and the assurance of the peace of God, which will not be understood by the world, inasmuch as it passes all understanding. Even in the midst of the great struggle, there is the peace of God, and it is precisely this peache which keeps our hearts and our minds in none less than Christ Jesus, our God and King and Saviour.