mp3 Audio: 2015_04_05-Fr Joseph-Palm_Sunday_2015.mp3
This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 27:1-54
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Our God is One.
Abraham saddles up his donkey and begins the trip to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Saul is looking for his father’s donkeys. He encounters the Prophet Samuel who anoints him as the new king. Later, through the joyous shouts of a large crowd, the people recognize him as king.
Solomon rides to his own kingly coronation on a mule that had belonged to King David. They had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and then took him to Gihon. Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the Tabernacle and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the horn, and all the people said, “long live King Solomon.” All the people went up after him, and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy so that the earth seemed to split with their sound.
When Jehu is first recognized as the new king, each man hastened to take his garment and put it under him at the top of the steps, and they blew trumpets saying, “Jehu is king!” King Jehu rides over the garments of his followers as he proceeds into Samaria to destroy the temple of the false god, Baal.
After Simon Maccabeus besieges a fortress called the Akra and drives out the enemy forces, the Jews then enter the fortress celebrating with praise and palm branches; with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments; and with hymns and songs. A great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.
These are five stories from five different periods of Israel’s history. At the time of the patriarchs, we see Abraham go to sacrifice Isaac. As the time of the judges draws to a close, we see Samuel anointing Saul. When Israel was a single, unified nation, we see the coronation of King Solomon. When Israel was split in two, we see the coronation and temple cleansing by King Jehu. During the post-exilic period, when there were no more kings reigning is Israel, we see Jerusalem cleansed of enemy forces by Simon Maccabeus.
In its own way, each one of these stories brings us to Palm Sunday, points forward to Christ in Palm Sunday. These are real stories. They are events that actually happened. Yet they are even bigger than that, for they hearken for what is to come. They point forward to the coming Messiah and his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
As Abraham sits on a donkey traveling to Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, we think of Jesus sitting on a donkey traveling to Mount Calvary to sacrifice Himself. Indeed, according to Jewish tradition, Mount Moriah is Mount Calvary. They are the same.
As Saul goes on a journey, searching for a donkey, ultimately finding himself crowned as king, we think of Jesus journeying on a donkey, hearing the crowds proclaiming Him as King.
As Solomon rides a mule and hears the cheers of the crowd as he goes to be anointed as king, we think of Jesus riding a donkey hearing the cheers of the crowd while they hail Him as King.
As Jehu stands on the garments of his followers and is proclaimed as king, we think of Jesus sitting and walking on the garments of His followers as He is proclaimed as King. As King Jehu rides into the city going to eliminate Baal worshippers from the temple, we think of Jesus riding into the city going to drive the money-changers out of God’s temple.
As Simon Maccabeus is surrounded by crowds of people shouting, singing, and waving palm branches, celebrating because the enemy forces have been driven out of the fortress; we think of Jesus surrounded by crowds of people shouting, singing, and waving palm branches as Jesus Himself heads into the city to cleanse the temple.
Like Abraham, Jesus is our great Leader, boldly riding to His destiny on a donkey as he goes to prepare the ultimate sacrifice. Like Saul, He says that our time without a King is coming to an end. It will not be a kingdom that is forced, but it will be a kingdom that is welcomed by the people. As we see even in the Book of Revelation, as all tribes and tongues gather around at the throne of Christ – the throne of the Lamb, it says they are waving palm branches, proclaiming Him as King.
Like Solomon, Jesus is the Son of David, not reigning over part of a kingdom, not reigning over half of God’s people, but reigning over a unified people of God, reigning in wisdom. Like Jehu, who cleanses this pagan temple and eliminates the worship of Baal, Jesus cleanses our hearts from idolatry and ultimately, in the end of history, defeats all idolatry. In Heaven, there will only be one religion. There will only be one form of worship, and it will be the worship of Him as King and God. Just as Simon Maccabeus was a great deliverer for God’s people, driving the enemies out of the fortress, so Jesus Himself conquers death, hell, Satan, sin, the grave, and, yes, Hades itself. He descends into Hades, harrows hell, leaves captivity captive, and returns to tell the story as a victorious conquering Leader.
So many streams, so many stories, and yet they all converge in one point. That point is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Fulfillment of all time, the Fulfillment of every hope, the Fulfillment of every age. Whether you lived in the time of the patriarchs, or the time of the judges, or the time of the kings, or the post-exilic period, whether you were a Jew or a Gentile, Jesus is the Fulfillment of every hope of the human heart. Jesus is the fulfillment, ultimately, of every prophecy.
Jesus doesn’t just pick out two or three verses in the Old Testament and say, “hey, there were some hints that I was coming.” No, when he speaks to the Jews in John chapter five, he says, “ye search the scriptures, for in them ye believe ye have life, but these are they which speak of Me” [John 5:39].
Whether you are reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the books of the Kings, the books of the Chronicles of the kings, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the prophets, every verse is about Jesus Christ. Every prophecy ultimately points towards Him. Every hope, every desire, every aching heart, every longing of the soul finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ.
Jesus is greater than Abraham. Jesus is more beautiful than Saul. Jesus is wiser than Solomon. Jesus is a greater conqueror than King Jehu. Jesus is a greater leader and a more magnificent conqueror than Simon Maccabeus. Throughout Scripture, who do we see? The King lowly and riding on a donkey. The great King who stands on the garments of His willing followers who lay down their garments at His feet. We see crowds of people waving palm branches. Ultimately, we see where this great King was headed.
Was He headed to some magnificent state banquet at $10,000 a plate with other heads of state? Was this great King headed to Texas or to Hawaii to go hunting or to go golfing? Was this great King headed for a vacation? Was He headed for a party? Was He headed for a great gala, a great ball where everybody would dress in finery and celebrate?
If you read all the way to the back of the Bible, as a matter of fact, yes, He was headed towards many of those things. There will be celebration, and feasting, and joy, and pleasure in heaven at the right hand of God. But He had a stop He had to make first. It is the same stop that we all must make before heaven. You see, before there can be the glory, there has to be the humiliation. Before the pleasure comes the suffering. Before the rejoicing come the trials. Before the Resurrection comes the Cross.
We didn’t merely remember Palm Sunday. We have participated in Palm Sunday. When we were walking out waving our palm branches, remember that in this liturgy, streams of time converge. You are not merely looking back on something that happened a long time ago. You have entered into God’s time, and from God’s perspective – remember, He’s outside of time – there is no yesterday, today or tomorrow. All times are equally present for Him.
Right now, God is creating the world. Right now, God is in the Book of Revelation after the second judgement. Right now, God is there with Abraham as Abraham goes to sacrifice his son in obedience to the Father’s command. Right now, God is there at the coronations of King Saul, King Solomon, and King Jehu. Right now, God is watching as the people are cheering, and waving their palm branches, and singing after Simon Maccabeus brought deliverance to the people of God. It’s all present for God.
When we are in the liturgy, when we are in His presence, we enter that same timelessness. So when we were waving the branches, we were participating with the crowds. The same time God is watching the crowds wave their palms and sing “Hosanna in the highest,” he sees us waving our palm branches for the same reason.
Sadly, not only do we participate in the hailing of Christ as King and the singing of “Hosanna in the highest,” but just a few days later, in our fickle hearts, we participate with those in the crowd who said, “crucify him. Crucify him. His blood be on us and our children.” Does he respond with a curse? Does he respond with eternal damnation? Christ responds with a prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Thanks be to God, our participation doesn’t stop there.
You see, just a few days from now, the Son of God will be dead. He will be laid in the grave, and we will be in mourning. Then comes Sunday morning, and we will participate with Mary Magdalene, and John, and Peter, and those who go to the tomb of their Lord and their Savior and find it empty. Then Christ Himself appears in their midst, and they see the wounds in His hands. They see the wounds in His feet. They see the riven side of the Savior as Christ Himself says, “peace be with you.” Then He breathes on them, and He says, “receive the Holy Spirit.”
Easter Sunday is coming. Resurrection Sunday is coming. Before we can get there, we have to go through the Cross. We have to go through the burial and the tomb.
So it is in our lives. If you trust in Christ, if you believe that He is the Risen Son of God and the only Way to heaven, then you have heaven to look forward to. But before you get there, you – no matter what your age; whether young, old, male female, rich, poor – you have your own cross to look forward to.
When He was hanging up there, they repeated that word that Satan himself spoke in the Garden of Eden: “if.” Actually, it was a question mark, not so much that word if but the question mark. Say something which God has said, and then put a question mark on the end of it. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent said, “hast god said. . .? Did God really say that if you eat the fruit you will surely die? You will not die.”
Just like the serpent did in the Garden of Eden, so he does with the people who stand at the foot of the Cross watching the suffering of the Son of God. While Mary’s heart is pierced through, as Simeon had prophesied, in compassion and love for her son, these other people see His suffering, and they mock Him. They bring back that satanic question mark. Have you ever noticed that a question mark kind of slithers and curves around like a serpent?
Except now, instead of “hast God said,” the question goes like this: “IF You be the Son of God. . .” You may say, “that’s not a question. There’s no question mark on that.” Yes there is! The word “if” includes a question mark within it. “IF You are the Son of God. . .” In other words, “are you really the Son of God? Hast God said that You are His Son? IF ye be the Son of God, then come down off of the Cross, and then we’ll believe in You.”
Did He have the ability to come down? Of course He did! Those hands that had healed the blind, that had healed the sick, that had made the dumb speak, that had risen Lazarus from the tomb – those hands were not incapable of healing His own body. You see, it wasn’t just a one-time sacrifice. It wasn’t just one moment in time that He gave Himself over to be crucified, and then from that point on He was helpless. No!
Every second that He hung on that Cross in agony, He had the choice to come down. He had the option to heal His own body of all of its wounds, come down off the Cross, call ten legions of angels from heaven, and utterly destroy every last living and breathing thing on this planet; but love kept him nailed there for you and for me, not for himself.
He could have been perfectly blessed – in fact, He was perfectly blessed – without us. But for you, he endured the agony. He endured the insults. He endured the mocking. He endured the spitting. Like a lamb is silent before her shearers, so He was silent before those who tortured, and mocked, and humiliated, and slaughtered Him.
He has said that this is not merely something that He does that we do not participate in. He has said that if we are going to follow Him, we are going to have to carry our own cross. He is the leader. He leads the way. He shows us what to do. That means that we follow Him, and as good disciples, we do what we see Him do.
That means instead of complaining about our troubles, we rejoice in the midst of them and bear them patiently. Instead of seeking our own selfish pleasures and comforts, it means that we intentionally lay down our lives for our wives, our children, our husbands, our parents, our neighbors, even for perfect strangers; that we empty ourselves even as Christ emptied himself.
Instead of seeking pleasure, comfort, and entertainment, we pour out our time, and our money, and our labor to serve other people, to bring them to the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to put food in the stomachs of the hungry, to give drinks of water to those who thirst, to find and seek out people who have almost nothing to wear and to give them clothes. Instead of staying away from the hospitals, and the nursing homes, and the prisons because they are places that make us feel uncomfortable, we seek them out because we want to care for the sick and visit those who are in prison.
Jesus led the way, and the kind of love that He demonstrated for us demands a response from us. Yes, the gift is free. There is nothing you can do to earn entry into heaven, but even if there is a free ticket, you have to walk up, and you have to take it. You can’t just sit in your seat and shun the ticket no matter how free it is; avoid getting on the train, no matter how near to you it is and still end up in your intended destination.
You have to do something. If you have true faith, then you will have a true and heartfelt response that works its way through your fingers, and your tongue, and your feet as you go out to work, and to walk, and to say, and to do the things that Christ would have us do.
Jesus is the Fulfillment of everything that we see from Abraham, from Saul, from Solomon, from Jehu, from Simon Maccabeus. He is the Fulfillment of Psalm 118 where we read, “blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” He points us forward to the glorious waving of palm branches to King Jesus in the Book of Revelation.
He has already walked this path to Golgatha. He has already carried His Cross, and now He calls us to do the same not foolishly thinking that we can earn any grace or merit from the Lord, not grudgingly or angry because He would dare to put a burden on our poor little shoulders, but in a great, joyful response of love for what the Son of God has done to save our souls from death – joyously.
The joy is set before us. Because He is worthy, because we love Him, let us bear our cross that we have been given.
Let us follow Him to the grave so that we may follow Him in the Resurrection.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial services, including homily transcription and publishing, to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.