At the magnification at Matins: ‘We magnify Thee, O Christ the Giver of Life, Hosanna in the Highest, and we cry aloud to Thee: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord’.
‘Having seen the Resurrection of Christ’ is not sung. Palms are blessed, which is why the feast is popularly known as ‘Palm Sunday’.
Such are some of the particularities of the Vigil of the feast.
The entrance hymn at the Liturgy is: ‘Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord, blessed are ye out of the house of the Lord, God is the Lord and has appeared unto us’.
The Gospel speaks of the young ass which was destined for the Lord. They brought an ass and the colt of an ass and put their clothing on it and He sat on it. A multitude of people placed their clothing on the way and others cut down branches from the trees and put them on the way. The people exclaimed: Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.
When He entered into Jerusalem, all the city was moved and said: Who is this?
The Gospel at the Liturgy speaks of the supper which they prepared for Christ. There was Lazarus, whom Christ had raised from the dead, there was Martha who served and Lazarus was among those who lay at table. Mary took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair and the house was filled with the fragrance. Judas Iscariot was indignant and said: Why did you not sell this ointment for three hundred pence and give it to the poor? He said this because, as the Gospel remarks, he was a thief. Jesus supported Mary and said: Leave her alone, she had kept this for the day of my burial. This happened in Bethany where the people began to gather. The high priests planned to kill Lazarus together with Christ, because many had come to believe in Christ on account of Lazarus. The next day after the meal the Lord went to Jerusalem. Here He is, sitting on the young ass and the people meet Him excitedly.
Such is the description the Gospel gives of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem.
What do we see here? The supper, Lazarus with Christ at the supper, Martha serving, Mary wiping Christ’s feet with her hair, excited people and the high priests, and Judas, scheming his cunning murder.
So it was twenty centuries ago. Now we have a triumphant service and here we are holding branches. This is the outward side. The inward side is concealed at the Vigil. Christ knows that His hour is near, when these exalted people, glorifying Him, will soon cry out: Crucify him, crucify Him and, just as they could not contain their exaltation, so they will not contain their fury. But for now everything is triumphant, the earthly task is over, it has reached its high point, Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. We magnify Thee, O Christ the Giver of Life. Christ is coming. The most difficult and the most responsible moment stands before us – Holy Week, the suffering on the Cross, the Crucifixion…Only when we realize that what faces us will be so difficult, will we be able to cast aside earthly glory, for which we all have a weakness. Christ does not need earthly glory, He shows that we do not need it either, because the final sufferings and death face each of us. Who will rise from the dead, who will achieve resurrection from the dead, nobody knows. We stand before such earthly glory, after which come sufferings and, by bearing sufferings, man receives heavenly glory.
What can we say to all this, we who have gathered here in this house of God? Now our life is so transparent that everything is clear and visible, everything is understood, but what do we understand? Let us think a little, we are not limited to just a service, a service is a service only when our life matches that service…If we cling on to earthly goods and greatness, then our service is just formal, behind it are concealed all sorts of illegitimate affairs and we take the side of God’s enemies. Or else we need nothing earthly and all we do is for heaven, then our service is incense raising us up to heaven…We live on earth, but all that we have is in heaven…
What is the message of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem? Look at your branches in your hands, what do they mean to us? Christ is coming. Nowadays for people who are used to driving around in all sorts of comfortable cars, an entrance on an ass may even seem amusing, we are proud of our comforts, but these comforts spoil our close relations with each other. For us an ass is a caricature. That is if you look at it from the outside, but from the inside, what stands behind a car, what petty selfish feelings, shallow pride, and if you look at it more deeply, then it gathers speed at a furious rate and all of a sudden, just one corner that you fail to take and everything is up in the air, smashed to pieces, nothing is left, earthly glory is just a heap of scrap…and it is funny and sad and bitter and painful and it hurts. Let us switch off from all this and be serious and turn our attention to the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem.
The Lord is coming, Lazarus is raised from the dead, Martha serves, Mary wipes his feet. The people gather, they greet Christ.
Standing over there so freely, even rather casually, what do you think of this? Here is he who yesterday offended someone, who cheated him, what do you think of this? Is there not in your deceit something of the betrayal of Judas?
And that woman over there, weeping bitterly for her children, perhaps we did not pay attention to her, we do not think that her tears are like myrrh on the feet of Christ? And you over there, what were you planning? If your plans succeed, they will not help you.
And where is Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead, who despite his state of death came forth from the tomb? The world is old in all its affairs, as it was then, so is it now. The Lord enters into Jerusalem, the clopping hooves of the ass should be heard in our ears. What thoughts does all this bring to mind? Let us note that although today and tomorrow the hymn ‘Having seen the Resurrection of Christ’ is not sung, palms are blessed. Palms are the shoots of a tree. When shoots come forth, a tree lives. For our souls to rise from the dead, virtues must be sung in them. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. Only in the Highest, only in heaven is there triumph, after triumph on earth may come suffering.
Here we are today, serving in triumph, but tomorrow we will say: He comes to voluntary suffering for our salvation. Everything that God does is for our salvation, but we must not remain passive. Without us, as they say, God will not save us. What is asked of us?
The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem is the entrance of the Lord into this church, small, not able to take many people, but many wanted to come in, we are happy to be here, side by side with the Lord Who rides on an ass.
The ass is a submissive animal, it can also symbolize people who submissively do the will of God, they offer themselves to the Lord, saying: O God, do Thy will.
The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem is the entrance of the Lord into each of our homes. Just imagine how you would react if the Lord were to appear in your home.
The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem is the entrance of the Lord into each of our souls. Just imagine that the Lord came into our souls. What does His entrance into our souls mean?
In general, what does the entrance of the Lord mean? It means continuing on the way the Lord took for our salvation. The Lord did everything that needed to be done on earth, now this earthly work must be affirmed and it can be affirmed only in suffering. Entering into Jerusalem, the Lord also goes to suffer, today we greet the entrance of the Lord in triumph, all things rejoice, as a sign of greeting we hold branches in our hands, but how will we follow Him tomorrow, already tomorrow He goes to His sufferings, will we follow Him? We are ready to rejoice in glory, but will we rejoice where there is no glory, in suffering, even though as Christians we often repeat, punishment, sufferings – this is Divine mercy, but in life we do not always put this into practice. Moreover, having come to the faith, we reject the Lord when trials come.
Translated from Russian by Fr. Andrew Phillips