Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity


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Life as an Entrance

 

A man was opening a new business and one of his friends sent him flowers for the occasion. They arrived at the new business site and the owner read the card, which said: “Rest in Peace.”

The owner was angry and called the florist to complain. After he had told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist replied:

“Sir, I really am very sorry for the mistake, but if it is any comfort to you, imagine this – somewhere, there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note saying: “Congratulations on your new location!”

Entrance into Jerusalem wall icon at Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME (click to enlarge)

Entrance into Jerusalem wall icon at Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME (click to enlarge)

Location is everything – so they say! The Son of God also changed location – “he came down from heaven.” But Jesus’ history with us can best be described as a series of entrances – entrances not into new locations but into new modes of existence and new experiences…. entrances represented in our icons!

Today…Entrance into Jerusalem – one of many entrances that Jesus experienced.

Nativity – incarnation, entrance into human existence. He became one of us, so we can become like him! Potential

Baptism of Christ wall icon at Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME (click to enlarge)

Baptism of Christ wall icon at Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME (click to enlarge)

Baptism – entrance into everything that it means to be human and entrance into natural world. Sanctification of creation. He experienced everything we experience so he can be our great high priest (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Baptism was his entrance into God’s natural creation.

Jerusalem – entrance into man’s creation!

He made everything holy – both the natural and human creation. While he lived among us he even revealed his divine glory – the glory that touches every one of us. So many ways God has provided for us to share that glory!

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.… The Lord is at hand…. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” we heard in today’s reading from Philippians.

Resurrection wall icon at Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME (click to enlarge)

Resurrection wall icon at Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME (click to enlarge)

But there remained one more entrance – the ultimate entrance, the entrance into death. Our Resurrection icon shows Jesus entering into the realm of death to raise up Adam and Eve, representatives of all humanity.

Our lives are a series of entrances, transitions. It’s how we learn, how we mature, how we share each other’s life. There is no greater joy than to be human and to live here, with our loved ones, with our friends, with our community of faith, with all the other living creatures on this beautiful home planet of ours, in the midst of the stars and galaxies. Endless wonder surrounds us, endless majesty. And that’s what our liturgy reveals to us. “Blessed is the entrance of your saints” are the words spoken at the Small Entrance.

The South Wall at Holy Trinity Church, Portland, Maine (click to enlarge). Transfiguration and Dormition icons.

The South Wall at Holy Trinity Church, Portland, Maine (click to enlarge). Transfiguration and Dormition icons.

And for us too, there remains a final entrance. But don’t picture it as a change of location. Picture it as a transition into a different mode of existence. As in the Dormition icon.

Today's Palm Sunday congregation at Holy Trinity Church, Portland, Maine.

Today’s Palm Sunday congregation at Holy Trinity Church, Portland, Maine. (Click to enlarge)


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The Calm Center

The Palm Sunday narrative is one of the few that is included in all four Gospels. We read the version in John. But there are significant differences. Matthew and John quote Zechariah’s saying about the king of Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey. All of them have the words of praise that greeted Jesus, which are quoted from Psalm 118: “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord” (verses 25-26).

Entry into Jerusalem from the Codex Rossanensis (“the Rossano Gospels”), 6th century illuminated manuscript

Entry into Jerusalem from the Codex Rossanensis (“the Rossano Gospels”), 6th century illuminated manuscript

The word hosanna comes from two Hebrew words, hôshia nā, which became ὡσαννά in Greek. It literally means “save, we pray,” as in Psalm 118. This word was used during the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot). Once a day during the feast, worshipers would walk around the altar and say, “Save now, we beseech thee, O Lord! We beseech thee, O Lord, send now prosperity!” When the priest reached a certain point in the ceremony, a trumpet sounded and all the people waved branches of palms, myrtles, willows, etc. Since Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem takes place around Passover, rather than the Feast of Tabernacles, it is unclear why the crowd would wave palm branches and shout “hosanna.” Ironically, it is salvation that Jesus brought – but not the kind the people were singing about.

All four Gospels include words designating Jesus as king in one form or other, but the wording is different:
Matthew – Hosanna to the son of David.
Mark – Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.
Luke – Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. (Luke does not have the word Hosanna!)
John – Blessed is the king of Israel.
The aftermath is also different:

In Matthew – Jesus goes to the Temple and threw out all the vendors and money changers.
In Mark – Jesus also goes straight to the Temple, looks around and then returns to Bethany for the night!
In Luke – Pharisees go to Jesus and ask him to stop his disciples from saying words of praise. Jesus responds that if they were to keep quiet, the stones would shout! Jesus then wept over the city of Jerusalem and its unfaithfulness. Then he drove the vendors out of the Temple.
In John – Pharisees speak under their breath and observe that everyone has gone over to Jesus!

Clearly we have on Palm Sunday a mammoth demonstration of God’s politics. And if these confrontational words and actions were not enough, the very entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was full of potent symbolism. Jesus taught in parables. His miracles were parables. His entire life was a parable. Remember, the Word became flesh – a living, acting person! Paul wrote that we should be imitators of Christ – who, though he was God, emptied himself, lowered himself, even to death on the cross.

The symbolism of Palm Sunday was deep. Jesus entered from the east, from the Mount of Olives. In contrast, the Roman governor – Pilate at that time – lived on the Mediterranean coast in Caesarea, and thus entered Jerusalem from the west, riding on an impressive stallion and accompanied by an impressive show of military pomp and might. Most people likely stood silent as they watched the military procession. The contrast with Jesus’ entry couldn’t be greater. This was political theatre in no uncertain terms.

But the irony was not only aimed at the Romans. The people greeting Jesus with those words of Hosanna and Blessed is the king, etc., have it all wrong about Jesus. Jesus rides on a donkey. He is not the Messiah they are expecting, not the military leader to drive out the Romans. It is no surprise that many of those shouting “Hosanna” will shout, “Crucify him,” in just a few days.

In all these conflicting expectations and politics, Jesus is the calm center. A few times he raises his voice, as in tomorrow night’s a Gospel reading, but he remains mostly the calm center. And he is still today that calm center in the midst of all our confusing voices and fears. Yesterday we heard in the Epistle reading, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And it seems human beings will be the same yesterday today and forever!

Our situation is not different. Leader after leader disappoints us. Leaders come and go, political ideologies make promises, but the poor are still with us. Jesus himself said that the poor we will always have with us. And it’s more true today than it was in his time. Violence and crime are still with us. Jesus’ kingdom has not removed the tragedy or pain or injustice of the world in which we live. But we still believe that it’s here, in our midst, in us. It exists wherever hope exists. Hope, faith and love. These three. They define the kingdom – not power or violence. Faith hope and love enabled the Son of God to enter Jerusalem and ride to his death – and resurrection. He invites us to enter with him, not cheer him on from the sidelines – but to enter with him. Blessed are we who come in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord!

The audio file of this sermon: