Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today we stand at the threshold of a most solemn and fearful mystery. On the one hand we celebrate the most sublime joy of the Lord’s triumphant and glorious Entrance into the Holy City of Jerusalem; and on the other hand, we know that beyond this radiant and festive day, as we peer into the inky darkness beyond, there lurks the most heart-breaking and soul-crushing humiliation of our Master and sweetest Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Today the incarnate word of God enters Jerusalem leading cheering crowds of men, women, and children waving branches and turning their garments into royal carpets, but on Great and Holy Friday he will driven out, forcibly led out of the City, carrying a cross, bloodied and dishonored. Today’s entry is triumphal because Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem fulfills the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, Righteous, and a Saviour; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal” (9:9). Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem reminds us of the victory processions of the ancient world when the population hailed the return of conquering heroes after a successful military campaign. Yet today is different. Normally, the victory parade would take place after the battle is won, but Christ’s fiercest battle lies ahead, the battle against death itself. It is a battle still to be joined. Because we have been here before, we know that victory lies in the future. This sticheron from Verspers at last night’s Vigil anticipates that future triumph of our glorious king:
Thou hast entered the Holy City, O Lord, riding on the colt of an ass,
hastening to Thy Passion, that the Law and the Prophets might be fulfilled. The Hebrew children greeted Thee with palms and branches, heralding Thy victorious Resurrection. Blessed art Thou, O Savior! Have mercy on us!
No surprise then that, on Great Friday, Our Lord’s departure from Jerusalem will be an event in marked contrast to his triumphal entry. His royal title will be mocked not celebrated. The crowd that accompanies him will be weeping rather than cheering: Lamentation rather than rejoicing will be on display. In the triumphal entry and the tearful leave-taking, the eyes of faith discern one continuous journey from the Mount of Olives to the place of the skull, and beyond -- to the empty tomb. For the entry into Jerusalem marks the opening scene of the final act of the drama of our salvation. He who was once hailed as king, for our sake, willingly allows himself to be enthroned on a Cross, and once his hands are stretched out upon it he will draw all men to himself (John 12:32). The humiliation of his being led out of the city only seems to erase the exaltation of his triumphant entry. The humiliation of his being nailed to the Cross only seems to erase his life from the earth. The truth is that even in his humiliation, he is always our triumphant king. Soon, very soon, the “crucified one” will be revealed as the King of Glory.
I want to end with a little prayer of thanks to God our King, coming from Joshua ben Sirach in the Old Testament. But before I do, I want to reveal a little gem hidden within it. This would be easier to read perhaps than to hear, but you can read it later, right? So here is the hidden gem in Sirach’s prayer that I want you to remember. The name “Jesus,” “Yeshua” in Hebrew and Aramaic is a compound word that includes the word for “God” and the word for “Deliverer” or “Saviour.” So the name Jesus means “God our Saviour,” or “God my Saviour.” Keep this in mind as I read the prayer:
“I give thee thanks, O LORD and King, I praise you, God my Savior! I declare your name, refuge of my life, because you have ransomed my life from death” (Sirach 51:1). Amen.