April 1 (O.S., March 19), 2018: Sixth Sunday of the Great Lent: Palm Sunday, the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem; Martyrs Chrysanthus and Daria, and those with them at Rome: Claudius, Hilaria, Jason, Maurus, Diodorus presbyter, and Marianus deacon (283). Martyr Pancharius at Nicomedia (ca. 302).
Epistle: Philippians 4:4-9
Gospel: John 12:1-18
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today’s readings are odd.
The epistle doesn’t mention at all our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem. Instead, St Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” And, lest we miss what he means, he repeats himself and says again we are to rejoice.
He then goes on to explain to us what it means to rejoice.
We are to be gentle, to lay aside anxiety in favor of prayer, and with a thankful and peaceful heart ask God for what we need.
He concludes by encouraging us to reflect on all things that are true, noble, just, pure, and lovely. We are to concern ourselves not with human failure but with what is virtuous and praiseworthy.
Importantly, the Apostle doesn’t tell us to limit our mediation to those things which are specifically or explicitly Christian. No, whatever form it takes, if it is true, noble, just, pure, or lovely we are to reflect on it and allow it to shape our lives.
But, in all this, there is not one word about Jesus.
As for the Gospel, the events we are celebrating this morning are almost an afterthought. Unlike the Gospel at Matins (Matthew 21:1-11;15-17), most of the text is devoted to the events surrounding Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
As is so often the case, those around Jesus–even those closest to Him–misunderstand. The Apostle John says that the disciples–and he–“did not understand” what was happening.
Judas misunderstood because he was consumed by greed.
The chief priests misunderstood because they were consumed by jealousy.
Even the crowds came “not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.”
The only one who seems to have any sense of what is happening is Mary the sister of Lazarus. Mary knows that Jesus is going to die. And so she “took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”
Like the disciples, I often misunderstand the will of God because, to return to today’s epistle, I give myself over to grumbling. Frankly, I have an almost unending list of complaints and disappointments. In my more lucid and honest moments, I realize how easy it is for me to find fault with others and myself. I hold on to injuries and resist forgiving those who have wronged me.
This is why I am forever misunderstanding what God asks of me.
Since St Paul sees fit to say what he did to the Church at Philippi, it seems likely that–for all my shortcomings–I’m really no different from any other Christian. We all need to be reminded to attend to the myriad signs of God’s grace and love for us. We all of us need to cultivate a sense not simply of gratitude but celebration.
And if we take St Paul’s counsel to heart, we must cast as wide a net as possible. We must thank God for whatever is true, noble, just, pure, or lovely.
Only in this way, to work backward through the text, we acquire a spirit of gentleness.
Only in this way, will we find the boldness to ask God for what we need.
Only in this way, will we fulfill the command to rejoice in the Lord always.
The crowds, the high priests, Judas and the disciples all of them had the opportunity to sit and eat and drink and talk with God. And all of them allowed that opportunity to slip through their fingers because they “did not understand.”
Instead, they preferred signs and wonders or power and wealth. All good things in themselves to be sure but not the point.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Each day, each moment, Christ comes ready to enter into our lives. He stands at the door to our hearts knocking. If we open our heart to Him, He will come in and dine with us (see Revelation 3:20).
What God wants from us is not palms or hymns. What He wants from us is simply this: He wants us.