The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (12:1-18)
As we move into Holy Week, we will quickly see that the cries of the people who came to greet the Lord Jesus on Palm Sunday, have changed. They came out by the hundreds and possibly thousands to say “Hosanna! Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” They greeted the Lord as a victorious king, but what a great difference just a few days can make. In less than 5 days, He will be betrayed. In less than a week, the same crowd that came to greet Him and to call Him “king”, will deny Him and cry out with one voice “Crucify Him!”
We are reminded that our feelings are not to be trusted. The people were not watchful, but passionate. They were easily swayed and not firm in their faith and belief in Jesus Christ. We are amazed at their quick change of attitude and we are left much more amazed by the humility of the Lord Jesus. How much patience and mercy He has towards us. His own creation, the very works of His very hands, had completed it’s rebellion and turned against Him. Yet, He did not respond with anger. He responded with humility, in order to turn his curse into our blessing. It is the picture of unimaginable love. Love without limits. Love without preconditions. Love without wavering or faltering. Pure love from the Pure One.
And none of this came as a surprise to Our Lord. He foretold and foreknew the whole situation. He understood what kind of suffering He would face as He entered into Jerusalem. While they cheered and sang “Hosanna!” He already knew how they would change their cheers into jeers, how they would gnash their teeth while they begged for the criminal Barabbas to be freed and for Christ to be crucified in his place.
We probably think to ourselves, “thank God that I am not like those stupid people who betrayed Christ.” But in fact we are the same people! We betray Christ every time we ignore His teachings and do our own will. We betray Christ when we sin. We betray Christ when we do not love our neighbor. We betray Christ when we dishonor and neglect the life that He gives us in His Church, which is in truth, His mystical body. My brothers and sisters, we are not so different from those who came to greet the Lord that day in Jerusalem. We celebrate God when things are going well for us. But we might turn against Him if our life became uncomfortable or if we were sick or if people attacked us or punished us because of our belief in Him.
Why were the people fickle and moody in their attitude changes? Because their faith was based on outward signs and not on the person of Christ. The Mother God knew her Son very well, and she didn’t betray Him. She stood by and watched and agonized over the treatment that Her beloved Son was receiving. Her faith was constant, because it was faith in Christ and not only in His miracles. Faith in the person of Christ can sustain us, because it is a solid foundation upon which to build our lives.
I would like to switch pace just a bit as we prepare to enter into Holy Week. This is the one week of the year when we spend the most time in the church and I want to take a few moments to talk about what we can do to make the most of this time, to gain great benefits. I also want to speak about what we do that steals away the grace of God and the joy of this somber but beautiful week.
Here are a few things that steal our joy and diminish our sense of God’s grace: Extra talking and joking after the services. I’ve noticed that after each of our services, we are happy to see each other, happy to be together. But let us try to hold in some of that enthusiasm and joy. This should be a week full of quiet reflection and a time for us to let the prayers find a place deep in the heart. If we talk as soon as we leave the somber holy week services, we lose some of that grace, we chase it away with idle chatter or boisterous laughter. Instead, try to hold back and safe guard it like a treasure that will gain interest over time. It’s much more difficult than you think, if it has not become a habit.
Next, be extra careful about how you spend your free time. This is not the time for loud music and games and television. But it is a great time for an electronics and media fast. It is an even better time to finish those books you’ve started at the beginning of Lent and even to study the holy week book that we use daily during this week. It is full of amazing hymns, scripture readings, and prayers.
Last, don’t focus on Pascha prematurely. Don’t focus on your meal plans or celebrations too early. This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t lose the blessings of each day of Holy Week by daydreaming about the future. On Saturday after the morning service, you will have plenty of time to think about and prepare for Saturday evening. Only remember that Pascha is NOT about food and drink but about light, joy and life! It is the most special service of the whole year, where we enter more deeply into the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
The last thing that I would like to mention that steals our joy and robs us of the grace of Holy Week: Willfully skipping the services. Lent was a time to begin reorienting our lives around Christ and His Church. If Lent was the start, Holy Week is the culmination. It is the time when every Christian is called to put aside the things of the world and hit the pause button on their outside lives. The world is passing away. Only the Lord’s kingdom will remain! Here is a simple rule for the week: If it can be postponed or put off until later so that you can come and pray, then by all means, do it. Or what will a man give in return for his soul?
Holy Week was not instituted in order to make you feel guilty as you skip all of the services. It was instituted by the Church in order to help you enter into the profound beauty of all that the Lord Jesus has done for us. In order to give you a deep experience of the redemption that was won for us by our Lord, through His life giving sufferings and passion. And all of this helps us to fully enter into the joy of life in the risen Christ.
May the Lord give you strength for this holy marathon and make you worthy to celebrate at the footsteps of the empty tomb! AMEN.