Preparing for Resurrection

Homily 495 – Palm Sunday
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 17, 2022
Epistle: (247) – Philippians 4:4-9
Gospel: (41) – John 12:1-18
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Judas is not the first person who comes to mind when thinking about Palm Sunday. But Judas is a central figure in the Gospel reading this morning.

In the midst of all the waving of palm fronds and maybe pussy-willow branches in some places, in the midst of the shouts of “hosanna!”, we miss – or maybe overlook – Judas Iscariot.

And we shouldn’t – we can learn a lot from Judas. Mostly about what not to do, for sure.

Mary, whom John identifies as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha, takes a pound of pure nard, and anoints Christ with it – specifically His feet – and wipes it with her hair.

Nard, sometimes spikenard, is a fragrant perfume. Some historians document references to lavender. Expensive. According to Judas, worth 300 denarii – which translates to a year’s wages. It was expensive because of being difficult to find, and risky to retrieve – asps were believed to nest in the midst of the spikenard and lavender plants.

And this is what Mary uses to anoint Jesus. As Jesus Himself points out, the anointing is in anticipation of His death, and His burial. Like with us, that statement and recognition of what was to happen later that week got sort of lost in the midst of the entry of the King into Jerusalem.

In fact, the Church refers to this feast not as Palm Sunday, but as the Triumphal Entry of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

This context of what happens with Mary in Bethany is important though. Everything – all the things – that happen from the death of Lazarus to the Resurrection of Christ, including this entrance into Jerusalem, is informing us of Christ’s death.

A voluntary death. A death He chooses to endure – not for any benefit to Him because as God, there is nothing that benefits the Creator of everything.

We sometimes joke about what you get as a gift for the person who has everything – but Christ defines that statement literally. He has everything – He is everything.

And yet – He chooses death. Not for His benefit, but for ours. He voluntarily sacrifices His own desires, His own prestige, His own power. He sacrifices His own ego – so that we might be found united with God in Love.

And Mary prepares Him – not knowing that when His physical death occurs, there will be no time for the usual anointing and embalming. Not knowing there will be a rush to put the body in a tomb.

Knowing fully what He confronts, Christ heads to Jerusalem for the Passover. Like He did for every year of His life, most likely. With one difference.

This year, the sacrifice won’t be a lamb and the blood of that lamb painted on the doorposts so death passes over them.

This time, this year, the sacrifice is Him. He is the Lamb.

He processes into Jerusalem, and the reputation as a Man of God, who raises even those dead four days, precedes Him. And the people shout – Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel.

Hosanna, translated, means “Please save us!” Now, combined with the palm branches – which were a symbol of triumph and victory – we can see that what the people wanted was deliverance. What they expected was deliverance.

A good portion of those who paved the path with palm branches likely believed Christ would save them from the Romans.

That is likely what they wanted. And if we are honest with ourselves, most of us are similarly short-sighted in what we want.

We want a comfortable life, free of pain, having met our needs and the needs of those we love. Lately, it seems our society is one that not only wants our needs met, but we want more than our needs. And, we want our enemies to not have their needs met in the process.

We want to live in comfort, luxury even, while our enemies, those who oppose us in any aspect, we want to live in need, want, and suffering.

We cry “hosanna!” believing that the triumph is complete – we are delivered. And so it is. But not as we imagine it.

Because hosanna is not as much a shout of triumph and glory and exceptionalism – it isn’t a cheer for a winning team – rather hosanna is a cry for help. It is “Lord, have mercy” writ large.

What this shows us, in plain sight if we have eyes to see it, is that earthly power and earthly politics and earthly possessions are not a consideration in the Kingdom of God.

Christ wasn’t triumphing over the Romans – Christ wasn’t somehow demeaning and conquering the Jewish leadership.

Christ was conquering death itself, and by conquering death, conquering evil itself.

The evil of selfishness. The evil of self-importance. The evil of being the arbiter of truth for one’s self, rather than deferring to the Truth itself, who is Christ the Lord.

Humility. Self-sacrifice. Giving. Serving. This is the way Christ enters Jerusalem. It is the events of this Holiest of Weeks that provide us with that revelation.

And that revelation paves our path to resurrection.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.