Sunday is Palm Sunday, “Glorious Sunday of Hosannas” according to the prayer books of the Church of the East, combines two celebrations in the prayer life of the Church:
- Seventh Sunday of the Great Fast, which highlights that the Resurrection of Christ that we celebrate each Sunday is chief and not overtaken by the Glorious Feast of Hosannas. This is the main title given to this day in the Gaza, the Book of Feast-day Prayers and Liturgies. Palm Sunday combines with the Seventh Sunday of the Fast so that these two aspects of one reality comment on each other.
- Glorious Sunday of Hosannas, which is the secondary title in the Khudra (the main prayer-book of the Church). This title focuses on the exalted cries of the crowd at Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem: “Hosanna for the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the heights (Matthew 21.9).”
Palm Sunday is linked in our faith and our prayer life to the raising of Lazarus three days dead and the Resurrection of Christ. Like the resurrection of Lazarus, Palm Sunday begins to prepare us for Holy Week where we experience the Passover of our Lord, His Betrayal, His Death, and His Resurrection. These events happen as one great truth revealed and re-lived as the completion of Great Lent and the walk to the joy of the Resurrection.
On the Friday before Great Holy Week, we commemorate the raising of Lazarus by Christ on his way to Jerusalem, so this day is called “The Friday of Lazarus”. In the “Hymn of Lazarus” from Vespers (ܨܠܘܬܐ ܕܪܡܫܐ), we sing: “From Bethany, Lazarus heard the voice of the Son and he answered and said that “Behold I am”. The tombs, those homes of the departed, quivered. Death cried its lamentation and the foundations of Sheol shattered. Tremendous wonder betook all peoples, who wondered: “what is this that has visited upon us that one calls life to the dead and the dead answers the living?” Then did a sign rule over them, that this is the Jesus, Son of David, the garment of the Word from the Father, who made him Lord and Judge, of the heavens and the depths.”
In this liturgical spirit we understand Christ entering Jerusalem not to his death, but to our resurrection. Christ enters Jerusalem as a king in a victory procession. He is entering Jerusalem as the king of the city, and he is received with acclamation by the people. We process, ܚܘܓܝܐ, on Palm Sunday as it celebrates Christ’s victory. All processions are victory marches. From Palm Sunday until the Great Procession of the Resurrection of Our Lord, we do not process but experience the cross, without which there is no Resurrection just as there is no victory until the war is won.
The fathers of the Church, especially Saints Theodore the Interpreter and Isho’dad of Merv, pay close attention to the significance of what Christ rides upon. When he rides upon a female donkey it signifies Israel toiling under the Law, but here, at Palm Sunday, Christ rides upon a new, impetuous, unbroken-in colt donkey. This new and fresh donkey, that had never had a master before, is a symbol of the people who will become the citizens of New Israel, the Church, after the messiah of old, biblical, Israel is rejected. Christ’s people are to be a new people, inheritors of all the promises and truth of the Old Law, but born of baptism into the Kingdom and not by earthly birth-rite. This is important for us because it is easy to take our Christianity for granted and not as something we must live-out.
We know that many of those laying tree branches and crying our “Hosanna to the Son of David” will be crying out that this same Son of David should be crucified. Certainly, the leaders of the people turn sharply against Christ. The key prayer of Palm Sunday is a dangerous one: “Hosanna for the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the heights (Matthew 21.9).” It ties what we do on this day with the action of the crowd in Jerusalem, but it also reminds us that we are in the same dangerous place as the people of ancient Israel. Our Lord does not tolerate hypocrisy. The first event Christ does, according the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, is to overturn the money-changers’ tables in the Temple.
A powerful meditation emerges for Holy Week, which is a time we should spend with the scriptures, especially the Holy Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Christ establishes a New Israel: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The blessings God bestowed upon Israel are inherited by the faithful of many nations, in the Church. Christ founds the Church as a new Israel because of old Israel’s lack of love to the outsider, the sinner, the marginalized person who we would like to ignore. How many times do we see Jesus heal the blind, the leper, or visit the tax collector and sinner only to be mocked or chastised? The week leading to the Resurrection of the Lord is a holy time not just because it refreshes and renews us by taking us inside of church more, and the prayers are more intense, the emotions sharper, but because it must lead us outside of ourselves to not only experience but practice the life in Christ. What would Christ experience among us if he were to come in judgement this Easter? As we take up our palms and branches, we should begin to search our souls for repentance.