Palm Sunday: the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem
The Saturday of Lazarus, from the liturgical point of view, is the pre-feast of Palm Sunday — the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem. Both feasts have a common theme: triumph and victory. Saturday reveals the Enemy, which is death; Palm Sunday announces the meaning of victory as the triumph of the Kingdom of God, as the acceptance by the world of its only King, Jesus Christ. In the life of Jesus, the solemn entrance in the Holy City was the only visible triumph. Up to that day, He consistently rejected all attempts to glorify Him. But six days before the Passover, He not only accepted to be glorified, He Himself provoked and arranged this glorification. By doing what the prophet Zechariah announced: “behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’ colt!” (Zechariah 9:9), He made it clear that He wanted to be acclaimed and acknowledged as the Messiah, the King and the Redeemer of Israel. And the Gospel narratives stress all these messianic features: the Palms and the Hosanna, the acclamation of Jesus as the Son of David and the King of Israel. The history of Israel is now coming to its end, such is the meaning of this event. For the purpose of that history was to announce and to prepare the kingdom of God, the advent of the Messiah. And now it is fulfilled. For the King enter His Holy City and in Him all prophecies, all expectations find their fulfillment. He inaugurates His Kingdom.
The Liturgy of Palm Sunday commemorates this event. With palm branches in our hands we identify ourselves with the people of Jerusalem, together with them we greet the lowly King, singing Hosanna to Him. But what is the meaning of it today and for us?
Citizenship in the Kingdom
First, it is our confession of Christ as our King and Lord. We forget so often that the Kingdom of God has already been inaugurated and that on the day of our baptism we were made citizens of it, have promised to put our loyalty to it above all other loyalties. We must always remember that for a few hours, Christ was indeed King on earth, in this world of ours. For a few hours only and in one city. But, as in Lazarus we have recognized the image of each man, in this one city we acknowledge the mystical center of the world and indeed of the whole creation. For such is the Biblical meaning of Jerusalem, the focal point of the whole history of salvation and redemption, the holy city of God’s advent. Therefore, the Kingdom inaugurated in Jerusalem is a universal Kingdom, embracing in its perspective all men and the totality of creation… For a few hours — yet these were the decisive time, the ultimate hour of Jesus, the hour of fulfillment by God of all His promises, of all His decisions. It came at the end of the entire process of preparation, revealed in the Bible, it was the end of all that God did for men. And thus, this short hour of Christ’s earthly triumph acquires an eternal meaning. It introduces the reality of the Kingdom into our time, into all hours, makes this Kingdom the meaning of time and its ultimate goal. The Kingdom was revealed in this world and from that hour; its presence judges and transforms human history… And when at the most solemn moment of our Liturgical celebration, we receive from the priest a palm branch, we renew our oath to our King, we confess His Kingdom as the ultimate meaning and content of our life. We confess that everything in our life and in the world belongs to Christ and nothing can be taken away from its sole real Owner, that there is no area of life in which He is not to rule, to save and to redeem. We proclaim the universal and total responsibility of the Church for human history and uphold her universal mission.
The Way of the Cross
But we know that the King whom the Jews acclaimed then and whom we acclaim today, is on His way to Golgotha, to the Cross and to the grave. We know that this short triumph is but the prologue of His sacrifice. The branches in our hands signify, therefore, our readiness and willingness to follow Him on this sacrificial way, our acceptance of sacrifice and self- denial as the only royal way to the Kingdom.
And finally, these branches, this celebration, proclaim our faith in the final victory of Christ. His Kingdom is yet hidden and the world ignores it. It lives it as if the decisive event had not taken place, as if God had not died on the Cross and Man in Him was not risen from the dead. But we, Christians, believe in the coming of the Kingdom in which God will be all in all and Christ the only King.
In our liturgical celebrations, we remember events of the past. But the whole meaning and power of Liturgy is that it transforms remembrance into reality. On Palm Sunday this reality is our own involvement, our responsibility to, the Kingdom of God. Christ does not enter into Jerusalem anymore, He did it once and for all. And He does not need any “symbols,” for He did not die on the Cross that we may eternally “symbolize” His life. He wants from us a real acceptance of the Kingdom which He brought to us… And if we are not ready to stand by the solemn oath, which we renew every year on Palm Sunday, if we do not mean to make the Kingdom of God the measure of our whole life, meaningless is our commemoration and vain the branches we take home from the Church.
Palm Sunday: the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem – Fr. Alexander Schmemann