Homily by Protodeacon Edward Kostraby on Palm Sunday

March 23, 2024

We should pause today as we take our “pussy willows, palm and eucalyptus branches” to remember that our faith is a sign of great hope but can also often be fickle, as the crowd. It is we who change. It is we who manipulate how Jesus should be, it is we who distort him in our own image. But Jesus gives us an image which never changes.

Homily by Protodeacon Edward Kostraby on Palm Sunday

We are now entering a sacred time of the church year, 5 days before Good Friday and then Resurrection — Holy Week. This reading is full of symbolism with Lazarus, Mary, Martha and Judas all pointing to the escalation of Holy Week, but, let us concentrate on the main event of this reading. Jesus arrives in Bethany (close to Jerusalem) where Lazarus lives, Jesus previously having restored his life (Lazarus’ family then have a meal) — this gift of life, Jesus will also give all humanity. Many people heard that Jesus was in town and came to see Him building to a crowd coming from far and wide. Observing this, the high priests perceive all this as threat to their authority and with jealousy, their talk is to kill Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus continues his path, the vision, the road for everlasting life for mankind.

As a teenager I loved watching (in black and white TV) great epic movies where massive and huge panoramic scenes of Roman emperors returning to Rome after they had conquered a nation. The legions would march in, thousands of slaves in chains, gold and wealth of the conquered nations wheeled in hundreds of carts and every imagined animal that they had come across, rose petals thrown in front of the emperors’ every step, palms fanning the legionnaires path, trumpets sounding, the might of the civilized world on parade, glistening metal, profuse colours, cacophony of noise advancing forward and proclaiming how great they were to the world. The crowd hanging out for a huge holiday where they would be fed, rivers of booze will flow and entertainment for the next week, what a party, what a time to get stoned and to enjoy life.

This draws us into today’s gospel. “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, the crowd shouts, this is a cry to God for help, to be saved. The people, the mob are happy, it’s a great day. The Jews also know how to do a celebration. Thousands of them have come into Jerusalem, as Passover, a holy time is upon them, dripping with memories and symbolism of liberation of when they exited from slavery in Egypt. They have also seen how the Romans have done it and they in their excitement, with imagined hopes and feeling good, that they also have a king who will rightly make them the rules of their world and defeat the Romans. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna and so it goes on as Jesus, the imagined hero, the great liberator comes into Jerusalem. Clothes are thrown in front of him, and waving palm branches and signs of Judean nationalism are everywhere. After years of Roman occupation, the people long for change and this is the man, yes, you’re the man Jesus. Jesus now enters the centre of the political Jewish hopes. His entry is not unnoticed and is very provocative.

But something is strange about this scene. Their king is riding on a donkey, as predicted in the OT, no great stallion with a gilded chariot as a Roman emperor would have. Where are his legions? Where is the armoury of war? Where is the shining battle breast plate and the fine tunics on Jesus as he comes into town?

Within a few days of his entry, the scene is very different. The people, the crowd now cry out: “we have no king but Ceasar”. Jesus is branded a reject, a failure, a fraud. The man of the moment, is the man of yesterday, with no value to anyone. Between today and the end of thIs week, the crowd stopped believing in Jesus. He was no longer, the man of the moment. They in fact had made a mistake, they had misinterpreted information about him, they heard of his great miracles and sayings, but somehow put another twist to it. They used their imaginations and desires to twist things. The crowds who cheered are now a mob who want to riot. In the end the man of the moment, Jesus, was totally abandoned.

Much of Jesus’ time on earth, was time spent on the margins of his society, amongst the poor, the outcast, the lepers and sinners. He had no organization behind him. His world was not at the same level as the Romans or the high priests, an all dominating, conflict ridden existence, power grabbing, where the strong are forever strong and the poor are at their disposal. Jesus’s world has a very different slant, it was here, his world is real, as that of the Romans and high priests, but it is based on love of God and love of neighbour. Somehow this is not as awe inspiring as the epic movies I saw as a teenager and in the end, it also meant little to the Palm Sunday crowd.

We should pause today as we take our “pussy willows, palm and eucalyptus branches” to remember that our faith is a sign of great hope but can also often be fickle, as the crowd. We tend to give to Jesus a reputation he doesn’t deserve and motives he doesn’t have. It is too easy to decide that Jesus will support our fallen desires and fulfill our twisted wishes ie. “If you really existed Jesus, then you would help me.” We are so self absorbed! We are human, we get things wrong — often. Even if our tendency is towards reason and common sense, all of us are open to irrational influences. More often than not, we all share some intellectual shortcomings, so that personal beliefs are always oversimplified and inaccurate. For example:

Passion week begins with joy in Palm Sunday and proceeds to fear, despair and grieving. Many human emotions play out, happiness, joy, love, disbelief, anger, disappointment and bitterness. Our emotions are a very moveable expression of our humanity.

Jesus never heaped praise on himself, he never gave up on the outcasts of society. He stayed true to his nature, true to form and true to all the OT prophecies that the people of Israel had forgotten. These prophecies were known to the Jewish people for millennia and yet they chose to interpret it different from what all their great prophets, high priests and many others overtime were saying — it is we who change. It is we who manipulate how Jesus should be, it is we who distort him in our own image. But Jesus gives us an image which never changes.

Today as we relive that famous entry into Jerusalem, a few lines from a poem by Robert Frost come to mind:

“…two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled and that has made all the difference…”.

Jesus chose that “less traveled road”. He also asks us to travel that road — come follow me, be my people. This is his invitation which has come down to us. This can produce apprehension, even fright, that the road less traveled will end on a bloody cross for me. While we are tempted to bolt and say this is not my scene, we are presented with the capacity to stay on course with Jesus, a road certainly ignored by many, but also a course accepted by many others which has made a difference in their lives and that of humanity. Instead remain faithfully beside Jesus, hold the branches/palms high as a symbol as a reaffirmation that you too will travel with Jesus throughout the year, until next Palm Sunday, where we will need to reaffirm our faith again. Palm Sunday is a path to a different life available, different from the life of the usual society demands around us.

Each of us has the capacity and are invited to connect and be part of this story to be like Lazarus whom Jesus loved and resurrected — a new life in Jesus, physically and spiritually, who is the giver of new life whenever we turn to him.