Lessons from Palm Sunday - H.H. Pope Tawadros II


Tuesday April 23, 2019
Lessons from Palm Sunday - H.H. Pope Tawadros II - Sunday April 21, 2019

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. One God. Amen. May His grace and mercy rest upon us, from now and to eternity. Amen.

On this new morning we celebrate one of the Major Feasts of the Lord, the Feast of Palm Sunday. And this Feast occurs between two major events: the raising of Lazarus after he had been buried in the tomb for four days, so that by this time there was a stench (Jn 11:39), and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, which we will be celebrating next Sunday, if God wills and we live.

This day and this Liturgy are new and joyous, and the Palm Sunday Liturgy is distinguished by three features that are not in any other Liturgy the Church prays throughout the entire year.

Procession of the Palms

We begin this Liturgy with a Procession of Palms, and this procession is an ecclesiastical procession in which we pray before twelve icons throughout the church: icons of the saints, of our Mother the Virgin Mary and the annunciation, St. Mari Gerges the Martyr, St. Anba Antonious, St. John the Baptist, and St. Mari Markos (St. Mark), and so also before the angels.

We call this procession the Procession of the Palms and we use the icons as an expression and a reminder of those who have preceded us to heaven. We also read a Psalm expressive of the righteous people of the Old Testament and we read a Gospel Reading expressive of the righteous people of the New Testament, and the icons represent the heavenly church (those who persevered and were victorious and are in heaven), and we stand here, representing the persevering Church on earth.

And the Procession of the Palms is a joyous procession and it is the one where we carry palm branches which we have creatively and innovatively weaved into a variety of beautiful forms. And we go around in this procession as a reenactment of what the people of Jerusalem did when the Lord Christ came to them and they received Him in a similar fashion. And so this is the first distinguishing mark of the Liturgy of Palm Sunday, the Procession of the Palms.

We read from all four Gospels

The second distinguishing marker is that during the Palm Sunday Liturgy we do not read from only one Gospel, but we read a portion from each of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, because the story of the Lord Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was recorded in all four Gospels. And the number four represents the four directions: North, South, East, and West, and so it as though the Lord Christ not only entered Jerusalem, but He came to enter into every heart, everywhere, in all four directions of the earth.

We hold a General Funeral Service

The third distinguishing mark of this Liturgy is that when we have had Holy Communion and have concluded the Liturgy, we hold a special ritual called “the General Funeral.” And we do this annual ritual so that if any of us depart to heaven during Holy Week while the Church is preoccupied with the sufferings/Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, then we do not fold a funeral service but we suffice by sprinkling the person with Holy Water, water that was prayed on and blessed during this General Funeral service.

And so these are the three distinguishing markers of the Liturgy of Palm Sunday:

The Procession of the Palms, at its beginning
The Readings from all four Gospels of the Holy Bible, during its middle
The General Funeral service, at its end

This is from the ecclesiastical or Church perspective, but as for the historical perspective, it was on the previous day that the Lord Christ raised Lazarus in a small village called Bethany, and the word ‘Bethany’ means ‘house of affliction’ or ‘place of suffering.’ And so it was that on the morning of this day He met with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary in their home.

And the miracle of raising Lazarus was a very great one because everyone had seen that he had died when he was buried, and had smelled the stench that arose after the four days of his being in the tomb, but the Lord Christ raised him and said to his sisters, “If you believe you will see the glory of God” (cf. Jn 11:40), and the glory of God was seen in the raising of Lazarus (whom Christ loved very dearly) from the dead. And so this was a very great miracle, which is why Mary and Martha and Lazarus too, of course, held a great dinner feast on the night before (Saturday night) and presented Christ with anointing oil.

After that, Christ left Bethany and came to the city of Jerusalem. Bethany was a small village, but Jerusalem, the capital, was a very big city. Jerusalem means ‘city of peace.’ And in Christ’s entry to Jerusalem there were three important points to note, and it is the meaning of these three points that we celebrate today.

The Palm branches

The first thing to note is the palm branches, and this may be the only day we ever come to church holding something in our hands – palm branches. As for the people of Jerusalem, they greeted the Lord Christ with palm branches and not with swords, which was the traditional way of greeting warriors when they entered into a city, as for the meek entry of Christ, it was greeted with palm branches.

Palm branches are a plant and they come from the palm tree, and palm trees are tall, symbolizing the higher life, the majestic life. And if you were to touch a palm leaf or branch, you would find that it is very soft, which is also symbolic of the gentle life.

He used a young donkey and not a horse
The second thing is that the Lord Christ used a small donkey and not a horse. Christ entered Jerusalem riding on a young donkey, which is an expression and a form of meekness and peacefulness. Christ did not come to inaugurate new cities but He came to inaugurate and open hearts, and hearts can only be opened with meekness, peace, and love.

The crowd were simple people

The third characteristic is the simple crowd. When the crowd in Jerusalem met Christ they were very simple; they were from the common populace and were neither from among the prominent nor the rich people. And they laid down their clothes and cut olive branches and laid them on the ground before Christ, and they were rejoicing with great joy.

So pay attention to these three things:

Palm branches 
A small donkey
A simple crowd

The simple ones were the ones who greeted Christ, and the simple ones were the ones who rejoiced in Christ.

And the city was shaken by this event. Some people assumed that Christ was coming to liberate them from the Romans and so they began cry out, “Hosanna in the highest” (cf. Jn 12:13), and ‘Hosanna’ means ‘save us; save us from the Roman occupation, which was in Palestine during that time.

Palestine was a Roman territory and was under the dominion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire occupied large territories of the world during that time - in North Africa, in Asia (which is where Palestine is located), and also in Europe, and it was a very vast Empire. And so the crowd came to express their desire to be liberated from this occupation, but our Holy Christ came not to take over cities but to open hearts and enter into hearts worthy to greet Him.

Four lessons we learn from the Feast of Palm Sunday

On this Feast we learn several lessons for our lives, and as with all our feasts, we do not celebrate this Feast as a mere historical event, but we celebrate the spiritual work and the spiritual dimension of it.

Joy and rejoicing

The first lesson we learn here is that Christ rejoices, as we also do, with praise. The crowds in Jerusalem received Christ with praises, and in church we offer hymns and prayers and praises, and all these are expressions of joy, which is why this Feast of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is also known as “Joyous Sunday,” or “the Feast of Joy.”

And we express our joy with praise, and praise is a very refined form of prayer. For example, when a person stands to pray they pray with words, but when they praise, then it is words with music or melody. And this is the ultimate thing that a person can offer the Lord, because suppose I wanted to offer something to the Lord, what can I offer Him? Worship. And so when I offer my worship I offer it with both words and with melody, and this is the reason why our Church has many hymns, doxologies, and praises.

And so the first lesson we learn today is the lesson of joy, and when you feel joy, you praise, and when you praise, you feel joy. And joy is always a sign of the health of a person’s spiritual life, for example, a person who is always frowning and upset, is always arguing with people and getting angry and his life has no joy, then this person is far from Christ.

The more you allow Christ to enter into your heart, the more you will be joyous. The more you allow your heart and your tongue to praise the Lord, the more joyous you will be come, and these are the measures of the spiritual life, because what does a spiritual life mean? It means that a person lives with the Lord in continual joy, and not only in church, but in church, and at home, and in public, and at work, and everywhere.

And so the first lesson is the lesson of joy. Be joyous and praise from your heart so that your joy may increase, and always be joyful about the Presence of Christ in your life, in your home, in your family, in your service work, and at your job.

And as Egyptians, we are lucky that our land was the only land the Lord Christ visited, and He traveled throughout this land from its west to its east, and from its north to its south. And so even our land itself has become a land of joy because Christ came and lived upon her, and even in some of our doxologies we say, “Rejoice O land of Egypt because Christ came to you.”

And so as Egyptians living upon the land of Egypt, we have a special joy because our land was made holy and blessed by the Lord Christ’s visit to it, and this in itself has made this land a reason for joy.

Simplicity & purity

The second lesson we learn is from Christ’s use of the simple means of entry, a donkey (a young donkey), which is a peaceful and meek animal. And even from a medical perspective, a donkey is one of the animals least likely to spread diseases.

And He used this simple mode of transportation to also teach us something about the way to heaven. I want you to know that according to the Holy Bible, simplicity is the same thing as a person’s purity: “If your eye be simple, your whole body will be full of light” (cf. Mt 6:22). If your eye is simple means, if your eye is good, is pure, then your whole body will be full of light. And in saying this He wants to tell us that your portion in heaven and your entry to heaven requires that you keep your mind and heart in this simplicity and this purity, or else how can you have a place in heaven if your heart is not pure or if your life is not simple?

And you may recall with me that when the Lord Christ incarnated He did not choose to be born in a palace nor in a house nor in a great city, but He chose to be born in a small village and moreover, He chose an animal manger in this simple village. Most of us have probably been born in houses or hospitals or clinics, but our Christ chose this simple place, and so please, teach yourself how to live the life of simplicity, the life of simplicity.

Sometimes a person forgets about simplicity. For example, when people plan to get married, we find that their list of requirements is so very long to the point that they prohibit a person from getting married in the first place! And so we would say to that person, remember Christ who was born in a manger and who entered Jerusalem in this simple manner.

And it is clear that no matter what a person accomplishes during their life on earth, he will not be taking any of this with him to heaven, for as you were born on earth and you came in with nothing, so also when you go to heaven you will take nothing with you.

The life of simplicity is also one of the rules of the monastic life, and we recognize that the success of the monastic life lies in its simplicity. If a monk abandons the simple life, then he has departed from the monastic path. And so in monasticism we know that the first principle is voluntary poverty, and the word poverty may sound a bit harsh but what is meant by it is simplicity – voluntary simplicity, the life of simplicity.

Train yourself to live simply. Sometimes a person consumes so many things, for example, in the world today we have a problem because we use too many plastic bags, and when we throw these plastic bags and they go into the water and the fish swallow them. And we are now finding that the fish and other sea creatures swallow this plastic and die, and so this has become a dangerous situation, and so in the world today they are trying to use more paper bags – the simple life.

And to live a life of simplicity even with the things you consume within your own home, for example, the electricity you use, the light you use, the water you use, the bread you use, how can a person live more simply and not be a person who lives in the sin called ‘the sin of consumption,’ so that life doesn’t just become a stream of ongoing consumption?

Sometimes a person can even overuse or waste time, for example in telephone conversations. Every telephone call has a cost, but there are many calls we make that are unnecessary, and so how can you be a person who lives a simple life?

Palm Sunday teaches us a lesson in simplicity and in meekness, and this lesson is a very important one, just as important as the lesson on joy and the lesson on praising.

A fourth lesson we learn today is to have spiritual thinking, not physical or materialistic thinking. Some of the people in Jerusalem thought that Christ was coming to liberate them, while at the same time, the small children that were there thought that Christ was coming to bring them joy.

Notice these two different perspectives: the adults thought that Christ was entering Jerusalem to liberate them from the Romans and that was why they said “Hosanna, save us,” to Him, but the little children and the simple people were fully convinced that Christ was entering Jerusalem simply to bring them joy. And so let your thinking be spiritual.

Spiritual thinking is thinking that dwells on heavenly things, not on earthly things, and isn’t it so that every time you stand to pray you say, “Our Father in heaven” (Mt 6:9), which means your thinking is elevating to heaven? Let your thinking always be spiritual, heavenly thinking, because you are born of heaven, of water and Spirit, and so make sure to always keep your thinking connected to heaven and not to earth.

Some people live on earth and all their thoughts are about earthly things and things of the dust, material things, but there are people who live with their feet on the earth but their thoughts are always in heaven – on the life of holiness, on the saints in heaven, on the righteous ones, on the desire to have a portion in heaven, and on the heavenly life in general.

And so these are the four lessons we learn today, the importance of ….

The life of simplicity and purity, and
Abiding in heavenly thinking

When Christ entered Jerusalem He was not greeted with swords, nor stallions, nor the rich people, but He was greeted by the simple people and He entered Jerusalem, the city of the Great King, with simplicity and purity.

Today is a Feast of joy, and when you stand to pray ask, “Lord, please, I want You to be in my heart and I want to be like one of the simple people that were in Jerusalem who rejoiced as You entered that city. I want You to come and live in my heart and to make me joyous. And Jesus, I want You to come dwell in my home and make my family joyous, and to come live in my service and at my workplace, and to always make me joyous.”

May Christ who entered Jerusalem always give us these many graces, and as we celebrate this Feast day, may He give us the blessings of this day. To our God be all the glory and honor, from now and to eternity. Amen.