If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem and like the children, we greet Him with palms and branches and cries of Hosanna in the highest. Later this week on Thursday evening, we will be with our Lord as He is crucified. As He gives up His spirit, we will hear about the earth shaking, the rocks being split, and the graves opened. And in this moment we will hear about another entry into Jerusalem. The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew tells us that “Many of the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” As we celebrate this first entry into the earthly city of Jerusalem today, there is an even greater celebration to come.
The risen bodies of the saints entering into Jerusalem are a prefiguration of our own entry into the heavenly Jerusalem. Our Lord, by His death and resurrection offers to us resurrection from the dead and entry into His Kingdom, but that victory does not come without sacrifice.
Today, our Lord is hailed as He enters Jerusalem. Indeed, throughout His earthly ministry, there were some who recognized that there was something extraordinary about Him. And yet for all those who hailed Him as the Christ, as the Son of David, even as Lord and God, there were far more who said that He cast out demons by the power of the devil, or who thought he was a blasphemer, a sinner, or a false prophet.
Our daily readings in Great Lent began with the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; But Israel does not know, My people do not consider.” Later this week we will sing that “He is suspended upon the tree who suspended the earth upon the waters.” There has never been a greater rift between what someone deserved and what they received. Our Lord created and fashioned the whole universe, down to each individual atom. He made man in His own image and likeness. When we sinned, He didn’t forsake us, but continued to visit us, to work mighty wonders among us, to speak to us by the prophets, and in the fullness of time even came to us in the flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. He taught us directly through His own words; He healed the sick, the lepers, the paralytics, he gave sight to the blind, and cured the deaf and dumb, He cast out demons and raised the dead. And for this we mocked Him, scourged Him, and nailed Him to a cross. He fed His people with manna and quail in the wilderness and was given gall, He brought forth water from the rock and was given vinegar to drink. In the words of the Psalmist, “In return for my love, they have falsely accused me…and they repaid me evil for good and hatred for my love.”
This is the extreme humility of our Lord, and it is what we are called to emulate, but do we? When we are abused or mistreated, when we do not get what we feel that we deserve, when we give and are not repaid, when we speak but are not listened to, when we love but do not receive love in return, we complain and lash out. What we fail to recognize is that it is in these very moments that we are closest to Christ. In these moments if we bear them meekly, if we are forebearing and long-suffering, if we are loving towards our enemies and those who seek to do us wrong, we are so much closer to Christ than we are when life seems good to us. How can we want to be close to our Lord but not want to share in this kind of humility?
And drawing near to Christ is what we are called to, being refashioned into His image and likeness is the goal of our life. When we experience suffering, shame, or death we are more like Him than when we are held in high regard. The most incredible thing about our God is that He chose to join us in our pain and suffering, not merely as a companion but as an example. So use those difficult moments that come to you to gain humility and draw closer to Him. As we enter into this Holy Week of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection especially, draw closer to Him.
“‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on an ass, A colt, the foal of an ass.’” Our Lord was carried into Jerusalem on humble beasts of burden. Today I am asking you to be carried alongside Him to His Passion on two beasts of humility. Be carried on obedience and habit. The Church gives us these Holy Days each and every year. The days and the times of the services don’t even really change from year to year. They are the same services we had in years past. If you are used to coming to them, then let this good habit bring you to as many as you are able to attend. This is our chance to choose to be with the Lord in His suffering as He has chosen to be with us in ours. If we are diligent in doing so, we will enter into the joy of the Lord as well.
If you are new to the Church, be obedient to this simple command. Be with your Lord as much as you can be as He enters into His Passion, Death, Burial and Resurrection. There should be no need to deliberate about this. If you are able to be here you should be here. Anyone can tell you it’s a lot of church services, but if we want to be with Him in His glory, we must be with Him in His sufferings. In last week’s gospel our Lord asked James and John if they could drink the cup that He drinks and be baptized with the baptism with which He was baptized. If we are unwilling to be with Him this week, why should we expect to be with Him in His Kingdom?
If you choose to be carried by these beasts of burden alongside our Lord, you may hear cries of praise extolling your great efforts. You may be tempted to view what you are doing as praiseworthy. While it is certainly true that you are doing a good thing by coming to Church and dedicating this time to Christ, remember that you are being carried into this Jerusalem. These services are being given to you, they are calling you to join in, and you are not doing it on your own strength. Any voices of praise that the demons whisper in your ears now will eventually be replaced with cries of condemnation. Pay no attention to these voices but instead thank God for His humility and the opportunity to humble yourself with Him.
This is an amazing time in the liturgical life of the Church, made all the more amazing by the interruption we experienced last year. It is an opportunity to choose to draw near to Christ liturgically, but we must remember to do so with our hearts also. Be patient with one another, be forgiving toward one another, show love and care for one another. These are the ways that we let our humility grow in this time that we might really be close to our Lord. If we are humble in this week to come, the crucifixion of our Lord will shake the earth of our daily lives, it will split open the rocks of our hardened hearts that the graves might be open, and that we may be seen entering into the Heavenly Jerusalem in the presence of our Risen Lord.
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