How Will We Welcome Christ?
Rev. Fr. Luke A. Veronis
How Will We Welcome Christ Today?
After traveling and living with Jesus for three years, listening to all his inspiring words, witnessing his amazing miracles, observing his life of love for all people, everything seems to culminate in the events of yesterday. For the Apostles, going to Bethany where Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus had died and been buried in a tomb four days prior, they thought that the Lord would simply comfort the sisters Martha and Mary, giving them words of hope and strength in the midst of their mourning. Yet Christ not only shocked everyone with his greatest miracle – giving life to a man who had been dead four days – but he reaffirmed His divine identity to His followers. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though they may die, they shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
Jesus Christ affirmed that He has authority and power even over death itself. He is not simply another great prophet, in the line of the greatest of Jewish prophets. He is not simply another wise teacher and sage, like the Greek philosophers of old. He is not only a miracle worker, who has performed some unbelievable miracles, like maybe some other religious leaders. With the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Christ claimed something for Himself, and supported that claim with His concrete actions, in a way that no one else in history has ever done! “I am the resurrection and the life.” This culmination of His earthly ministry up to this point in His life, the raising of Lazarus from the dead after four days, affirmed for the apostles the divine identity of Jesus as not only the Messiah, but the Son of God!
Well, word about this latest miracle of Jesus spread like wildfire, especially into the city of Jerusalem, which was a few miles away from Bethany. And with the annual Passover celebration only a week away, countless pilgrims from around the empire were already flooding into the Holy City. In the religious fervor of the day, people began spreading the word that a prophet of old had arisen and was entering the city. Could this even be the long awaited Messiah?
Jesus and his disciples entered this charged atmosphere in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Apostles wildest dreams were being fulfilled when the crowds began praising Jesus’ entrance into the city. Children began crying out “Hosanna to God in the Highest!” People were waving palm branches, as if a victorious king was entering the city. For people who had lived under centuries of oppression, they began to dream that maybe this was the prophet who could lead them to freedom – a prophet like of old, a leader who could not only speak on behalf of God, but also lead them in victory over their enemies.
And yet, like every fickle crowd, it is so easy for people to offer words of love and praise one moment and change their words to a different tune when the leader doesn’t fulfill their dreams. Less than a week passes before the chants of the crowds change from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Why did many people change their praises of adoration to cries of anger and hatred? Why did the mood of the crowd swing from welcoming a prophet and king to condemning a criminal? What had Jesus done to deserve this reversal of fortune?
Was it that Jesus scandalized His listeners by precisely living out what he had been preaching the past three years – a message that people weren’t ready to accept? Christ taught his listeners:
- If you want to be first, you must be last.
- If you want to follow me, you must deny yourselves and take up your cross.
- If you love me you must love your enemies and forgive those who do harm to you.
- If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
- If you love your life you will lose it, but those who lose their life for my name’s sake, will save it.”
- In other words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
The crowds didn’t understand these radical teachings which seemed so contrary to what the world says. They didn’t want to accept the path of self-sacrifice and self-denial. The idea of dying in order to live was something incomprehensible. And when Christ put his words into action through His final deeds during His Passion, the crowds which praised and adored Jesus during his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, suddenly became silent at best, or evil at worse. People didn’t want a path of self-sacrificial love, so they rejected not only His teachings, but they rejected Christ Himself!
How will we welcome Christ in our own lives?
As we remember and celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem today, on this Palm Sunday, we are challenged to think about how we will respond to Jesus Christ in our own lives? Like the crowds 2000 years ago, millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide will today and throughout Holy Week (just as our Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical brothers and sisters did several weeks ago). As we celebrate the joy of Pascha a week from today, we have to ask ourselves, how many will continue to make the serious commitment to not only worship Jesus on this feast, but to follow His path throughout our lives? Are we willing to adopt a Christ-centered worldview that guides everything we do in life, a mindset where Jesus Christ and His teachings are at the center of how we live?
If we are going to welcome Jesus by singing “Hosanna to God in the highest” today on Palm Sunday, we need to be careful not to reject Him when he challenges us to live out our faith throughout the rest of the year! In other words
- Will we welcome Jesus when He calls us to love one another, even loving the stranger and the enemy?
- Will we welcome Jesus when He commands us to forgive one another, no matter what the other has done to us, even up to 70 x 7 times, will we do it?
- Will we welcome Jesus when he challenges us to reject our self-centered desires, and place others before ourselves?
- Will we welcome Jesus in the midst of a pandemic that not only threatens our way of life, but threatens our very life, and will we continue to have faith and remember that He is with us, not allowing fear, stress, or anxiety to overwhelm us?
- Ultimately, will we welcome Jesus when He shows us that the path of life is through death, when He asks us to give up our lives for others?
Christ’s call of faith seems like a risky path in life. In the world’s eyes, it may even seem crazy. St. Paul called it becoming a “fool for Christ.” Yet for those welcome Jesus and accept to follow this “foolish” path of the saints, we discover the ultimate fulfillment in life. In radical acceptance of our Lord and His ways comes the supreme meaning and deepest purpose of our existence – a life of eternal love.
How will we welcome Christ in our lives? That is the question we want to reflect upon today!