As we enter Advent, our Gospel readings focus not on the story of the nativity, but the start of Christ’s passion. We begin at the end, as it were.
Palm Sunday – laying of palm branches and ropes at Jesus’ feet. We are reminded that all the people celebrating the Messiah’s arrival in Jerusalem will soon be persecuting him, handing him over to the authorities, shouting, “crucify him”. We all have a habit of turning our backs on Jesus, because we are fallen and are often intimidated by the weight of the cross.
It is fitting that we start the Advent period with a reflection on Palm Sunday and Christ’s coming passion, because Advent is the lead up to Christmas, a Lenten period of solemnity and reflection. And Christmas itself brings us hope via pointing us towards Easter. The birth of Christ leads us to his passion, when he died for our sins and resurrected so that we may have eternal life in him.
As the prophets foretold, the saviour is humble in his Kingship. Christ entered Jerusalem not on a great horse and cart, but riding a donkey. Christ is King, but not in the earthly sense, his Kingdom is not of this world. By returning to Jerusalem on a mule, he is once again showing us his leadership style – the servant leader. Humble, but bold. There was no royal pomp and ceremony, Christ did not arrive to conquer Rome by force, he came to conquer our hearts and souls.
The prophet Zechariah proclaimed, “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” and that is exactly what happened. The Gospels make a point to tell us when prophecies have been fulfilled, as a reminder that God always keeps his promises. He gave us his only begotten son, because he loved us so much that he did not want us to perish, and so gave us the promise of everlasting life.
Along with the prophecies were new miracles. Miracles in quick succession by this point, too. When Christ sent a disciple to find an ass, and that he would have no trouble obtaining it, Christ knew. He told the two disciples to say “the Lord has need of them”; not our Lord or your Lord, but the Lord. The Lord of all creation. He created the donkeys and their colts, just as he created us.
There is another lesson in this Gospel reading, and that is that everything happens in God’s time. Jesus came and went from Jerusalem a number of times throughout his ministry, but never making an entrance. This time was different. He had spent a number of years preaching the truth and performing miracles, he had proven to the people that he was the Son of God, and knew now was the time for his passion. The time when it would make the greatest impact.
We often pray for change, or pray for things or situations that we believe we want/need, and we sometimes make the mistake of asking for them in our time. Please, Lord, let me receive x, y or z now, or by this date. We should, instead, ask the Lord to grant us these things if he feels we need them, when we need them. In his time, not ours. God’s wisdom is eternal, our affairs are finite and therefore so is our imagination. Sometimes we don’t know what is in our best interests, but God always acts in our best interests. He sees the bigger picture where we cannot.
During the Mass – the celebration of the Eurcharist – we sing or say the Sanctus, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest”, taken from this passage of Matthew’s Gospel. This immediately follows “Holy, holy, holy”, which is our cue. All of these words in the liturgy have an important meaning and a purpose. When Isaiah and John are quoted as saying “holy, holy, holy” it is when they are in the presence of God. That is why we say these words at that moment of the Holy Communion.
There is an ancient Latin saying “lex orandi lex credendi” which essentially means we believe what we pray. This is why The Lord’s Supper is the most important service of the week for Christians, because it is the time we are in the presence of God, not only in Spirit, but in the Eucharist itself.
Immediately following the Sanctus (the Holy holy) is the Benedictus (the blessing). We praise God, and we ask for his blessings. We take these words from Psalm Sunday for a reason, to remind ourselves every week that the King of Kings rode into Jerusalem in humility, to begin his passion, to die for our sins and rise again at Easter, so that we may have everlasting life in him.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts:
Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.
✠ Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.