Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” John 12:12-13
Good morning Prayer Team!
I remember as a child, trying to convince our parents to let us go to the late services of Holy Week. We didn’t really know what they were about. We wanted an excuse to stay up late and we liked church so it fit for us. When they told us we could go, we didn’t think about how long it was, or how late it was (the later the better as far as we were concerned), or whether we understood what was happening. We just knew that this was something special and we wanted to be part of it.
Sometimes I think the crowd in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was a lot like how we were as children. I’m sure that not everyone, or even many people, in the crowd understood who Jesus was. The Gospel of John even says The reason why the rod went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign (raising Lazarus from the dead.” (John 12:18) So even the people in the crowd weren’t really sure what to make of Jesus, only that He was a special person who had done a pretty miraculous thing.
The crowd certainly wasn’t committed, which is why five days later, these same people shouted “Crucify Him” and demanded that Jesus be killed.
Icons of Palm Sunday show people placing their garments on the road, along with branches from palm trees. They show people waving palms, cheering and singing. Did they know why they were doing that? Probably not. Did doing this plant a seed with some of them? Most definitely so. There were people in the crowd that day who most definitely demanded Christ be crucified. And there were most likely people in the crowd who would later witness Him alive after His Resurrection. There were people in the crowd, who came on Palm Sunday as curiosity seekers, who would later become committed followers, devout Christians.
The hymns of Palm Sunday emphasize that it was the children who led the way, waving the branches and shouting “Hosanna!” In our churches today, many of us will have colorful processions with our children waving palm branches. We will take pictures and think about how cute they are. We’ll laugh as they shout “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” But what if we handed the palm branches to the adults and told them to do the same? Would you scream with enthusiasm? Or would you think that this is juvenile and dumb?
As we enter Holy Week, do we enter with the joy of a child? Do we enter like a sponge, ready to soak up information and memories? When the service is over, will we run to tell someone how we held palms and cheered?
The sad thing is that most adults will answer these three questions with cynical “no’s.” We have the jadedness of being adults. Most of us have lost our childhood innocence. Unlike the children who don’t care how late the services go, we become annoyed that they are too long. Unlike the children who absorb new experiences and see the church constantly through new eyes, many of us come with arms folded. We know what we know and aren’t open to learning new things. And when the service is over, we’ll run to our friends and gossip about how the priest did this or that, or how the choir sounded this or that, or how so and so wore this or that. We won’t run to our adult friends and say “how cool was that?!”
It doesn’t have to be like this. WE, collectively, can change this. I invite you to come to church today and tonight, and to be like a child opening up a new toy on Christmas. Come with a soft heart. Come ready to learn. Leave your watch in the car. Enjoy the pageantry, like the children do, but seek the deeper meaning, something that they cannot do. Listen carefully to the words of the service.
Tonight when we return to the church, the business of the church will be gone. The church will have significantly less people in it. The joys and bright colors of the morning will again be changed to the purple of joyful sadness. Many of us own a Holy Week book. Mine if 501 pages long. We’ll open the book and slowly begin the journey that will end at the empty tomb. I can’t wait to open the book. I can’t wait to make the journey. I love Holy Week. And it doesn’t matter that I’m 45 or that this is my 20th time doing it as a clergyman. I still love it. And I pray that I always will. I try to make the journey with the joy of a child, with a heart that still says “this is so cool,” but with a heart that says “this is more than cool,” and with a heart that says “I still have so much I can learn from this.” So, worship today as if you were a child, experiencing all this for the first time. Open your heart and let Christ enter, and shout for joy inside of you as He does.
To confirm the general resurrection before Your passion, You resurrected Lazarus from the dead, O Christ our God. Therefore imitating the children, carrying the symbols of victory, we cry out to You the Victor over death: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed are You, the One, who comes in the name of the Lord.”
I invite you to experience Palm Sunday with the innocence of a child!
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Photo Credit: clergylaity.org
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