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”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
The crowd that had been with him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. John 12: 17-18, Friday of the First Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
I’ve often wondered how a large crowd on a Sunday could cheer “Hosanna” for Jesus as He entered into Jerusalem, and five days later, many of the same people jeered “Crucify Him!” Did they feel some sense of “conviction” towards either position? Today’s verse perhaps offers some answer.
Lazarus was raised from the dead in Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem. Because it was Passover Week, many Jews were making their way to the Holy City and were no doubt passing through Bethany, a stop on the route to Jerusalem. News like the raising of a dead man would certainly travel fast, and as it is with most information that passes through many different people, the story probably had changed by the time it had been told several times. Was the news that Jesus was the promised Messiah, or just that He had done an unexplainable miracle? John 11:45-46 tells us that “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what He (Jesus) did, believed in Him; but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” So, there was a division among the Jews—some believed in Jesus as Messiah, others that He was a super-healer, and others went to the Jewish authorities either to discredit Jesus or perhaps even to convince them that He was the Christ.
The next day, (or perhaps it was one or two days later as the raising of Lazarus is not “dated” to the day before Palm Sunday, just customarily celebrated that day) Jesus entered Jerusalem sitting on a donkey’s colt. And throngs of people went to see Him. Why? Perhaps it was curiosity—they wanted to see if this man was audacious enough to come into Jerusalem when the Jewish authorities were conspiring to kill Him. Perhaps some believed He was going to be a military deliverer and were waiting for armies to enter with Him and take their city back from Roman oppression. And perhaps some were very devout and with humility they came to honor Jesus.
Five days later, on Good Friday, this same crowd came out and screamed for Jesus to be crucified. What changed their mind in five days? Undoubtedly there were probably some people in Jerusalem who were disappointed that with the “Savior” in town for five days, that the Romans still hadn’t been overthrown. They probably looked behind the donkey Jesus was riding and wondered “where are the armies and the chariots?”
I’m convinced that some people in the crowd probably on both days didn’t know what they were doing. When some started chanting “Hosanna,” the rest started along with them. And on Good Friday, when the cry for crucifixion became louder, some probably felt pressure to jump in. This is how many Christians are—they don’t know enough about the faith in order to be “convicted” about it. When it’s popular to be Christian, they line up to be counted. But when it is not popular, they don’t stick around, because they lack depth of faith.
In sports, there is a term called “fair weather fans.” Which means, when a team is playing well, everyone becomes a fan. And when a team is not faring well, many fans jump ship and start to root for other teams. The real fans stay loyal win or lose.
So, the lesson of today is that we should not be fair weather Christians, coming to Christ only when things are going well and turning on Him or ignoring Him when times are tough. Rather we need to seek a deep and abiding faith in Christ.
Many priests joke that people come to the Holy Week services according to what they will “get.” So people come Palm Sunday for a palm, Holy Wednesday for Holy Unction, Good Friday for a flower and on Pascha for an egg. And they stay away Holy Thursday night when we read about Christ’s Passion, not only because the service is lengthy but because there is no “free gift.” The reason why the “crowds” come is because of the sign, or the gift being given. Why do these crowds not come the rest of Holy Week, or the rest of the church year? Is that because for many people, the faith is as lukewarm as the conviction of the people in the crowd on Palm Sunday? It’s easy to scream out “Hosanna” when everyone is doing it. But what about when no one is doing it? What about when life is going really wrong, or when God feels like He is far away, or when you need a miracle and it is just not happening.
The rituals of Holy Week are not signs put there for us to worship. We don’t worship rituals. We worship the Lord. Signs and rituals are there only as tools to deepen the faith, to express it and practice it. So we don’t meet the Lord because of “signs.” We may meet Him in “signs”—we may come to a better understanding of the Lord through worship and the sacraments. But it is not sacraments or signs that we worship. We worship the Lord.
The journey to Christ is a long and sometimes arduous one. The best way to grow in Christ is to establish a “consistent” relationship with Him. And over time, you will experience “signs” of His power. These do not happen to me on a daily basis, or even a weekly basis. But I feel God’s power and I feel it more acutely the more I pray and the more I give my life over to God. For those who come only on Palm Sunday or who come to God with infrequency, the “signs” aren’t going to be enough to hold one’s attention. It is consistent effort that makes God real.
The people in those two different crowds had probably not come to Christ to talk with Him. They came only for the hoopla. As we continue to move through Lent, meditate on your motivation to come to meet Christ—the why, the how often and the where. And then resolve to meet Him in prayer on a daily basis, no matter the circumstances of the day. This is faith. We don’t put faith in signs. We put our faith in the Lord!
Christ, You mystically shed tears because of Lazarus Your friend, dead and buried in a tomb, and You raised him from the dead, in Your love for humanity displaying compassion. O Savior, when they learned of Your arrival there, the multitude of babes came out to greet You today; and in their hands they were holding palm leaves, and they were shouting Hosanna to You and saying, ʺBlessed are You, O Savior, for You have come to save the world. (Kathisma from Orthros of Palm Sunday, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Meet Christ in prayer today!
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