Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4: 4-9 (Epistle of Palm Sunday)
Philippians 4 is yet another example of how just a few verses of Scripture can be packed with so much meaning. This also happens to be one of my favorite passages of Scripture in the entire Bible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t continue to include one of my favorite verses, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (NKJV) This Epistle passage, however, really can’t be read apart from verse 13, as it “frames” the entire passage.
How can one rejoice always, as we read in verse 4:4? If we have Christ as our strength, and if we believe we can do all things through Him, then it is easy to understand how we can rejoice always. Even in our moments of despair, we are comforted by our relationship with Him.
How can we go through life without anxiety? That seems pretty impossible. We know from our science classes that oil and water don’t mix. The same is true with Christ an anxiety. We know that fear and love cannot co-exist. In I John 4:18, we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Christ is love, so wherever there Christ is, there is no fear. Christ is the one who brings peace in the midst of the storms of life. I have prayed many times in moments of fear, but during the moments of prayer, fear has gone away, replaced by the “peace of God, which passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4: 7)
Anxiety is kept at bay by faith that “The Lord is at hand.” (4:6) Thus, with “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We are to come to God with everything, with all problems, with all concerns. We are supposed to cast them all before God, and surrender our anxieties to Him. We are not supposed to do this with desperation, but with thanksgiving. In my prayers, I try to begin each prayer with a word of thanks, not merely coming to God as if He is a vending machine into which I insert my problems, but to come to Him first with gratitude, and then with a grateful heart to offer requests.
In prayer, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” comes upon us and keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The “peace of God” is different than any other kind of peace, because it is a peace that can come in the midst of conflict. Peace generally is defined as the absence of conflict. The “peace of God” passes all understanding because it is a peace that can come in the midst of conflict. Everything can be going wrong and we can still feel a sense of peace, and a sense of God.
Saint Paul reminds us to meditate on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious. These are the things that Saint Paul says are excellence and worthy of praise. Our world is filled with materialism, ego, greed, anger and violence. These virtues of truth, honor, justice, purity, love, and graciousness seem to be just words on paper. Yet, these are the hallmarks of Christian character. These are the virtues that are pleasing to God. These are the signs that enable us to build stable and loving relationships with one another. These are the only things that can stem the tide of anger and violence.
I remember attending a funeral where a Hierarch of our church eulogized the deceased as “one of the last decent human beings.” As if to say that decency is one of the most noble virtues because it is so rare. Standing up for truth, honor, justice, purity, love and graciousness are noble causes, because they increase the value of society and each individual in it. If a person builds their lives on these virtues, they will be rejoicing in the Lord always, and will have no anxiety, because they will walk with confidence in their faith, in the joy of the Lord, and in the hope of the Resurrection.
I don’t know why this Epistle was chosen to be read on Palm Sunday. Perhaps because people came out on the streets of Jerusalem looking for a sign of hope and they found it in a humble man riding on a donkey. As we celebrate Palm Sunday, if we have the humility that Christ showed that day in Jerusalem, if we mediate on the things that are noble and pure, we’re going to receive hope, peace and joy, today and always.
In heaven upon the throne, on earth upon the colt, You were carried, O Christ our God; and the praise of the Angels, and the hymns of the children, You received as they cried to You, “Blessed are You, the One, who is coming to call Adam back again.” (Kontakion, Feast of Palm Sunday, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! (Philippians 4:13, NKJV)