With today’s celebration of Palm Sunday and yesterday’s of Lazarus Saturday we enter into the week of the church calendar when we remember those events which directly led up to the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection; the days and events which are at the very center of our faith and define us as Christians.
In order for us to really understand what is happening on Palm Sunday; in order for us to really understand what will happen a week from today on Easter Sunday and in order to fully understand and grasp and appreciate why in the Orthodox tradition we don’t refer to next Sunday as Easter Sunday but Pascha, we must understand what happened in the Old Testament; we have to understand what happened long ago with the people of Israel.
The Israelites found themselves living in Egypt. And after they had already been there for many years the Egyptians started persecuting the Hebrews and a order was given that every male infant was to be drown. It was a terrible, terrible time for the people of God. And yet it was during this very persecution that we read in the book of Exodus of the birth of a famous child who was spared this drowning. Although it was the Egyptian Pharaoh who gave the orders for the drowning of the male children it was the Pharaoh’s own daughter who found a small baby floating in a basket in the river and had compassion on him. She named him Moses and she raised him. Moses was someone who didn’t like to see injustice. Once when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he killed the Egyptian man. Later, when he saw two Hebrew men fighting he went to settle the argument but one of them said to Moses, “Are you going to kill us like you killed the Egyptian?” Moses became afraid. He thought no one knew that he had killed the Egyptian man but, in fact, word had spread and even the Pharaoh knew about it and was angry. And so Moses fled Egypt.
And while he was away something miraculous happened. God spoke to Moses in the wilderness, in the form of a burning bush. And God told Moses that He has heard the cry and seen the affliction of His people and will set them free. Moreover, He will do just this through the help of Moses. At first Moses was reluctant. He said he wouldn’t be able to help God. He told God he had a speech impediment. You know, oftentimes God calls us to take a more active role in His Church and and we oftentimes will make excuses. Moses was the very same way. But God convinced him – He didn’t force him – He convinced him. And he told Moses to go straight to the Pharaoh and say to him: “Let my people free.” Now, Moses didn’t think this was the best plan but he did it anyway. And, sure enough, the Pharaoh paid little attention to him.
Then, in the book of Exodus, we read how God punished the Egyptians in the form of plagues and He would continue punishing them until they listen to Moses and let the people go. All in all there were ten plagues. God sent frogs, gnats, wild beasts, complete darkness, locusts….And each time the Pharaoh, after he couldn’t take it anymore, promised to let the people go. And each time he broke his promise.
Then came the last plague. Just like the Egyptians were drowning all the firstborn Hebrews, God sends a terrible plague on Egypt where death visits the homes of all the Egyptians. God, through Moses, gives specific instruction to the Hebrews on how they are to escape death. God tells Moses that the Hebrews are to take the blood of lambs and mark their doorposts so when the Lord sees it He would passover them and they would be spared.
After this last plague the Egyptians had no other choice than to let the Hebrew people free. In remembrance of how God freed the people from slavery the people of Israel began celebrating a feast they called Passover.
Now let’s fast-forward to the time of Jesus – on Palm Sunday the shepherds marched sheep from Bethlehem into Jerusalem so that the people could select the one they want for their Passover meal. And during this time Jesus rides into town on a donkey. The Jews would buy a lamb, and over four days inspect it before slaughtering it so they could eat it on Passover. Similarly, soon after entering Jerusalem, Jesus is arrested and questioned at length by Pilate,who declares Him innocent. It has been about four days since Jesus entered Jerusalem, and Pilate declares finally “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38). The Lamb is declared to be without blemish just as the Passover ritual requires.
This is exactly why we refer to the Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection as PASCHA. The Lord is our New Passover; He is the one who leads us from death to life.
You see, we have to travel back thousands of years to the Old Testament in order to find meaning for the things that happened in the New Testament. Similarly, all the events that happened 2,000 years ago during the earthly life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ give meaning to our lives personally today; in Christ and in the events during His earthly life we find the meaning to our life, to our temptations, our passions, our weaknesses and failings as well as our faith.
Come and attend the divine services this week; listen to the gospel readings on Thursday evening; observe as strictly as you can this coming Great and Holy Friday with fasting and prayer. Contemplate on all the things our Lord did for the salvation of mankind and come next Sunday when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ we will experience the joy of the resurrection of our souls; the resurrection of our faith; for truly with the Lord do we pass over from death to life; from this world to the one which is unto the ages of ages. Amen.