The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 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!” 14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.” 20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-saida in Galilee, and said to him,“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. (Revised Standard Version)
See also: Matthew 21:4-9, Mark 11:7-10, Luke 19:35-38
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Seventh Sunday of Zadeeg, Second Palm Sunday), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem declared the establishment of the Kingdom of God; not an earthly kingdom with a political Messiah, as was expected by many during the time of Jesus, but God’s eternal kingdom revealed through the humble servant, Jesus Christ. Christ is not the earthly king they demanded and he is not the king or ruler we often demand him to be today. But he is the perfect, heavenly King who leads us to his Kingdom with a crown of thorns, a purple robe of mockery, and the Cross as his throne.
Humility and love is what marks the Kingdom of God, and sets it apart from the “kingdoms” we create with all of their earthly values, paradigms, and institutions. Today, our humble king comes to us through the Church, and he calls us to follow him on the road of suffering and persecution, one that he promises brings blessing (երանութիւն) and the Kingdom of Heaven. And today his followers, the Church, join the voices of those who sang on that day in Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest!” because the one who humbly rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was put to death on a cross reigns triumphant and victorious. Death could not hold our King.
For the Whole World
The eyewitness and news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead caused many to follow and believe in him, and it is this crowd who welcomes Jesus as he enters Jerusalem on an unused donkey, a foreshadowing of him being buried in an unused tomb. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was the last of the signs Jesus performed in his public ministry. It was also perhaps the most dramatic, telling, and pertinent to his ministry. This one miracle summed up who Jesus was and what He had come to do: to save, unite, and draw the world to himself (See John 3:16, 11:52, 12:32). John, who frames Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem within the story of Lazarus, sets his readers up to witness Jesus’ mission in the world: to set us free from the vilest of enemies, death, to give us resurrection life, to raise and renew the created order. As Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Her response was one of belief and confessing that he has come to do this work in the world: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (John 11:25-27)
Like the crowd who was propelled to action at the news of the resurrection life, we too gather as followers of Jesus to dine at his sacred table because his Body and Blood, as the priest prays, “is life, hope, resurrection, purification, and remission of sins.” But our gathering around the sacred meal is not just for our own benefit. It is for the peace of the whole world; not the “world peace” about which we often idealistically dream, but peace that is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ and finds its source in forgiveness and unites us with God no matter the circumstances. The choir sings,
We thank you, Lord, for you have fed us at your immortal table, serving your Body and Blood for the salvation of the world and as life for ourselves. (Գոհանամք զքէն Տէր, որ կերակրեցեր զմեզ յանմահական սեղանոյ քո. բաշխելով զմարմին եւ զարիւն ի փրկութիւն աշխարհի եւ կեանք անձանց մերոց։)
John continues his motif of resurrection as Jesus gives the image of the grain of wheat dying in order to bear fruit, signifying that Christ’s death will give life to the world (12:24). It was the third-century theologian and Church Father, Irenaeus, who wrote,
[The dying grain] becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way, our bodies being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time.
And so today, we cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna,” which is “save us, be our helper now,” but save whom from what? From earlier in John’s Gospel, we read,
For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (3:17)
And it was St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans who wrote,
Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (8:21-24)
He came to save the world, the whole of creation, from death, from sin, to heal our fear and anxiety. He saves us from temptation, unforgiveness, sickness, suffering, from anything which draws us away from the Source of Life, Jesus Christ. Through his resurrection, Jesus came to renew and set right that which is corrupt.
How is our parish community a means by which his message goes out to the world? Are we too narrow in our scope? How can we further think outside of ourselves in order to bring healing to others? The mission of the Church is to evangelize the world for Jesus Christ, but is that the mission we have chosen to carry on? Do we think of ourselves as part of that mission, just as St. Gregory of Narek composed his Book of Prayers for the whole world:
Let the perfume, the bouquet of this book of confessions
be redoubled and affect multitudes.
Let its memory be told everywhere and fill the world
like the fragrant oil in the house of Lazarus. (33 B)
Are we compelled to action by the news of Lazarus’ resurrection, by Jesus’ resurrection? Install yourself in the dialogue between Jesus and Martha. Jesus says to each one of us, and he is saying, today, to the Armenian Church:
I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
Badarak, Advent, and the End of the World
How do we picture the return of Christ? Do we imagine a spectacle like none other, in which a trumpet is blown and Jesus comes out of the sky for all to see in his radiant glory? Do we conjure images of the end of the world from movies and literature? Maybe a virus sweeps over the globe causing panic and fear that this could be how it all ends. Or an interpretation of Scripture about the “Apocalypse” which includes an epic “Battle of Armageddon?”
Perhaps there is another way of understanding the return of Christ that escapes our attention. In the book of Acts (1:10-11) we hear “two men” tell those watching Jesus ascend to heaven say,
Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
What does it mean for Jesus to come in the same way he went into heaven? Most, if not all, icons of the ascension of Christ portray his ascension ambiguously, in that viewer cannot tell whether he is ascending to heaven or coming to earth. As a result, he is depicted as continually present in the midst of his people. That is, we are already living under the kingship of Jesus Christ while we also await his coming again bringing with him the fullness of his Kingdom. In other words, the advent of Jesus is both anticipated and already upon us.
The promise of Christ’s return, his coming again as illustrated in the icons of his ascension, is exactly what takes place in Badarak, the profundity of which is incomprehensible. Just as Jesus ascended, he returns to us in Badarak within the midst of his people. In Badarak, we enter beyond time and space into God’s time, his eternal presence, where this is no before or after, and we joyfully share in the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:9), the feast at the end of the age, a meal that has not yet been eaten, and yet paradoxically, it is shared and eaten whenever we commune at the chalice. Badarak is not a dramatic retelling or an act of remembrance, but the coming of the Kingdom in our midst. As we sing in the hymn for the kiss of peace, “Christ in our midst has been revealed; he who is, God, is here seated,” we the Church, as theologian Vigen Guroian writes, are lifted up into the “Apocalypse,” into that which is hidden, that which is coming, the Advent of Jesus Christ himself, where we meet and are welcomed by the Lord at his Second Coming, “and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 4:17)
The last Sunday of Great Lent in the Armenian Church is referred to as the Sunday of Advent. When we think of the word “advent,” which means “coming,” (գալուստ) what comes to mind? It sounds like the future tense. We may think of the “second coming” of Christ. We picture in our minds a future arrival of Jesus Christ in power and glory followed by a future and final judgment, the end of all things. But are Christianity and the end of all things only future oriented? In the Christian sense, the “end” is not a point in time, or the conclusion of a linear historical timeline. The End is a person, Jesus himself.
Jesus Christ is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Almighty who is, was, and is to come (Revelation 1:8, 22:13). He is the revelation of the End of all things, the fulfillment of all things, the reconciliation and healing of all things, the purpose toward and in which all things live, move, and have their being (Acts 17:28). Jesus Christ is the Eschaton.
[Jesus] was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. (I Peter 1:20)
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26b)
Additionally, in the book of Daniel (7:13-14), the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven is Jesus Christ himself, a coronation event, his enthronement.
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
That the Son of Man in Daniel’s prophecy is, in fact, Jesus was confirmed by Jesus himself when he answered the high priest after being asked whether or not he was the Messiah.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)
And it is not coincidental that the author of Acts describes the ascension of Jesus this way: “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” This entire reality is expressed every week when we recite the Creed:
He is to come with the same body and with the glory of the Father to judge the living and the dead; of His kingdom there is no end.
Now that we have come to the end of the world, or rather Jesus Christ himself who is the End of all things has come to us, why would we stare into the sky waiting for his return like those in the first chapter of Acts? Or why would we wait for something like a virus to invoke the idea of the world ending? Economic collapse does not mean the end of the world. Separated families, friends, and loved ones is not the end of the world. Not even the closing of Churches, as chilling and salvifically depriving as that may be, signifies the end of the world. No matter what pandemic is ripping through the globe, this is not how the world ends, not when we have faith in the End himself, Jesus Christ.
None of this is to say that Jesus is not coming again, a second time. He is coming again, but he is already here, and so we already experience a foretaste of his return, one that reveals his holiness in us.
And so the End is present, but not how the world perceives it. No matter our circumstances, we are empowered and enlightened now, through baptism, to live as a “new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17) as St. Paul teaches. Through Christ we forgive not just our friends and family, but our enemies. We pray for those who persecute us. We give and expect nothing in return. When struck, we turn the other cheek. The lame walk, the blind receive their sight, bread and fish are multiplied, storms are calmed, our sins are forgiven, and the sick are healed. We can close the doors of our churches, but still find ways to come together to pray and commune with God and with one another – a communion that transcends physical proximity. The end of the world is one in which faith, hope, and love endure no matter what’s out there; when we are given the capacity to love like God loves; when a 72 year-old Catholic priest in Italy with Coronavirus gives up his ventilator for a younger person, in the process laying down his own life.
We know the End is present because in a time and situation like today, we resonate with the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians:
In all things, give thankful praise, for this is what God desires for you through Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18, trans. from Krapar)
When we can still utter the last words of our beloved St. John Chrysostom:
Փառք քեզ, աստուած, փառք քեզ . յաղագս ամենայնի, տէր, փառք քեզ: Glory to you, God, glory to you. For everything, Lord, glory to you.
That is the version of the end of the world Jesus wants us to believe and live today, because the End himself,
Christ in our midst has been revealed; he who is, God, is here seated.
…and present in our holiness. So that we may glorify the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.