God is My Help - Palm Sunday Sermon
“God is my help.” That is what the name Lazarus means. “God is my help.” And truly, God was the help of his friend Lazarus. Imagine, Lazarus died. He was buried in a tomb for four days. Lazarus tasted the terrible mystery of death. He witnessed the horrors of the evil one in His glory in Hades. He did not know for how long he would suffer in this terror of darkness. Yet after only four days, in the midst of all hopelessness, he hears a voice calling him – “Lazarus, come forth!”
The devil surely didn’t know what was happening. Up until this point in history whenever Satan took the dead into Hades, he was in control. He kept them in darkness and filled them with hopelessness and despair, tormenting his prisoners in death. Yet, something radically different happened. A commanding voice pierced the darkness of death and called out. “Lazarus, come forth!”
Now Lazarus surely knew that his name meant “God is my help.” Even in hades he continued to believe, and thus, he was ready to hear the voice of his dear friend, Jesus, calling him out of this darkness. He came to realize that “Jesus is his help.”
All the followers of Christ realized, especially after this miracle in Bethany, that Jesus was much more than some great teacher or even holy prophet. Jesus was God Himself, who even held authority over life and death. Thus, he called Lazarus out of death’s grip and gave him new life.
So, His disciples became ecstatic. Following this unbelievable event, Jesus enters Jerusalem with the fervor growing. The crowds yell “Hosanna,” which means “Save now!” Others shouted “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” for the “Anointed One of God” is now here! And still others proclaimed Jesus the “King of Israel,” a direct attack to the Roman authorities and the Jewish religious leaders who feared a new king. Such fervor and excitement! Such zeal and hope! “God is my help” and is ready to help here and now! The crowds believed that God would restore the ancient kingdom of Israel. The chosen people of God would become free once again and they all hoped for a new beginning, a new life.
“God is our help.” Christ is our help.
Yet, there was something strange about the entrance of this new King. In the ancient world, kings and emperors processed into cities in triumph, with awe and might. They revealed their supreme power and glory with military chariots, horses, and soldiers. Power. Force. Violence. They were emperors and rulers of the world because they controlled their empires with brute force and violence.
Jesus, however, chose to enter Jerusalem in a completely different manner. Yes, He was a king, but He came riding a simple donkey, not on a stallion or in a chariot. He was uninterested in any worldly power that came through force and violence. He understood that His power and victory would come through humble sacrifice, through denying oneself, through supreme love, through His willingness to become a victim, a sacrificial lamb which would take upon Himself the sins of the world for the salvation of the world.
He knew that he would voluntarily accept betrayal, denial and rejection, even by His own friends and people, and this would lead to a humiliating death. The ultimate paradox, though, was that through His extreme humility, through this humble path, through His suffering and death He would ultimately defeat death itself. Through His sacrifice He would ultimately conquer the Evil One. Through His sacrificial power, He would shine forth out of a grave! Not only would He raise Lazarus out of the tomb after four days, He promises to raise humankind for the rest of history. Death no longer has the final say but has become a pathway into a deeper union with the Source of Life.
Yes, God is our help! Jesus Christ is our help! But He is our help in a way so different than anyone could understand.
Palm Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and is symbolic of His entrance into our hearts and lives. Yet we have to be very careful in understanding the significance of His Help, of His entrance into our lives as our King and our ultimate Master.
Jesus said to His disciples at the Last Supper, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done.” (John 13:13-14)
Jesus could have said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have entered Jerusalem on a donkey, then you also ought to humble yourselves in like manner, and put away the temptations of the world to dominate others through power and violence and force. Instead, cultivate the spirit of humility. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done.”
Jesus could have said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have willingly become a sacrificial lamb for the salvation of the world, then you also ought to sacrifice yourselves for others, loving them to the degree that I have loved you. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done.”
Jesus could have said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have willingly forgiven those who betrayed me, tortured me, crucified and killed me, then you also ought to forgive whoever has hurt you in any way. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done.”
Jesus could have said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have loved you with an unconditional and divine love, then you also ought to love one another, to love your neighbor and your enemy, to love those like you and those who are very different from you, to love those who are of your faith and love those of different faith or even of no faith. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done.”
God is our help. And Jesus Christ has shown us the path we need to follow in life. A path of humility. A path of sacrificial love. A path of forgiveness and mercy and grace.
On this Palm Sunday, when we remember Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, let us especially remember the example He has set for us to follow in our lives. Truly, God is our help!
Facing Our Uncertain Future
EXTREMIST OF LOVE AND JUSTICE
Our Orthodox Faith