April 12, 2019
The Stones Cried Out
Palm Sunday Looks Forward to Easter
Despite other intentions, I've been compelled to think (and write) about death. I received word on Wednesday that one of my cousins just died (he was 71). Yesterday, we received news that a dear friend's husband died suddenly this week from a heart attack. Our friend's trauma brought to mind my grandmother's trauma in 1956 at the sudden death of my grandfather at 62.
Old Mortality is the 100 percent guaranteed human destiny. Dare we live as if this were not so? Dare we assume that all our planning "for the future" will prevail? Musing on death seems appropriate, as we approach Palm Sunday (April 14, and April 21 for Orthodox).
Just before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday. Martha chastens Jesus with, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother Lazarus would not have died!" True, perhaps, but shortsighted. Had the Lord been there and healed Lazarus, he still would have died, just later.
Death is a fixed feature of human life apart from the one and only Resurrection. The Resurrection is not a theological idea or an ideology: it resides in a Person. "I am the Resurrection and the life, Martha. Do you believe this?" Jesus asks her and each one of us this question. Resurrection is not so much something that Jesus will do for us; it is what will become of us when we are united to him.
This is what Holy Week, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are about. Jesus targets Death itself as he sets his face to Jerusalem and the Cross, which is the instrument by which he conquers the power of death for all mankind. His raising of Jairus's daughter, the Widow of Nain's son, and Lazarus are of a different nature than the Resurrection we confess in the Creed, but they are signs of his divinity and power and that Resurrection to come.
Jesus rides out on Palm Sunday, lauded as Messiah by some for having raised Lazarus and worked miracles. But he has something greater in mind. This "Triumphal Entry" is perhaps more like the parade given to soldiers as they go off to war, not after they return victorious.
The Son of God goes forth to war,
a kingly crown to gain;
his blood-red banner streams afar:
who follows in his train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
triumphant over pain,
who patient bears his cross below,
he follows in his train.
"Who can best drink" echoes the question Jesus puts to James and John just prior to his Passion when they ask for the positions of power at his right and left hand, thinking these can be doled out as favors, like political patronage jobs. They do not realize Christ must first drink "his cup of woe" before being "crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." (Heb. 2:9)
The Palm Sunday procession, then, is a send-off to a War to conquer death "for everyone." The hymn for Palm Sunday in the East sees the Raising of Lazarus as a sign pointing to the Resurrection that Jesus brings because of the Triumph of the Cross and Resurrection. Palm Sunday stands in the middle, looking backward and forward, while we sing "Save Us" ("Hosanna") to him "who comes in the name of the Lord."
"In confirming the common Resurrection, O Christ God, Thou didst raise up Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion. Wherefore, we also, like the children, bearing the symbols of victory, cry to Thee, the Vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest; blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord." (Palm Sunday troparion)
The "symbols of victory" are the palm branches, and the children are those whom Jesus defended to his critics, saying, if they were silent, the stones would cry out. Indeed, the stone later would cry out. Before dawn on Easter:
Silence among the tombs, but then loud rumbling and a rolling stone—the earthquake and the empty tomb. And so today: We await the new creation of the Lord, when our mortal bodies will be changed. We wait, we wait, we mortal men. Let us comfort one another with the news of this broken silence and final victory.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.