Christ-Like Humility that Overcomes the Whole World - A Homily for Palm Sunday (2020)

April 12, 2020

Christ-Like Humility that Overcomes the Whole World - A Homily for Palm Sunday (2020)

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

Introduction

Behind us lie the struggles of five weeks of Lent[1]; before us lies a week in which we ascend to the Cross.

Behind us lies a life of relative certainty; before us lies much ambiguity, questionability, and doubt.

We have come to a crossroads in life. A crossroads, because the world around us has changed and we are presented with a choice.

  • 18,500 people in our own country have died from the coronavirus.[2]
  • 492,000 are infected with the virus
  • 16.8 million people have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks, which is 11% of our nation’s workforce, and the number is increasing at an unparalleled rate.[3]
  • Economic stability is on the wane.
  • The churches have closed.

How should we live?

The question is presented today, on Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, because despite how we have spent the whole of Lent, despite how we have lived our life up until now; knowing what we do about the world’s situation, and seeing the ease by which our whole country and the entire world can simply come undone - how should we live?

Perhaps we’ve held some unknown hope to the world, in the strength of its structure, its financial institutions, and it’s ability to uphold and protect our interests and freedoms, even though we know to not put our trust in princes and in the sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”[4] However, although we know this verse and perhaps have even quoted it, we’ve never had the opportunity for it to apply to our life.

What uncertainty and instability can do is reinforce that which is genuinely stable and firm, those things which should matter the most in each of our lives and should direct us in how we should live. It is the same way in which a “brush with death” has a way of waking us up, a way of changing how we see ourselves and those around us, and grants us a perspective which we would otherwise never have gotten. And this, not merely by chance, but by the providence of God for our salvation.

The end of Lent is drawing near. The time is growing short; like a dream, like a flower; the time of this life passes. Have we passed our time as in the night, a night of thick fog and darkness, never seeing the day? Do we sleep, or are we awake? Do we care? Have we prepared? [5]

Christ, Our Co-Sufferer

Within this darkness, for those who remember God, a light shines.[6] God has not neglected his creation, nor is He silent towards us, because on this Palm Sunday, we see that Christ shares in our sufferings.

Today, we see the Creator of the world sitting upon a colt the foal of an ass, entering Jerusalem (cf. Matt. 21.5). He whose kingdom is not of this world entered our world heralded by angels. He has given sight to the blind, strength to the lame, hearing to the deaf, cleansed lepers, raised the dead (cf. Matt. 11.5). He spoke with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. He was acquainted with grief, ridiculed by his countrymen, and wept at the death of his beloved Lazarus. The King of all became like us in all respects except for sin.

Humility Is Strength

God shared in our humanity, lived among us, and nearing the end of His life, reveals not the magnitude of His power through arms or might or calling on the assistance of angels, but through humility; a humility that will overcome death as we will see in the following days.

As demonstrated in Christ’s life, humility is not weakness; humility is what overcomes the world.

Christ is the model par excellence of the Christian life, and the acquisition of Christ-like humility is a goal for Christians. “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me,” He says, “for I am meek and humble in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matt. 11.28-29)

This humility is exemplified in the servants of God when they hate all human glory and praise, when they regard all good deeds as nothing, divine gifts as undeserved, and their accomplishments as an abomination to God, supposing that every day we add more and more to our deserved punishment, as St. John Climacus notes.[7] “Repentance raises the fallen, mourning knocks at the gate of Heaven, and holy humility opens it.”[8] “Many people have received salvation without prophecies and revelations, without signs and wonders, but without humility, no one will enter the marriage chamber because humility is the guardian of these gifts [of God], and without her, they will bring frivolous people to ruin.”[9]

We are commanded by the Lord to humble ourselves like little children (Matt. 18.4) for exaltation is found only in humility (Matt. 23.12; Luke 14.11; 1 Peter 5.6) through which we will be like the Lord who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross (Phi. 2.8).

Strength Is Not In The One Who Overcomes Others But Overcomes Himself

Strength in man does not come at the overpowering of others, but by the overpowering of humanity’s nature within one’s self. Christ did not enter Jerusalem with the host of Heaven, nor was he about to overthrow Caesar, cause a rebellion, or even a small stir. Instead, after having eaten with his friends, and Lazarus whom He raised from the dead, He entered Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem after revealing that he had power over the demons, sickness, nature, and even death.

Christ’s whole life was an example of humility, an example of how we can overcome sin and its influence in our life. It is not an example of any earthly achievements in this life, except for spiritual victory – amidst hunger, poverty, economic uncertainty, sickness.

From the first days of the Triodion, we are taught spiritual principles of the Christian life. In the four Sundays preceding Lent, Zaccheus is given as an example of desire and the eager expectation needed to pursue Christ. The Pharisee exemplifies the pride we should not have, the Publican, the humility we should. The Prodigal Son is the illustration of repentance as the path by which we need to come to our senses, leave our former life, and draw near to Christ. Finally, we are reminded of the Last Judgement, the place at which we all must stand and give account for how we have lived our life. With this in mind, we begin, we struggle, we increase our fasting and our prayers desiring Christ more than food and relaxation as we venture on the road of Lent.

As we begin, we are taught that the truth has overcome falsehood and given us true knowledge of God on the Sunday of Orthodoxy and the way by which God is known on the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. This is followed by the Sunday of the Cross - that invincible weapon, the adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, the haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.[10] Next, we learn of St. John Climacus, the model ascetic, and then of St. Mary of Egypt, the model of repentance.

Having armed ourselves with the examples and lessons of each week, we now see before us Christ the King entering Jerusalem, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!” We come to accompany Him to the Cross, to weep to mourn and await the joy that cometh in the morning of the Resurrection.

Conclusion

And here we are, the dusk of Lent is behind us, the Bright Pascha of the Lord is rising before us and what do we have to offer Christ – weakness, laziness, complaining, slips, falls into sin? The world is “run amok,” and what have we done with our life, what vain pursuits, what idleness, what standing in our icon corners mouthing words without prayer. What have we done for the kingdom of God?

And yet, Christ tells us in the Parable of the Hired Servants that we who finally repent, who finally give up our self-will, and turn from our ways, will receive the same as those who came and labored from the first hour.

How should we live? In the words of St. Herman of Alaska, “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us strive to love God above all, and fulfill His holy will.”

THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHER, LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. MEN.

 

[1] (or nine if you want to count the beginning of the Triodion)

[2] As of April 11, 2020 according to the CDC, cf. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

[3] cf. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/09/economy/unemployment-benefits-coronavirus/index.html

[4] cf. Psalm 146.3-5

[5] cf. The Great Canon: The Work of Saint Andrew of Crete, Monday, Song 4, Troparia 2.

[6] Cf. The Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 6, p. 170.

[7] The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 25.4.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 25.52.

[10] Stichera 3, at “Lord, I have cried,” on the “Great Vespers” of the Third Sunday in Lent on which we celebrate the Adoration of the Precious and Life-giving Cross.




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