On this day we lift up palm branches; leaves that are an ancient symbol of victory.
The trunk of a palm tree ascends directly into the sky, and its leaves burst from the top as a crown. If we think of the tree as a metaphor for a man, or a community; it is a symbol of triumph because its living and active parts are far above the easy reach of enemies.
In the book of Maccabees, there was a victorious leader named Simon who expelled pagan worship from the land of the Jews. He was so successful that there was no one left to fight them. War was a memory. Peace reigned. And they celebrated his victory by waving palms. By the grace of God, and Simon’s leadership they had been lifted out of the reach of their enemies.
Today, our Lord enters Jerusalem, and is greeted with palm branches as the King of Peace, meek and riding on a donkey.
But truly, this sign of the highest victory, the sign of long sought for peace, so hard to reach for men, the vision of a just and righteous society, is beneath the aim and vision of the Lord.
The high priest unwittingly prophesies that it is expedient for one man to die for the people.
The children cry out: “Hosanna in the highest.” But they do not fully understand what the Lord has come to save them from.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, “the hour of his majesty is upon us, his beauty in Zion is beyond compare.”(4th Ode, Matins) All of the world is attracted to him, to fulfill its desire for justice, for victory.
But our Lord comes to grant victory far above what we could ask or think.
We mentioned Simon of the Maccabees earlier and the peace and stability of his reign. But how did he die? He was murdered by his brother-in-law. It is not an exaggeration to say that every triumph of peace in this age can only last for a brief moment before begging for war.
Our Lord enters Jerusalem to bring peace which passes our understanding. He enters Jerusalem to destroy death by his death.
For there to be any lasting peace, any life that is truly saved, the Lord himself must ascend the cross.
It is a tradition to weave the palms of this day into the form of a cross, so that we can remember that there is no victory without it.
Knowing this, our Lord, perfect God, and perfect man, tempted in all ways even as we are tempted, cries out: “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? Father save me from this hour?”
That is, “Shall I say: No! I will not fall into the ground as a grain of wheat and die so that the fruit of immortal life will burst forth. Man can abide alone in death as he deserves!”
But he is quick to cast out the temptation of self-love; quick to reverse the fault of Adam.
“No” he says “it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour.” That is, he has come to offer himself; so that man would no longer abide alone in sin and death; so that heaven and earth and even hades would be filled to overflowing with his glory; so that death would be destroyed by his death.
So he cries out again, “Father, glorify your name!”
And the Father has glorified it in the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and will now glorify it again in the voluntary passion and resurrection of his Son.
“The hour of his majesty is upon us. His beauty in Zion is beyond compare.”
He is attractive to all the people. More beautiful than all men. The one who comes to make peace, ascending to the victory of victories.
But in his suffering, he will be without beauty or comeliness, no one will desire to look upon him, or to follow him.
Sin without its masks is ugly – repulsive. And the bridegroom, more beautiful than all men, will take that ugliness of sin upon himself for our sake, because he loves mankind.
Beneath every shallow appearance of victory without real communion with the true God there is death.
Every victory palm bereft of communion with God is fit for burning
But the Lord himself, by his great love for mankind, has opened the way so that strength is made perfect in weakness; so that by the cross we ascend to the victory of victories; so that the voice of children crying out, “O Lord Save us! Hosanna in the highest!”, even our voice today, is united with voices of angels in heaven who cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory!”
By weaving victory into the form of a cross we ascend; there is no other way.