With the solemn Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, the great mystery of our salvation begins to unfold before us. Through the events of Holy Week, we, His Church, are invited behold what the Lord, who has come into Jerusalem, accomplishes. What is the meaning of this coming or entrance? Perhaps it will be helpful if we review the ways in which the Lord has come to us as revealed in the Scriptures, that we might discern His working in our midst.
The idea of the Coming of the Lord, is both a very important and powerful one in both the Old and New Testament. The coming of the Lord to the Patriarchs and the prophet Moses was a revelation of grace - that the uncreated and eternal God could, in some way, still come and be intimately present with humanity - conversing with people and directing the way of human life to grace and virtue. Often through awesome and fearful signs, the coming of the Lord would be manifest, such as the Cloud of Gloryi which overshadowed and led the Hebrew people through the desert wilderness or after the Exodus. We hear how the Lord came to Elijah and the prophets through prayer, as Elijah fell down and worshipped Him when he heard the ‘gentle whisper’ii. This episode was the template for the prophecy of Malachi, in which (in the final works of the Old Testament text is often compiled), “Behold I send you Elijah, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”iii
These Old Testament events while profound, were really just the foreshadowing of the marvelous ways in which the Lord would come to us. So we hear that the New Testament begins with the coming of the Lord, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, taking flesh of the Virgin Maryiv, celebrated yesterday in most of our Churches in the Feast of the Annunciation. Next Sunday, on Holy Pascha, we will hear again this Good News of His coming in the Incarnation, ringing forth in our own hearing, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” v This coming in the flesh is for us an incomprehensible mystery - that God could come to us in this way, or more incomprehensibly that He would come to us, in our lowly sinful state. Of such is all surpassing His love.
The coming of Christ to the towns and cities that He visited during His earthly ministry became a cause for great rejoicing as He would come to their town bringing the Good News of God’s love and power revealed, through both His teaching and His acts of powervi. People would line the streets and some, like Zacchaeusvii, would be called forth, to whom He would announce, “I am coming to your house today.” He would teach the people the purpose of His coming - “I have come, that you might have life, and have it in the full.”viii
Again referring to yesterday’s duel feast, we remember another coming of Jesus, this time seemingly too late. For although He heard the news from messengers that “Your friend Lazarus is sick,”ix our Lord would delay his departure, and hence His arrival. He arrived seemingly too late by four days, and when He does come, Martha comes out to greet Him - and reminds Him that He is too late, for Lazarus had already died. But Jesus would keep coming. He came to the tomb, where He would summon Lazarus, with the words, “Lazarus come forth.” And Lazarus would emerge from the tomb and be freed from the very grasp of icy death itself
This miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus was closely linked to our Lord’s coming into Jerusalem - seated on the foal of a donkey. The prophets proclaim and the evangelist John reminds us that in this Entrance, “Behold your King, comes to you.”
He comes to His people, as King, yet in the spirit of extreme humility and lowliness. It is not the triumphal entrance of a conquering warrior, the parades of which were fearsome spectacles in the Roman world.x The Lord’s coming is established in a divine way - manifesting all meekness, symbolized by the ‘untamed foal’ that nevertheless submits to carry Him.
The Resurrection Entrance
Jesus was not done ‘entering’, just yet. For there was another entrance He would make, entering the Realm of Death itself, the darkness of Hades, through His own human death. His descent and entrance into foulness of the realm of sin, that place of stench we call Hades, was to rescue all mankind - who had fallen in sin, from Adam and Eve onward, even St. John the Baptist and Lazarus who preceded Him and awaited Him. With this coming He releases, He rescues, He redeems and restores. He Resurrects the fallen by His coming to where they are!
And this Entrance in the Resurrection will be the beginning of many new entrances! He would come before the Myrrhbearing women in the garden and to apostles in the upper room (though the doors were locked), revealing His risen glory to them. He would come to ‘walk along side with them’ as He did with those journeying to Emmausxi, and reveal this glory through the Holy Mystery of the Breaking of the Bread. In doing so, He established a way in which He could come to His disciples forever, wondrously, through the sacramental Mysteries, that we might “Behold the King, who comes unto you.”
Yet there is another coming that is of utmost importance. For He promised with absolute assurance of a Second Coming. At this coming He will return to the world, in the fullness of His power and glory. This we profess in the Creed - “He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead!” Yet the Gospels are quite clear, and this teaching was among the final words spoken by Christ before He went to His saving death, as we read in St. Matthew’s gospel. 25. The parable of the virgins and the oil is about the Coming of the Bridegroom, for which the Church must be prepared through spiritual vigilance. This coming will be filled with awesome fear. The Book of Revelation speaks of this coming in a spiritual and poetic and mysterious way.
A Coming Pattern?
Do we discern a pattern here?
The purpose of Christ’s coming is so that we would come, to Him! The Lord calls Mary the Theotokos to obedience who with Joseph her espoused husband come to Bethlehem that He might enter the world in fulfillment of the prophecies. He calls to His apostles - as a template for Christian discipleship, “Come, follow me.”xii And they follow in obedience and humility He instructs His followers, “Come to me, you who are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.”xiii, sometimes lifting the burden of life for those who come to Him, and other times strengthening them to take up the cross and continue to their life journey.
As Martha and Mary come to Him, by faith, believing. “God will give to you whatever you ask”xiv, so too do we come to Him in prayer and ask of Him to do even miracles in our own family and life situations. Some will come to Jesus with purity of heart, like Nathaniel, “in whom there is no guile.”xv Others will come to Him in utterly wretched sinfulness, like Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons were cast out, or St. Mary of Egypt, polluted by sexual sins from her youth. They come, and are purified in the grace for, “Those who come to me, I will not cast away.”xvi
As the Lord came to His disciples in the Holy Mysteries, so He also calls to us this week to Approach, with the fear of God and with faith, before the dread Mysteries offeredxvii. He invites us to come to Confession - presenting ourselves spiritually vulnerable before Him in humility and honesty that we might receive forgiveness and restoration in His loving mercy. He invites us to come to Him in the Mystery of Holy Unction, where just as with the countless souls who received His divine healing grace, so is this offered on Holy Wednesday to us, if we will but come to the services. As He came to His disciples at the Mystical Supper, and washed their feetxviii, He invites us to come frequently to the Table of our salvation, where He comes to us, in the Mystery of Holy Communion. Most beautifully, on Holy Saturday, He calls and invites those being converted to come to the Pool of Baptism - to meet Him that they might die to themselves, so as to enter into in His glory in the Church and approach Him in the Holy Mysteries. He will call to us “Come” in countless ways in the coming weeks and months and years - notably on every Sunday mornings - to invite us into His presence, even if we are sleepy teenagers, or college students who got in late the night before.
The Final Coming
We must not forget that final coming. For, while all of the above invitations to come by the Lord can be ignored, one cannot. Again the Resurrection of Lazarus teaches us that He will call us to come - even from our own tomb and the power of His summons to come before Him cannot be dismissed. We will come when that summons from the angels comes to us at death, and ultimately at His Second Coming in glory on the cloudsxix, and when we will come before Him face to face, to give an account for our life, especially for our love of the poor. Of this, we can absolutely be sure - “Behold, your King, comes to you.”
Today’s Feast then is about the Great Coming - not only of Christ into Jerusalem, but of mankind’s coming to the Lord Himself. In the ancient church there was a cry of prayer, reported to us by St. Paul, “Maranatha - Come Lord Jesus”xx. St. John ends the Apocalypse with these same words.xxi This cry, from the depth of the heart of the Christian, is an acknowledgment of faith that the Lord is coming and the Lord does come to us in these and countless other ways!
May we, who have been privileged to be washed in Holy Baptism, in the blood of the Lamb, who have heeded the voice of the voice of the Shepherd that, “Those who come to Him He will not cast out”, repeat this word, Maranatha - Come Lord Jesus! as our longing cry this glorious Palm Sunday, throughout this Holy Week, and every day of our life. For “Behold, our King comes to us!”
Fr. Robert Holet
x St. John Chrysostom comments on this prophecy, “But let us look also at the prophecy, that by words, that by acts. What then is the prophecy? "Behold, your King comes to you, meek, and riding on an ass, and a young colt;" not driving chariots, like the rest of the kings, not demanding tributes, not thrusting men off, and leading about guards, but displaying His great meekness even hereby.” (Homily 65 on Matthew)
xvii Divine Liturgy Anaphora of St. Basil
xxi Rev. 22:19ff The Didache and other early Christian writers affirm this as a prayer of the early Christians.