Palm Sunday message of His Grace Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, Primate
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!
Hosanna in the highest!”
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
On this beautiful spring day, we have come together again to celebrate and praise our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Today is Palm Sunday in the Armenian Church. As described by a contemporary Christian leader: Palm Sunday is “the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes His way towards the culmination of His earthly existence”.
On this day, we celebrate Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem in order to complete His mission on earth, in fulfilment of what the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied about him. It ushers in the final days of Christ’s life when He would give His final commandments to His disciples, He would be falsely accused and judged, and sentenced to death on the Cross. He would then victoriously rise again from the dead, defeating sin and death, and paving the way for our own redemption.
Our reading today is from the Gospel of Mark, who devotes one-third of his Gospel to the Passion Week, the final days of Jesus’ life on earth. Jesus started His journey to Jerusalem accompanied by His disciples. Along the way, people joined them and the crowd of pilgrims grew ever larger. Many of them were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover.
Two events in the narrative of Mark’s gospel shed light on the whole story.
The first happened at the start of the journey when they were leaving Jericho, a city 6-miles north of the Dead Sea. Along the way, a blind man was sitting by the side of the road and begging – his name was Bartimaeus. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he cried out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but he continued; until Jesus asked him. “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied: “Master, let me receive my sight”. Jesus said: “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way. Though blind, Bartimaeus had seen – he had the insight to link the messianic expectation of a Davidic deliverer, through whom God’s kingdom would be ushered in, with Jesus Christ, and so he had cried out “Son of David”. Mark also tells us that he “began to follow Jesus along the way” – intentionally using the phrase “the way” to echo the early Christian expression referring to a transformed life of faith. Through Bartimaeus’ miraculous healing, and his declaration of faith, a wave of messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: could this Jesus, walking ahead of us towards Jerusalem, be the Messiah, the new David? This is because the Jews were expecting the Messiah to be the descendant of King David and the rightful heir to his throne (Is 9:7; Ezek 34:23 -24) and many believed that he would possess the power to heal the sick and exorcize demons (Mt 15:22). As Jesus approached Jerusalem, people’s expectations were heightened that the moment had come when God would finally restore the kingdom of David.
The second event happened as Jesus entered Jerusalem. He arrived in Jerusalem from Bethpage near the Mount of Olives. This was an important route, as the Jews believed that the Messiah would come by this road. From there, Jesus sent two of his disciples ahead of him, telling them to find a donkey. They found one and brought it to Jesus. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the disciples and the other pilgrims were in high spirits and full of excitement. They took their coats and placed them in Jesus’ path as he rode into the city. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout blessings from the Psalms that pilgrims in ancient times recited, but in this setting it took on the character of a messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (Psalm 118).
This festive acclamation reiterates the belief that, in Jesus, God visited His people and the longed-for Messiah had finally come. And everyone who was there was growing in anticipation of the work that Christ would accomplish once He entered the city.
We know from the Gospels the subsequent events that happened in Jerusalem. Those who proclaimed Jesus as King of Israel, clearly, had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. But Jesus did not enter Jerusalem on a horse, he came on a donkey, because as it is written in the messianic prophecy of Zechariah, he would come in humility, bringing peace to Israel and he would not strike the Romans (Zech 9:9- 10). The majority, in fact, were upset by the way Jesus presented himself as the Messiah and King of Israel.
Indeed, this message is important for us to understand the meaning of today’s feast.
Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus, joining the journey. Bartimaeus’ confession was uncharacteristic. He was blind and did not see anyone. But his spiritual eyes were open to see Jesus, even as others who were healthy did not see him. Let me make an assertion that the blind man in the story represents vulnerable groups, the marginalised and ignored people, people who are internally displaced or are refugees, people in zones of war and conflict. It is also often true that those living in pain and distress, though in adverse circumstances, are spiritually strong.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, who is Jesus Christ for us, especially when we lead more comfortable lives, when we may not immediately feel the need for a Saviour?
Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey symbolising that He is the king of “peace”. He teaches us humility. Today, we have come together with our children to worship before God and receive His blessings. No doubt, this will be a memorable day for the children and they will remember this experience. As Christians, we lead our lives in the assurance that God graces us with many blessings, as He promised to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you … and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:2-3). God’s promise to Abraham is a promise to each one of us. This blessing should not be taken for granted, but it demands constant awareness.
Today, after this liturgy, we have a beautiful service, which is called “Opening of the doors” (Դռնբացէք). It symbolizes a dialogue between God and humanity at the second coming of Christ. The Messiah will one day come again in glory. However, the Bible tells us that we do not know when. He urges us to keep our lamps lit, as in the parable of the wise virgins awaiting the bridegroom (Mt 25:1-13), to keep alert, because we do not know the day and the hour.
In the meantime, the Messiah is also present in our everyday lives, albeit in disguise, as a humble person; he is present when we do not expect to see him. Are we able to recognise him?
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?…” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mathew 25:35-37, 40).
On this festive day, let us reflect in our hearts and minds as to what the Messiah is in our lives and open the eyes of our soul to see his healing power.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Photos copyright © Dr Sos Grigorian Ph.D