PRO-LIFE SUNDAY (Palm Sunday)

“And on the morrow, after they came out from Bethany, He hungered. And having seen from afar a fig tree having leaves, He came, if perhaps He might find something on it. And after He came to it, He found nothing except leaves; for it was not the season of figs. And Jesus began to speak and said to it, “May no one any more eat fruit of thee forever.” [Mk. 11:12-14]

 
I start here with this Gospel reading hopefully placing our feet on the road Palm Sunday4from Bethany as we make our way to Jerusalem, the Great City of Peace. Jesus comes upon a fig tree along the trip and Saint Kyril of Jerusalem writes: “The first act after the fall was that of Adam and Eve clothing themselves with fig leaves [Gen. 3:7]. So now Jesus is making fig tree the very last of His wondrous signs. Just as He was headed towards the Cross, He cursed the fig tree—not every fig tree, but that one alone for its symbolic significance—saying, ‘May no one any more eat fruit of thee forever’. In this way the curse laid upon Adam and Eve was being reversed.” [Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 13(18), in FC, 64:16.] .

 
And in the Gospel today, we hear more about Lazarus. He had been dead for four days. His body was decaying and then Jesus said: Lazarus, come forth”. And the one who was dead came forth. “Jesus saith to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” [Jn. 11:43-44] Christ has power over life and death. Just as Christ restored to life Lazarus, so too can he also heal our deadness in sin, just as he withered up the dormant fig tree.

 
We heard in the vigil service last night: “And when they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, toward the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent forth two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village, the one opposite you; and straightway ye shall find an ass which hath been tied, and a colt with her.”… Now all this came to pass in order that it might be fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Sion, ‘Behold thy King cometh to thee, meek, and mounted on an ass, and a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” And the disciples went and did even as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments upon them, and He sat down upon them. And the greater part of the crowd spread their garments in the way; and others were cutting branches from the trees and were strewing them in the way. And the crowds, those going before and those following, were crying out, saying, “Hosanna, to the Son of David; blessed is He Who cometh in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” And after He entered into Jerusalem, all the city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is Jesus the Prophet, the One from Nazareth of Galilee.” [Mt. 21:1-11]

 
The very One who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, healed and restored life to Lazarus is now coming to Jerusalem as a sacrificial lamb. “As a sheep He was led to slaughter; and as a lamb dumb before him who sheareth him, thus He openeth not His mouth. In His humiliation, His judgment was taken away; but who shall describe His generation? For His life is being taken away from the earth” [Acts 8:32-33]

 
On Palm Sunday, we use palm branches and pussy willows to signify a great victory. So what is this great victory? We will hear later this week on Great Friday: “You transform the mortal by death, and the corrupt by burial; for as befits God, You have made incorruptible and immortal the nature you assumed; for Your body, O Master, did not see corruption, nor was Your soul abandoned as a stranger in Hades.” (Great Friday Evening Service, Fifth Ode) And Saint John writes: “And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness overcame it not.” [Jn. 1:5]

 

 

“When You, the Immortal Life descended to Death, it was then, that You put Hades to death by the lightning of the Godhead; and when You raised up the dead from the infernal depths, all the Heavenly Powers cried aloud: “O Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory to You.” (Matins of the Resurrection) Death can no longer restrain mankind! Jesus conquers death by death!

 
Jesus is on His way to free us from death! We will hear later this week about the suffering he endured for us! Notice how I use the word us? You say that was over 2000 years ago, how could it be so personal? Jesus Christ knew us personally and chose to be crucified for me, and for you! You see we hear the Creator telling the prophet Jeremiah in Chapter one: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee!” That is why you should be PRO-LIFE because it is not the man and woman that make a baby, it is the Creator! Now I can take lumber and build a deck but I did not make the trees! I can take flour and water and make communion bread, but man did not create water or wheat! God knew us before we formed! He chose us! And the Lamb knew that I would have a tendency to be attracted to sin like a big magnet at the metal-scrap yard and yet He loves me so much that He gives His life for me!

 
Dearest Lord, is this soul of such a sinful man really worth your absolute love and your long-suffering? “Hosanna, to the Son of David; blessed is He Who cometh in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”Glory to Thee, oh Lord, Glory to Thee!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 4/24/16

Cracker Jacks

Back in the days before I could grow a beard, I use to enjoy a tasty snack cracker-jack-1oz-box-22known as Cracker Jacks. Now there are two reasons why I yearned for this succulent treat, there was a prize in every box and my taste buds were addicted to the sugary taste, and did I mention there was a prize in every box!

 
In every box I opened, the prize was always in the bottom of the box. The prize was never anything great but it still was a prize! I won!! So I had to ingest the 420 calories of sugary delight quickly or share with my sister or best friend to uncover the treasure buried in the bottom of the box. I always offered my accomplices the following disclaimer, “the prize is mine”!

 
Today as I continue on in life in pursuit of the American Dream, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” I sometimes find myself more attracted to the sugary instant rewards in life rather than the prize in the bottom of the box. After all, it takes so much work and patience to retrieve the great prize of life and I have so little time! Saint John Climacus said: “Let us seek to discover the things of heaven through the sweat of our efforts, rather than by mere talk, for at the hour of death it is deeds, not words that must be displayed.” The prize that I am digging for is a one way ticket to rest in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At the end of our time in this life that prize is salvation.

 
The sugary distractions in life are not healthy for me and separate me from the work I must do to be more virtuous. And we all know that too much sugar leads to decay. “For, as St John Climacus said, God reveals Himself, not in response to our exertions, but in response to the humility and simplicity that come through faith, that is, through the contemplation of the Scriptures and of created beings.” (St. Peter of Damaskos, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 32216-20) And we read this in the letter to the churches in Philippi, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about those things “ (Phil 4.8).

 
My American dream has been fulfilled! The life I seek is not of this world! The liberty I seek I submit to God and the pursuit of happiness I find is in the joy that comes from loving and serving others. To God be the Glory, Amen!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 4-10-16