Saturday, April 14, 2012

Palm Sunday: First in Jerusalem, Now in Russia

Last Sunday, the Orthodox world celebrated Palm Sunday, known as Pussy Willow Sunday here in Russia and, as you might expect, Resurrection Sunday or Easter is right around the corner. What's interesting is how Western Easter - or Catholic Easter as it's called here - and Orthodox Easter are usually on two different dates. But not always.

Decisions, Decisions: How many bunches? How many rubles?
(Click images to enlarge.)

But what's way more interesting is the original event, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This week, I've been digging for information and found it fascinating. (References follow.)

Above all, the Sunday before Passover was lamb selection day, the day on which a Jewish family would head toward Jerusalem and choose a lamb to be offered for their family later that week. And it was no coincidence that on lamb selection day, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the perfect lamb of God to be offered later that week for all people of all nations. Talk about God's perfect timing.

The Lamb of God: This rendition is simply breath-taking.

When word got out that Jesus was on His way into Jerusalem, the whole city became stirred up.Those in the crowd saw his arrival through very different perspectives, depending upon who they were.

For instance, to the Roman soldiers who occupied Jerusalem, Jesus' arriving in the city was hardly an event. They had seen real parades, ticker-tape-type parades for Roman generals returning from foreign conquest. By comparison, this parade - impromptu by all appearances - was of little consequence. Still, the Romans knew to be watchful. If things got out of hand, it wouldn't be the first time.

Jerusalem was always at its most volatile during Passover week. The Romans knew that. That's when Jews celebrated their release from slavery in Egypt some 1,200 years earlier. Now they longed for freedom anew. Occasionally a wild-eyed fanatic would come forward, usually around Passover, and claim to be the Messiah, anointed to lead the nation to freedom. The Romans were prepared.

But to the common folk who lined the street, this public demonstration was exactly what they'd been hoping for from a potential king. As Jesus passed, they welcomed him with wild enthusiasm. The crowd from nearby Bethany had been spreading the word about Jesus' most amazing miracle yet. Days earlier he had brought Lazarus back to life in front of them.

Folks from out-of-town heard about the miracle on their trek up to Jerusalem for Passover week. They were a powerless people, drawn to a man who could do such things. And then, in a statement of power not lost on the masses, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. Since the time of King David, the donkey had been the royal mount of Israelite kings. Jesus was saying, Yes, I am a king.

So the crowd joined in the celebration, waving palm branches like patriots waving their flags. To the Jews, the palm branch was not so much a symbol of peace as it was a symbol of triumph and victory. They were shouting, Hosanna, that is, Save us! And Blessed is the King of Israel! This was the only occasion on which Jesus allowed such a display of devotion and He made no effort to quiet the crowd.

On the other hand, the yelling and commotion was upsetting to some of the Pharisees. For one thing, they were anxious about the Roman response, knowing soldiers wouldn't hesitate to use force. Beyond that, the Pharisees were enraged with jealousy, already plotting to kill Jesus - and Lazarus, as well - but not during Passover week with all the crowds.

What a difference a week would make. God's timing was so different from that of the Pharisees. According to His exquisite plan, God arranged for Jesus' death to happen during that very week precisely when the city was bursting with visitors in town for Passover. What better coverage for the event. What better way to get the word out to the widest possible audience that their king was coming as the ultimate lamb.

Dear friends, let's have a look at how Russian Orthodox believers celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus. But first, here are the primary references for the post.

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From The Bible: Exodus 12: 1-6; Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11: 1-10; Luke 19:29-40; John 12: 12-19.

"The Lamb of God," Death and Resurrection of the Messiah. (DVD, Discovery Guide) (Zondervan / Focus on the Family, 1998).

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Logos Bible Software, 2000-2012).

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So here's a quick look at Pussy Willow Sunday in Russia.

Grandparents: They're all the same, the whole world 'round.

Forking over rubles for pussy willow branches.

Video from Russia Today: Palm Sunday celebration among Orthodox believers at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

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