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Palm Sunday: What is the Triumphal Entry?

This Sunday is Palm Sunday which begins Holy Week. It is, per its name, the holiest week of the year, and its culminating point is the Easter Vigil on Saturday night (liturgically this is the beginning of Sunday).

Jesus leaves Jerusalem early on according to St. John's Gospel. The Jews won't recognize his teaching so he goes to the "Gentile Galilee." He ends his ministry by coming to Mount Tabor, transfiguring in front of the Apostles, then telling them he must descend to Jerusalem where he shall die.

This week we commemorate his entrance into the City of David. David was his ancestor through Joseph's line. This means they are both part of the kingly heritage. To be a King of Israel you had to be anointed. The term then for the king was "The Anointed One," known in Hebrew as "The Messiah," and in Greek as "The Christ." The title "Christ" then is not a reference to him being God, but to him being the rightful heir of Israel. For this reason though, many think his entrance will be like that of a Warlord, that he will start something like the Maccabean Revolt (see 1 & 2 Maccabees) in which Israel will throw off the shackles of the Roman Empire, take over their country, put their king back on the throne, then take over the world.

The people who want a New Empire under Israel come to be known as "The Zealots." St. Simon the Apostle is identified as a member of this tradition (Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13). For you Marvel fans out there, Ronan the Accuser is based off this tradition, written by a Jewish man. Ronan himself identifies as a Zealot "They call me terrorist, radical, zealot because I obey the ancient laws of my people, the Kree...A thousand years of war between us will not be forgotten!" So violence is what may people think The Christ will usher in, a Kingdom taken by physical violence.

How do we know this is not the way of Jesus? Because Christ tells his disciples "I came not to bring peace but a sword." When two Apostles locate not one but two swords, Christ tells them "It is enough." This occur's at table after The Passover, the night before Christ is betrayed. From then on The Apostles bear swords (Luke 22:38). Having finished the Passover Ritual Jesus and the Twelve depart for the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives. The Centurion's come for Christ. Peter taking up the sword cuts off the ear of the High Priest's servant, Malchus. Immediately Christ rebukes all of them saying, "Enough of this!" Notice Peter took Christ's word about "sword" too plainly, and not spiritually. Christ heals the ear, tells them he could call down a host of angels [an army] but will not because he's come for this hour. In this moment is becomes clear to The Apostles, Jesus is not doing the Zealot thing.

Q: So if the Zealots have misread The Tradition, what's going on with all the Military language? A: Christ brings about a physical kingdom and a physical resurrection through spiritual combat.

Jesus' Triumphal Entry is based off of the Imperial one known as "The Roman Triumph." You should notice that he is subverting and re-appropriating this victory parade. While the Romans think they're satirizing Jesus by putting him in crown, cape, giving him a reed scepter, etc. etc. God in Jesus is actually satirizing Man through them!

Triumphs were awarded for military victories. In the Roman Triumph the Military Man who had gained victory in a far off war would return to the city in a grand procession. He began outside the sacred boundary of Rome by the Tiber River. He would be regaled in purple wearing a laurel crown, often considered a king if not a god for one day. He would enter in in a chariot led by four horses, they'd move past the forum, the capitol, and the procession would end at the temple with a dedication or offering to the gods. In Rome this was Jupiter's Temple, the father of the Roman gods. Afterwards a banquet was held in the triumphal man's honor. The Roman Triumphs were then recorded on a stone slab.

Q: So what's going on with Jesus' Triumphal Entry? A: A lot.

Jesus enters the town as the rightful king and YHWH, God himself. People throw cloaks on the ground like his modern red carpet. He enters the Holy City, beginning outside its boundaries, walks into the city with people crying Hosanna with "palms" (which can include boxwood, yew, etc. given the translation). He goes straight to The Temple which is open, where he overturns the Usurer's tables decrying them for making God's House of Prayer into a Den of Thieves. Jesus' last supper or banquet is The Passover (aka Pasch or Day of Unleavened Bread). This is the same Passover Moses' holds that is part of the Tenth Plague put upon Egypt. So far this imitates the Roman Triumph in form but with Jewish content.

He eats, prays in the Garden, is betrayed by Judas, the centurions [cops] arrest him, he has a kangaroo court at night [which breaks Jewish Law]. A false witness claims Jesus said 'I [Jesus] will destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.' Jesus had actually said 'It will be destroyed and I will rebuild it in three days' signifying his Body is The Temple and his raising of it being The Resurrection. The Sanhedrin [Jewish religious council] try him for this and for blasphemy. The next day he is handed over to be tried by the Romans for causing unrest [they don't really care they just want Israel to pay their tribute tax so they can get on with life.]

Here the Roman Triumph imagery picks back up, again with Jewish content, but this time in reverse. He is crowned with a crown of thorns, arrayed in purple, given a reed scepter, genuflected to as a king -- a form of mockery -- but ironically he is the rightful King of Israel. Since his Body is The Temple, he second Triumphal Entry is to the Tower of Antonia to see Pontius Pilate, then to Herod's Palace [both of which Jesus is rightful authority over], and then back to Pontius Pilate at his palace, the Hasmonean Palace. So beginning with the palace, he moves backwards and out of the city, past the sacred boundary to Golgotha where he is crucified. Ironically, the attempt to reverse his Triumph results in The Temple [his body] moving out of the city of David. He is then offered to God the Father Almighty as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, that Man [Adam in Hebrew] may be reconciled to God the Father. A New Israel is thus made with a new Temple and a new Capitol! Today we call it, The Church, the body of Christ.

Q: What does this mean for me as a Christian?

A: It means our "Triumphal Entry" as Christians is called "The Way of the Cross."

Q: How do I merit my own Triumphal Entry as a Christian then?

A: You must go to battle with principalities, for we war not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). Cultivate the virtues, holiness, and expect a great gift from God -- a cross.

Q: How does my Triumphal Entry or Way of the Cross end? A: With death.

He who goes to war with his sins and fed with grace becomes more saintly is getting closer to the blessings of the cross, martyrdom. Such a person should expect to be persecuted by their own people. Recall Jesus fulfilled the Psalm when Judas received communion from Jesus' first Mass [Last Supper], then immediately betrayed him, "Yea, even mine own familiar friend whom I trusted, * who did also eat of my bread, hath laid great wait for me" (Psalm 41:9). So too the saintly Christian should expect a Judas somewhere in their life. So too outsiders will be invited to chastise and beat you for remaining orthodox to the Catholic Faith, to The Truth.

Despite all this, such a person must die saying with Christ, "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do." Recall this is exactly the words said by the first martyr, St. Stephen the Deacon (Acts 7:60). Their name is then recorded in the Book of Life, because their Christian Triumph is really the beginning of their Triumphal Entry into heaven, where The Son, the true Temple awaits. And our eternal life is being crowned with the crown of victory, the laurel of the martyr. We must offer ourselves as sacrifices to reach this Heavenly Temple, we must become the eucharist bread, we must become an offering meet and right for The Father, uniting our own lives to Christ's own, and our deaths to his. This is the Christian's Triumphal Entry, it follows Christ's own, and we call it the Via Crucis.

Q: So I just go to war with evil? That doesn't sound so tough. We have Christ right!? A: Yes, we do have Christ. The problem is me as we see in the Palm Sunday Mass and in Morning Prayer.

The Church has us all come in with palm fronds, waving and shouting "Hosanna!" This signifies that part of us wants desperately to believe Christ is King of our lives and the whole cosmos, that we would love him, that we would not be the ones to crucify him. And yet -- The Church also has us shouting not 20 minutes later, "Crucify him!" This signifies some other part of us is evil, that we have sins, and that if we were honest, would we have really sided with Christ? Would our sins not blind us? Would we not think him a mad man? Would we not side with Caiaphas (the Utilitarian) or Herod (The Relativist)? Are these not two of the largest prevailing ethics in Americans, Christian or not? Consider too the Morning Prayer reading is Exodus 11, the Passover in Egypt. We have a little Egyptian in us, we have a little Israelite in us. We have to go to war with ourselves, our own sins, our own demons, in order that the good in us may flourish.

Q: How do we know this?

A: Because it is The Way of the Cross. It is what The Eternal Son revealed to us by his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

Q: But I thought God's "Blessings" were happy life, prosperity, lovely kids, a perfect home, etc. etc.? A: The "Prosperity Gospel" is not The Gospel. Though we be baptized in Christ's Death and raised in his Resurrection, we must die because Jesus died. We must walk in his path which is The Way, The Truth, & The Life.

St. Thomas Aquinas following St. Aelred and many Patristics tells us that the reconciliation between God the Father and Man restores Friendship with God, a thing lost by The Fall. We know Adam and Eve had friendship with God because they walked together with Him in the garden. Walking together is a sign of friendship, you still see it today on sidewalks, when people still walk. What does God give his friends? Crosses. St. Teresa of Jesus once fell flat on her butt in the mud shouting to God, "If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder why You have so few of them!" Another saint once told us, "Crosses are what Jesus gives his friends." Why?

Why would Jesus ask his friends to die? Because of Love. A Love which cannot love an enemy, die for an enemy, can do less than a love which can die for enemies. God is Love, perfect Love, and therefore the greatest love must be able to do things that natural romantic love, familial love, and friendly love cannot do. So how do we know these saints are correct?

Who would know better than Jesus' own best friend, John the Evangelist, who is known as "The Beloved Disciple." He records in his Gospel Jesus telling The Apostles:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

My friends in Christ, merit your Triumphal Entry into the Heavenly Jerusalem. But remember, whereas he was abandoned and alone, because we are one in Christ, he gives us fellow pilgrims and friends to walk the Way of the Cross with. Prepare for Holy Week.

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