Sing to the Lord a New Song. Palm Sunday in the Days of a Pandemic (COVID-19)

A Meditation for Palm Sunday 

Psalm 96

By Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor

Click this link to hear the Audio Reading of Psalm 96 

1 Sing to the Lord a new song;  sing to the Lord, all the earth.

          2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

3 Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his marvelous deeds.

          4 For great is the Lord and highly to be praised, to be feared above all gods.

5 For the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

          6 Splendor and power go before him; power and grandeur are in his holy place.

With the celebration of Palm Sunday we along with all Christendom traditionally greet the coming of the Lord with the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who COMES in the Name of the Lord.” (Mark 11:9). 

Although the festivities around Palm Sunday are almost treated like a given each year, this year is unique and so our shouts of jubilation and joy are tempered with concern, sorrow and lament a we see the impending devastation of the pandemic and the grip with which it is holding the world in a type of bondage. Like the Isrealites, we too are lifting up our voice at this particular time, a time of turmoil, fear, separation from loved ones, from our church. Many are kept from their work in which they have invested so much for the good and care of their families.  

The nearing of Easter and the anticipation of the new season and with it the newness of life, the sprouting of the new crops, which annually point to the seasonal reminder of Jesus’ Empty Tomb and assure us of resurrection, are unimaginably shrouded with confusion, suffering, death, rumors of 100’s of thousands of Americans potentially dying in the weeks ahead this year.

Yet in all of this unexpected chaos and separation from much of what we love and usually take for granted, here we are, CHRISTIANS, for better or for worse, the ancient people who ought to be accustomed to suffering, stories of persecution, and martyrdom always made fresh in the remembrance of our faithful and refreshed in the prayers and liturgies of the church, always remaining steadfast in our faith and filled with the hope and anticipation of God’s revelation and sure of his salvation, won for us by the Promised One, our Lord, the Messiah, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. 

While we are praying for a peaceful end to the war on COVID-19, like the Israelite nation, we too call on God, to calm our fears and to still the floods of our desperation and desolation (Psalm 92:3). Our comfort is in our victorious God, and our assurance is in his victorious crucifixion and resurrection.  Like the Israelite, even in the midst of these “floods” and the treacherous “waves” of uncertainty, we know that the Lord is our immovable Rock and in Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

These days, it seems that the entire human race is being called to “return unto righteousness” (verse 15), to recognize the Savior in all his glory on whom “we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (II Corinthians 1:8)

From our point of view, from the perspective of Christian faith, and from the certainty of our trust in the revelation and the mystery of Christ’s  love manifest in his sacrifice, we must look clearly at our share in Christ’s victory and his invitation to join in the exaltation of righteousness and ultimately to our fellowship in his eternal kingdom. This being said, however, we are confronting the unprecedented and unimaginable reality of doing so without the possibility of “fellowship” in the safety of our physical church, communion in the Holy Chalice of Christ’s Body and Blood, where we are accustomed to greeting each other with the timeless words “Christ is risen from the dead.” “Blessed is the resurrection of Christ.” 

Dear beloved, the late first lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot. I personally affirmed this in my own life and experience and now at this fearful and uncertain time, you are invited, no, empowered by Jesus in the Holy Spirit, to not be afraid, to confront this crisis with confidence and hope, to stand firm and continue in our faith, and remain unmoved “from the hope held out in the gospel…that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven,” (Colossians 1:23) and to bring testimony to that faith (John 15:26). Indeed, these are trying times. We all need our church now more than ever and are being asked for very selfless reasons to “Social Distance” that we might not either infect others or ourselves to be infected. What we need right now, even in our isolation, for our good, the good of others and for the good of our church and God’s glory, is to be infected…but infected with Christ’s love and with his assurance that he “is with us always” (Matthew 28:20). We remain united in faith. God didn’t “give us a spirit of weakness,” (2 Timothy 1:7) and we certainly know that he neither gives us his Holy Sacrament to be the means for illness but rather as the “medicine of immortality”. We recognize that we are fallible and we each can and do carry with us the possibility of disease, brokenness and infection. It’s not God who wills our illness. He “takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, …(but that we) Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:22)

but our own irresponsibility, and so we must remain faithful but yet always vigilant. We must trust God and the care of his church and with that her wisdom. We hear in verses 5-6 from the 95th Psalm  that while the ideology of the nations may be false, the present understanding of science and medicine may be imperfect it is the Lord who made the heavens. His Splendor and power go before him as it did most beautifully in his glorious entrance into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday and so we follow him with fear and trembling knowing that his power and grandeur are in his holy sanctuary from which for a time we have been distanced. This seems like an impossibility to us yet it is not the first time that God’s people have been distanced from each other and from the church. It was and is in those precise times, when we were deprived of our social contact that the faithful turned to God in repentance, like the Prodigal Son or like the Jews during Pharoah’s persecution during their bondage and at the Passover when they were likewise locked in their homes until the passing of God’s wrath. Each time, only great things followed the faithful and those who trusted in God’s sovereignty. 

Therefore, dear faithful, our strength remains in our faith and with our hope in anticipation of the great gathering of her church once again by God’s grace and at the appropriate time. Let us maintain our contact and fellowship with each other and with our church through the benefit of modern technologies, seeing, hearing and knowing that the church is still at prayer and that our prayers and sacrifices are being offered on our behalf and that we are included and remembered in those prayers. How comforting to know that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39

Be steadfast in your sure “expectation of things hoped for, (and with) the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1) ready to give a tangible evidence of your trust in God and the anticipation of victory, and by it to summon the whole earth to join you and us in the singing of a “new song”. Where people, friends and neighbors, show fear, are confused and question their faith, or are feeling lonely or isolated, be God’s spokesman, be the voice of comfort, reach out, offer to help, give the good testimony, ask the Holy Spirit to empower your faith and make it life giving for the benefit of others, in a word, be the light in their life! In short be the church in action! We often ask, “Lord what can I bring? What might I do?” This is our time to shine. 

Our cries of lament and uncertainty are passing away. “Fear not”, says the Lord, “for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

The Lord promises to return “peace in the land, and nothing shall make you afraid. And (he) will remove harm from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.” (Leviticus 26:6) How much more shall he do for us, who belong to his beloved son who have shared in his death and resurrection through baptism? 

The Lord himself commands us to “fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows,” (Matthew 10:31) and says that we ought to always “be of good cheer, for he himself has overcome the world.” (John 16:25) I hope that like me, you will pray for the world, the human race, the leaders, those who are sick, the caregivers, first responders and especially for the repose of those who have died. Yearn and pray for God’s mercy and for the revelation of his love so that when the time is ripe and the coast is clear, the waters of this “flood” recede, we may in peace and in fellowship come together at the Lord’s Holy Table to communicate with him in holiness, and to receive his precious life-giving sacrament in the true meaning of the celebration of Easter, which is the proclamation of his death and resurrection where Psalm 34:8 O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusts in him (See also: 1 Peter 2:3).

On Palm Sunday and more so on Easter, therefore, with our eyes focused on our Lord’s Glorious resurrection, our calls upon the Lord for his mercy shall be transformed into our shouts of joy and praise. The darkness and sorrow of Holy Thursday and Friday, the sadness of Christ’s Sabbath rest in the Virgin Tomb, will be transformed into the joy of his victory over Satan, and death. His Lordship over all creation and his triumph and harrowing of hell, his release of the captives, his resurrection transform our cries of “Lord have mercy” into shouts of joy and the singing of “Alleluia, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Published by

Fr. Shnork Souin

Priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church

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