Today our worship marks the beginning of our Holy Week observance as we recall the events leading to Good Friday and Easter Day, our senses alive! Our Palm Procession starts with shouts of “Hosanna” that quickly switch to recalling the Passion of our Lord as our shouts turn to “Crucify him!” In this Eucharist we enter into the dying and rising of Jesus who meets us in bread and wine.
Liturgy of the Palms Luke 19:28-40
Jesus enters Jerusalem to popular acclaim. His arrival is greeted as that of the long-awaited Messiah, the fulfilment of popular hopes for the political and religious freedom of the Jewish nation.
First Reading Isaiah 50:4-9a
The Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy declares his unshakeable faith in God despite the adversity which he faces.
Second Reading Philippians 2:5-11
Paul declares his faith in the incarnate Lord, crucified and now risen. He urges his Christian converts to be of the same mind.
Gospel Luke 22:14 – 23:56
Luke narrates the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus after he has shared his last supper with the disciples. Jesus foresees his betrayal by the disciples and his arrest by the Jewish authorities.
Homily “He answered, ‘I tell you, if these [people in the crowd] were silent, the stones would shout out.’” (Luke 19:40)
Last Sunday I suggested that we should explore the events of Holy Week with our senses alive and aware, and our first sense to pick up the atmosphere of today is our hearing. The crowds were a potent force, both for good and for evil – loud, vocal, praising, condemning!
On Palm Sunday, we remember the significance of the part played by the crowd in the unfolding events of the last days of Jesus’ earthly life and we hear their cries for a new King, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the King of Israel!” From what Luke tells us, it seems that the demonstration grew from small beginnings: as our Lord rode along atop a young donkey, people spread their cloaks on the path, cut branches from the trees and celebrated with joy. It was a spontaneous gesture, rather than a response to anything that Jesus had said. The movement grew as he neared the city: As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude began to praise God joyfully for all the deeds of power they had seen.
Our senses tell us this arrival was impactful, taking place in the tightly enclosed walled city. Today, if you visit Jerusalem you can’t help but be struck by the narrow dimensions of the Old City, with its labyrinth of small shops and stalls, each displaying their wares in the confined space outside. Even now, there is barely room for visitors to pass, let alone a crowd following a man sitting astride a donkey. But what our Lord is about is controversial. His low-key arrival in the great city is quickly the talking point of all and sundry as he enters the theatre of expectation. These were people desperate for a leader who would fulfil their hopes and aspirations. But Jesus did nothing of the sort. He had come to Jerusalem, the city of God’s peace and blessing, to claim this place and the hearts and minds of its people in the name of his heavenly Father, the creator of all things. It is a mission which will end, and perhaps can only end, in death and apparent failure as Jesus overcomes all that separates people from God in one act of sacrifice – the Lamb of God. The crowd who at first welcomes Jesus with jubilation on Palm Sunday would, within a few days, be calling for his crucifixion and our Lord was absolutely aware of this and knew what the end would be. The crowd was an unknown quantity and not to be relied upon, as is so often the case. So, Jesus makes this enigmatic response to the Pharisees when they tell him to silence the crowd: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would cry out.”
Our senses should tell us that betrayal is in the air. Expectations are too high; feelings are misguided: the possibility of things going horribly wrong, and yet perfectly right, all at once. Following his arrest, the crowd is very different. Jesus is now tried before Pilate, who can find no wrong in him and wants to release him, but is prevailed upon by the crowd demanding his crucifixion, an act which will involve at least three other people: Simon of Cyrene, the penitent thief, and the centurion who stands guard by the cross.
Being part of a crowd can be a powerful feeling and it can overwhelm our senses. When we have large numbers in the congregation at St Mary’s, we can feel a deeper sense of belonging which is powerful, sometimes even overwhelming for us. Sometimes, among large numbers of people we can leave behind usual restraints and inhibitions. We can dare to be ourselves and express our true feelings. We can also, if we are not careful, be led astray by a majority. This can be especially true when we are part of a religious crowd. We can feel uplifted, experience a great surge of enthusiasm as we sing hymns together, pray together, worship together and draw closer to God, and that is wonderful; our senses are truly alive!
Of course, we must always be mindful of those for whom such crowds are challenging. As we think of the crowds surrounding Jesus on Palm Sunday and the part they played in the events of those days, it can be a good time to step aside from the group and take a moment just to be still, pray and watch with the Lord. Take time this Holy Week to examine your own faith, your own commitment to the crucified and risen Lord as you journey with him; keep your senses alert to all that is around you. Watch, pray and follow as you allow this week to challenge and shape you anew; as your senses heighten you may just feel your faith deepen. God willing, there will be no need for those stones in Jerusalem to cry out on our behalf.
Crowds of people can challenge our senses!
The actions of the crowd in Jerusalem point to both the kingship of Jesus and his impending crucifixion as the Lamb of God.
Being part of a crowd can have a powerful effect on its individual members.
We need to stand aside from the crowd and consider the integrity of our own faith, and our commitment to the crucified and risen Lord.
In worship together, in praise and fellowship, we can draw closer to our Lord and his death and resurrection. We need our senses to be open and aware.