When you hear today’s gospel, it is amazing how in a short period of time, things can go from celebration, parties, and hope; to betrayal, dissatisfaction, plots, torture, and death. Through the Liturgy of the Palms, we act out this great drama. We gather and then process together into the church with palms waving, and voices raised singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” When we enter the doors of the church and we all take our seats, the tone of the service changes and with great somberness, the drama shifts. We go from joining the crowd who was shouting All Glory, Laud and Honor, and suddenly we become the crowd that shouts, “Crucify him!”
There is great tension in the Gospel narrative, acts of love (the anointing of Jesus, the sharing a common meal, and a kiss from a friend) are co-mingled with a plot to kill, betrayal, desertion, and finally torture ,execution and death of the gentle shepherd. In the narrative of salvation, in which we will participate over the next several days, on this first day of Holy Week, we are left with a stone being rolled over the grave and hope it seems is all but lost.
We tend to put our hopes in things that fade away, where as Jesus taught, “moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” We struggle with the option to put our trust, our hopes, our very lives in God’s hands. The people of Jerusalem’s hopes were a bit misguided as Jesus rode the colt into the city that day, and it seems their expectations were in conflict with God’s plan. The people’s hopes for social liberation from the Roman oppressors were placed on the young rabbi. The people’s hopes for the restoration of the former power and glory of their nation were placed on the young rabbi. Yes, the people’s hopes were really mislain. The crowds sought a powerful leader, a political redeemer, a charismatic king and what they got was a gentle, loving, restoring, reconciling healing, incarnation of God. These hopes of a political redemption laid upon the young rabbi, the Messiah, the Son of God, led to his being lain on the hard wood of the cross. It was the hard wood of the cross though, that became instrument for the true redemption of humanity. God’s love overcame, despite the cries of the crowd.
I wonder what we would have done, had we been in the crowd that day at Jesus’ trial. It is a difficult thing for us to consider, because we live on the other side of not only the crucifixion, but resurrection as well. Imagine though, the scene and consider honestly what you would have said. My own fear is that I too would have joined the crowd in the shouts of a bloodthirsty, disappointed, resentful crowd. The people chose and in their hearts said, “we wanted a king, we are not happy, let’s kill him.” The rejection of Jesus at some level, seems to be a part of the Christian walk. Peter denied him three times, Judas betrayed him, all of the disciples fled at his arrest, and all of them hid in locked rooms after the crucifixion. Nonetheless, Jesus was raised from the grave and he continued then and continues now to bring the good news of life everlasting. Despite human rejection, God’s love and grace does not end. God shows up and claims us as his own. But wait, I have jumped the gun, I want to move past the next several days to next Sunday. I gave us a glimpse into next week’s sermon and we are just not there yet. We are here today. The palms have been waved, the cheering has ceased, the betrayal is looming, the arrest is upcoming, the trial is planned, and we know what Friday holds; the cross and death. No, we cannot jump to resurrection yet, we must wrestle with our part in God’s rejection.
Today, we sit here and we must reflect on our own options when it comes to following Christ. We must reflect on the internal struggle to cheer and follow the young rabbi, king, Messiah, Son of God. Christ invites us to follow him wherever that might lead; into the dark places of our own lives, into the pain of others, and into the joy of God’s grace. The alternative to this life in Christ, is either benign vacillation or outright denial manifested in those difficult words, “Crucify him.” Following Christ, choosing the way of the cross is not merely the irony of the narrative we heard on this Palm Sunday, it is the ongoing choice with which we must wrestle as Christians, and we do it for the rest of our lives. “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” “Crucify Him.” The choice is ours.