Mark 11:1-11; Mark 15:1-39
St Barbara’s 29.03.15
Our Gospel readings this morning have taken us from the highs of Palm Sunday, and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the lows of his trial and crucifixion. It is a journey in microcosm of the ups and down that the disciples themselves must have felt as they travelled these pivotal seven days in the life of Jesus.
It had all started so well. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem along with hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims, coming to celebrate Passover. Many had walked for over a hundred miles to get there, and now anticipation and excitement would have been close to fever-pitch. Above them, on the plateau was Jerusalem, their destination. They were here for their most special festival of the year in the most special place. Imagine football fans arriving at Wembley, walking up Wembley way for an FA Cup final having travelled with their team through all the other rounds and you get an inkling into the excitement of this crowd.
But there was particular excitement on this day. Many of the crowd arriving at Jerusalem were Galileans. They had been on the road several days, long enough for the stories of Jesus’ teaching and miracles to have been gossiped and talked about. Here was their own “local boy”, doing amazing things. John’s Gospel tells us that the crowd were buzzing because Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead.
So when news spreads that Jesus is on the road with them, the crowds can barely contain their excitement. They lay down for him the first century equivalent of the red carpet – they throw their cloaks and garments on the ground before him. You don’t do that on stony, dusty roads for anyone but royalty. And they cut down palms from the fields and waved them. That’s what had happened 200 years earlier when a certain Judas Maccabaeus had entered Jerusalem. He had led a revolt, thrown out the foreign power in charge at the time, cleansed the Temple and become king. Was that what Jesus had come to do? The crowd certainly hoped so.
No wonder they were excited. Here is the king they’ve long been waiting for. The one to overthrow the Romans, the one to bring true worship to the Temple. “Hosanna!” they shout. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
And yet, less than a week later a crowd is baying for his blood – “Crucify him!”, they shout. Are these the same people who were lauding him to the skies just five days before? We don’t know. But the least we can say, is that they had gone hushly quiet. There were no crowds singing his praises, no people demanding his freedom and release, on Good Friday.
I wonder how that can be possible, how can people be that fickle? And then I think of football crowds again.
Football managers don’t have the easiest of jobs. They don’t just have to get the best out of often over-paid and under-performing players; they don’t just have to work-out tactics and training regimes; they also have to manage expectations and deal with the fickleness of supporters. They win a match one week and they are a hero. They lose the next match, and the crowd is demanding they are sacked. “We want the promised land, and we want it now!”
Such a response can challenge my own fickleness too. It can feel easier to praise God when things are going well, to be thankful when things are going as I want. It can be harder to praise God, harder to be thankful, when expectations stutter or fail, when things don’t turn out as we had hoped or expected.
Christ knows that we are fickle. He knew that the crowd welcoming him on Palm Sunday could turn on him or go silent, as they did on Good Friday.
And yet… And this is the remarkable thing:
He doesn’t reject their praise. Their praise is still worth giving, no matter its roots may be shallow. For their praise points to a deeper truth that the crowd were unable to grasp. He is the king; he is the freer of Israel, he has come to bring back true worship, but just not in the way the crowds had expected.
The signs are there for those willing to see them. For the only time in the gospels Jesus is recorded as riding, not walking. And he is riding not on a white stallion or a golden chariot like a conquering hero or a Roman emperor would have ridden; but on a baby donkey, possibly the least impressive of all beasts of burden. Imagine a king or queen, or even a pop star or celebrity driving around, not in a limosine, or a mercedes, but a lada or robin reliant. Its no criticism of those cars – it just sends a very different statement. Jesus is reminding people of the prophet Zechariah’s words: “Look your king is approaching… humble and riding on a donkey.” A king who comes not in might and power, but in peace.
There are times when we may struggle to offer worship, when we may feel that given our inner turmoil, or given our doubts or struggles, our worship may count for little. We may say to ourselves at times, “Given where I’m at at the moment, does God really want my worship?. Is my worship worth giving?” But Palm Sunday shows us that our worship is always worth giving, despite our fickleness, despite our failings. For we all proclaim deeper truths than we can fully grasp.
Even more remarkably, not only does Jesus not reject the Palm Sunday crowd’s praise; he does not reject them either. His journey to the cross is done for the very reason that they, and us, need forgivenness. In Luke’s Gospel, we are told Jesus wept after this triumphal entry. The fickleness, the failings, of the crowd were all too apparent to him. It was no surprise to him that within days they should turn on him. But this is why he has come. To save, to forgive. And that is a journey that can only take him to the cross.
As we journey this week once more to the foot of the cross, let us remind ourselves again that Christ came to forgive us. Let us remind ourselves once more that his love is greater than our fickleness; his grace deeper than our failings. In the cross of Christ we find forgiveness and new life.