Who is the biggest star that you can think of? Who is the person that you would fall all over yourself to be able to snap a photo of if you could be there when he or she stepped out of the limo and onto the red carpet?
A singer? An actor? A sports hero? Maybe Peyton Manning or LeBron James or Lindsay Vonn? Anne Hathaway or Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp or Natalie Portman or Daniel Radcliffe? How about Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers or Lady Gaga?
Whoever your favorite star is, think about what it would be like to be close enough that you could have his or her picture on your cell phone. Even if you’ve never been to one of those red carpet events, we all have a pretty good sense of what they are like – excitement, anticipation, noise, cheers, cameras flashing as the crowd tries to match the fabulousness of the occasion.
That’s what the first Palm Sunday was like – Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem.
Jesus rode that donkey down from the Mount of Olives, across the mile and a half of the Kidron Valley and up to the eastern gate in the city wall, the disciples close around him like the security detail for a political leader or a rock star. As they went they gathered more and more people, and the group became a parade, and then this parade surged into Jerusalem, already stuffed with visitors and tourists for the Passover holiday.
Tensions were running high as the Roman troops were on alert in case any Jewish patriot should try to take advantage of the religious fervor of the holiday in an attempt to create a political or military uprising – as we’ve seen so recently in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
And as Jesus rode through the streets up to the Temple itself the parade became a crowd, perhaps even a flash mob with people calling out Hosanna! – a term of adulation and praise, but also meaning “Save us” or “Help us, I pray”. The group, which became a parade, which became a crowd teetered on the edge of becoming a mob that day – but hopes were high that maybe, at last, God’s Messiah, God’s king and warrior and rock star would do for the people what they could not do for themselves – would do what only God could do.
No wonder the word spread like fire – Jesus the rabbi and healer, the one who spoke so penetratingly and persuasively and intimately about God was headed for the Temple. It seemed like all Jerusalem wanted to be there to see and hear whatever was to be seen and heard. They shouted “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” – a line from Psalm 118, one of the great Passover psalms from the entrance liturgy into the Temple, recalling God’s deliverance of the people from bondage in Egypt and from exile in Babylon. The crowd was upping the ante – God would once again act decisively in their midst and on their behalf; the sky seemed to be the limit.
And who would you have been on that first Palm Sunday, at that triumphal entry?
Would you have been one of the disciples, sticking close to Jesus, feeling protective of him, but also bathing in the glory that seemed to be coming his way? Would you have joined the parade early on, while they were crossing the Kidron Valley, eager to see what Jesus was going to do, whether he might gather enough strength to stick it to the Romans? Would you have been part of the crowd, pushing and jostling to see the famous rabbi from up north, the one people said was a prophet? Were you a Roman soldier, nervously surveying the crowd, your hand at the ready on your sword handle? Were you one of the Temple priests, informed by a messenger that the troublesome teacher from Galilee was on his way and had the whole city with him?
We each would have had a place in those events, we could not have gone unaffected by what was happening in Jerusalem. Like the disciples and the followers and the crowd we might well have shouted “Hosanna!” and offered Jesus our loyalty and support – come what may.
But here, today, from our vantage point, we know what happened next; we know the crowd became a mob later in the week, and we know loyalty was the furthest thing from their minds. And here, today, right now, we are in the crack, in the hinge between the exaltation of Palm Sunday and the anger and betrayal of Jesus’ passion.
And actually, this is where most of us live – in that hinge or crack or gap between professing our loyalty to Jesus and actually living it day-to-day. We offer God our prayer and our praises and our best intentions, and then we fail to live up to what we have professed when faith becomes too hard or too inconvenient or too public.
Back in the 1960s John Lennon created a huge media flap when he said at a press conference that the Beatles (undoubtedly the best known rock group there ever was) – when he said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. We should not be surprised – because Jesus does not want fans, he wants followers. And that’s hard.
Jesus wants us to be followers and disciples and workers and members of his Body – living his life, doing his works, speaking his message, taking on the job of being Jesus’ team in a world that is so much in pain and yet so ignorant of its needs. There is no popularity in this, no prestige, no wordly glory or recognition in being a Christian.
But there is a path that leads to life and wholeness and the sustaining presence of God. It takes us through many hard and difficult places, but always accompanied by the power of God and the strength of God’s goodness and mercy.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest! Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
April 17, 2011