Scripture for this Sunday:
Palms: Luke 19.28–40; Psalm 118.1–2,19–24
Passion: Isaiah 50.4–9a; Psalm 31.9–16; Philippians 2.5–11; Luke 22.14-23.56
Palm Sunday, when we first process with palms to re-enact the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and then find ourselves abruptly immersed in the reading of the Passion narrative, has traditionally been in many churches an occasion to refrain from preaching – to let the gospel speak for itself.
Playing the part of the crowd in the Passion gospel forces us to consider our own role in recreating the crucifixion through our own attitudes and actions. The gospel does not make it clear whether or not those who shouted “Hosanna!” were exactly the same as those who shouted “Crucify!” less than a week later. They could have been – which forces us to look at the fickle nature of crowd behaviour, and our own complicity in submitting to the rule of the majority, whether or not it looks like a mob from the outset.
Or perhaps the religious leaders contrived to gather a crowd – “Rent-a-mob,” to repeat one descriptor – to force Pilate’s hand and secure the conviction of Jesus. In that scenario, we may be less culpable by association with the baying mob, but we are still indicted.
How often have we remained silent while the innocent are hounded by an aggressive and intimidating minority? How often have we allowed our own passive behaviour to act as a form of permission? When do we cheer for Christ when it suits us, or appears popular, but remain silent when it might be perceived to be unpopular?
But let’s not stop at the crowd: what about Pilate, washing his hands in abdication of responsibility, or Peter denying the man whom he has vowed to follow to the end, or even a Roman centurion, with a revelation about the man he has just crucified?
We have probably played one or more of those roles at some time. It can be helpful, if sometimes painful, not only to place ourselves in the scene as participants in just one version of the story, but also to place ourselves in different versions of the story, and to allow the occasional lapses in detail of the gospel to offer an opportunity for it to be applied to our own lives in variant ways.
Meanwhile, humanity, of which we are a part, still manages to dither between “Hosanna!” and “Crucify.”