March 20, 2016 by Worship, Community, Formation
I tend not to post my occasional sermons here; but Palm Sunday makes things different; and this one relates to the theme of the blog. In it I tried to bring the congregation closer into the role it has, on this day alone, of representing a ‘character’ in the Bible: the crowd. It is an extremely important character too, and like many churches, our congregation represented the crowd through a the narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry (retold before communion) and of the Passion narrative (after it). The congretation was of all ages.
You are the crowd
Palm Sunday 2016: Luke 19.28-40
You are the crowd. I heard you cry:
Hosanna. Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!.
You are the crowd; in celebration. Gathered for the great festival of the Passover, that each year brings many, perhaps most, of your people, the Jewish people, together at Jerusalem. If it was hard to get a room during Quirinius’ census, it is presumably even harder now. No doubt many bunk down with friends, family, or acquaintances; perhaps many others of you gather at night in the porticoes of the temple, huddling around fires for as long as you can put off sleep. You are here to remember and celebrate the memory of the day when God delivered your people, your nation, from slavery in Egypt long ago; and put his mark on you as his particular, his special people. A mark which ever since, prophets, kings, priests, scribes, Pharisees, thinkers, revolutionaries and even the ordinary amongst you have imagined, wondered about.
You are the crowd, in mourning. For you may be the people of the one true God, but often you are a battered people. The Roman soldiers may not be much visible, but no-one doubts they are here, as they have been for ninety years. Safe in their barracks, like bees in a hive. Don’t stir them up or they will sting. So the Passover festival, when a nation comes together to celebrate its nationhood is in itself a political act. You are not thumbing your nose at the Roman occupiers; but you are reminding yourselves that God’s people live on. It is annual act of hope, but is it also an act of revolution? You had better make sure it doesn’t look that way.
You are the crowd, in joy. Each year, this festival is a chance to find and renew old friendships and family ties. Perhaps you have relatives who have married into other towns and villages and you will meet them here. Perhaps you have friends in the great Jewish Diaspora around the Mediterranean and Middle East, educated and knowledgeable and sometimes wealthy connections in the cities of the empire: Corinth, Ephesus, even Rome itself. There is business to do; news to pick up on; innovations to learn about. Deep into the night discussions around those fires and in those houses: what does it mean to be God’s people in pagan Ephesus; powerful Rome; diverse and cosmopolitan Corinth? What does it mean to see God’s temple once a year? What does it mean to live in sight of it each day?
You are the crowd with anger. The burdens on your backs; the Roman taxes; your spineless religious leaders; the memory still shaming you, of four decades of Herod’s crucifying reign – a king of your own blood, pouring the blood of your own down the drains of Judea; and the daily, dusty, drudge. From day to day you don’t dream, but when you gather for Passover, anger is a different possibility.
You are the crowd, tentative: see-sawing on the edge of having lots to lose, and lots to gain. You are powerful. Overall, the Romans are strongest but they stand back. Your sheer numbers at this time of year mean that if you move as one body, nothing can stop you: the standing garrison would be crushed, and it would take days or weeks for reinforcements to be gathered. Already you have scandalised the establishment by doing something different. Instead of staying in the city, you poured out to see this year’s great talking point: the Rabbi, Jesus. As he approached the city, you threw down your cloaks for him, and every step of his path into Jerusalem was made glorious and soft. You acclaimed him as your king.
You are the crowd, expecting. You must be fed. You have exalted this celebrity and made him your king. Now he must act. He must meet your needs, your expectations. The freedom you long for, he must deliver.
You are the crowd, waiting. Your silence, as he takes up a whip of cords and drives the sheep out and overturns the moneychanger’s tables, your silent presence at his back in that great temple enables him to clear the place of those who rip open your pockets each year for the privilege of coming close to God: the God who said you were his people; that he would always be close to you.
You are the crowd. You cry
‘Hosanna. ‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’’.
You are the crowd, ready to follow. Yet will you? Will you be able to trust him? He has promised change. When Jesus insists on that peace, and when the revolution he promises suddenly seems to falter; when he will not unleash your power to act; when he tries to show that peace in heaven doens’t mean peace for you, but peace for everyone; when he will not lead you like a king should lead his people; when his worldly, political skills seem to give way to his so-called Father’s so-called will, then what will you cry? Will you then cry, ‘blessed is the King?’
Or, will it be, crucify?