Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
Do you enjoy an intriguing story filled with irony, where the storyline begins one way, and then suddenly the tables are turned and something surprising happens that you did not expect, and you are left thinking, what is my part in this story? Today’s gospel, quickly takes us from a scene of triumphant celebration, ecstatic crowds, and hope, to betrayal, dissatisfaction, plots, torture, and death. The Liturgy of the Palms allows us to enact the great drama, by joining with those who welcomed Jesus into the Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Like that crowd, as we entered the doors of the church our voices sang, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” We all took our seats, and as we hear the Gospel narrated, the tone of the service abruptly changed, and with great somberness, the drama shifted. Through the narrative reading of the gospel, we moved from joining the crowd shouting “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” to suddenly we joined the crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” The irony is palpable.
The people of Jerusalem had big hopes for their anticipated King, but those hopes were misguided. That city’s residents expected Jesus to bring about social and political liberation from the Roman oppressors. The people’s hopes hung on a desire to restore the former power and glory and independence of their nation Israel. The crowds sought a powerful leader, a political redeemer, a charismatic king, but what they got was just the opposite. God in flesh came to be self-giving love, and that mission led him to be lain on the hard wood of the cross, which ironically became instrument for the true redemption of humanity. They wanted things their way, but God’s plan was different, and the crowd’s disappointment led to scandal. From jubilation to accusation, the story took us to the trial before Pilate.
I wonder what we would have done that day had we been in the crowd at Jesus’ trial. It is a difficult thing to imagine what our reactions would have been, because now we live on the other side of crucifixion and resurrection. Imagine that scene though, and consider honestly, what would you have said? My fear is that I would have joined the voices of the bloodthirsty, disappointed, resentful crowd. The people chose to reject Jesus and in their hearts said, “we wanted a king, we are not happy, let’s kill this man.” The rejection of Jesus, at some level, seems to be a part of the Christian journey.
Peter denied him three times, Judas betrayed him; all of the disciples abandoned him at his arrest, and all of them hid in locked rooms after the crucifixion. Nonetheless, despite rejection by his closest followers, Jesus overcame the greatest possible abandonment, which is death. Despite the risk of our human rejection, God’s love continues to flow to us freely and we call that grace. God always shows up and claims us as his own. But wait, I have jumped the story, and like many of us I want to move past the scandal of the cross and go straight to the joy of resurrection. We are just not there yet. We are here today awaiting Jesus’ journey to the cross. The palms have been waved, the cheering has ceased, the betrayal is looming, the arrest is around the corner, the trial is planned, and we know what this coming on this Friday. No, we cannot jump to resurrection Sunday just yet, because we must wrestle with the question, “what is my part in God’s rejection?”
Today, we heard the Gospel narrative, and hopefully we considered our choices, when it comes to making a decision to follow Christ. We reflect on the internal struggle about whether to cheer for and follow the young rabbi, the King, the Messiah, the Son of God, or to follow our own way and rebuff grace. Jesus 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 following Jesus way of life can be either fearful hesitancy or outright denial. “But wait,” you may say, “I would never say that to my Lord, I would not join the crowd.” Sometimes life’s disappointments can bring us to an emotional place, where choosing to be a disciple puts us at odds with the world’s expectations, or even our own desires. The irony of choosing the way of the cross versus our own yearnings is reenacted in the irony of the narrative we just heard on this Palm Sunday.
Earlier in his ministry Jesus said, do not store up for you treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NRSV) Choosing trusting in treasures in heaven, or to follow the way of the cross is our struggle as followers of Jesus, and it is a choice we will make over and over again each day, for the rest of our lives. So, on this Palm Sunday, with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday looming in the distance, consider your response to the challenge of discipleship. Will we shout, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” or “Crucify Him.”? The choice is all ours.