There is a natural and wonderfully predictable cadence to our Church liturgical year. Seasons pass from one to the next and so we repeatedly prepare for what lies ahead. As we are now in the Easter Season (Allelluia!), it’s natural for us to be thinking about everything that that represents: hope, redemption, and the promise of eternal life to be lived with the one who created us out of love. The dark and chilly days of Lent naturally give way to the brighter and warmer days of Easter. So… why would I recommend we look backwards, to the Holy Week we just experienced together?
Oftentimes, it makes great sense to conduct an assessment, to take stock, to think about the road just traveled and to reflect. What did we see? What did we learn? What might we do differently? So, in that spirit, I would like to ask you to consider the role of “the crowd” during the Palm Sunday opening Gospel and during the reading of the Passion. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, a celebrating crowd shouted: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” What a great welcoming Jesus received. If you happened upon this scene, you would instantly recognize the joy, the energy, the great and festive mood of this large crowd.
But during the Passion narratives we hear on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the crowd has turned sour, negative, and angry, shouting “Crucify Him” and choosing to release the notorious Barrabas instead of the peace-loving Jesus. And finally, during the crucifixion itself, the crowd has all but disappeared, leaving a gruesome task to the Roman centurions. Only a small and dedicated group of followers remained by his side, including his mother and close friend, John.
Whenever I consider these three versions of the crowd, I label the Palm Sunday one as hypocrites, the second as haters, and the third as deserters. I quickly cast a sideways glance at all of these and pat myself on the shoulder for being none of them. I casually dismiss these crowds as not at all like me.
I am none of these.
Or am I?
If I dutifully follow this faith tradition, making all outward signs of discipleship, exhibiting joy, energy, and festivity, but don’t fully live out all that Christ teaches and calls me to live, then I am a hypocrite. I am no better than the palm waving crowd at Jesus’ entrance.
If I refuse to surrender to his will, choosing my own needs first, ignoring or hiding from the Savior so that I can pursue my own plans, then I am a hater. I am no better than the crowd at Jesus’ trials.
And if I don’t see Jesus in the poor and needy, the suffering, the downcast, and those who are not at all like me in any number of ways, then I am a deserter. I am no better than the crowd who abandoned Jesus at the cross.
Perhaps I should not so casually dismiss the crowds that are part of the Holy Week stories. Perhaps I should consider with some greater understanding and even empathy the situations these individuals found themselves and then, with some measure of humility, bring those lessons forward into the new season of Easter… a time where second chances, redemption and eternal life are available to all those willing to follow forward. Jesus showed us that through compassion, forgiveness, discipleship, service, humility, and a willingness to fail, learn, grow, and persist, we can emerge from the dark and cold and come into the light and warmth of an enduring Savior’s love.