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Sunday 28 March 2021: Palm Sunday

A Love Stronger Than the Mob

Mark 11:1-11; then Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15L:47

By Martin Boland

Dean of Brentwood Cathedral

Context: parish eucharist in a busy cathedral parish, beginning with the congregation entering church in procession after the blessing of palms

Aim: underlining the constancy of Christ’s love amidst the fickleness of the crowd and the uncertainty of these times

The public gathering became one of the first casualties of Covid-19. Crowds became prohibited. Numbers of people who could meet were tightly regulated to lower the risk of viral spread. The freedom to congregate and seek communion was suspended.

Crowds are prominent in the readings for Palm Sunday. We are among those crowds, and how we relate to Jesus exposes both our own scapegoating tendencies and His response to us.

The first crowd we find ourselves in is in carnival mood as they throng and jostle around the solitary figure of Jesus. They improvise a red carpet with a patchwork of cloaks stripped from their backs and greenery lopped from trees. Convinced that they are in the presence of the Messiah, they call to mind the prophecy, ‘Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!...Look your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donke y…’ (Zechariah 9:9). This crowd is made up of an uneasy mix of those with religious Messianic beliefs, political agitators and those who had just come along for the ride. Their joy is infectious. They chant in boisterous waves: ‘Hosanna!’ (‘Save us!’).

But where there’s a crowd in an occupied territory, there’s the potential for trouble. Crowd control was the main concern for the twitchy security forces and religious authorities. Twitchy, but not unduly concerned. After all, they had seen these minor religious celebrities gather a crowd at many a previous Passover and when the initial enthusiasm leaked away, the crowds dispersed and drifted back to their homes. And, to the security forces, this would-be Messiah appeared unthreatening, indeed, something of a joke astride his weary looking donkey. Hard to imagine that He could pose any threat to the Empire.

The authorities, political and religious, were right and they were wrong. Jesus had not come to overthrow their military might. But He had come to do something much more subversive. He had come to overthrow and conquer their hearts. And he would do this, not with a show of force but by initiating His reign of love from the timber throne of his Cross. They had woefully misread the situation. Jesus had not entered Jerusalem in order to rouse a crowd to rebellion, but to rouse them for the new life of love. He had come to clear a path for them to His Father’s heart.

Before His sovereign love all our pretensions to supremacy, all our defences and hunger to scapegoat would be exposed as threadbare. His journey to Calvary tore up the very foundations upon which our desires for power and privilege are based.

This was not a cavalcade with the trumpets and trappings of power, but a parody of all the triumphal entries of kings and emperors, politicians and celebrities, a challenge to all of us who imagine that if we were part of the human cavalcade we would be someone.

Jesus comes in such a discreet and unexpected manner that you could easily miss Him and misunderstand His meaning. It was so at his birth. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, born in a stable. This was not the way that popular opinion would have the Messiah come into our world. It imagined an entry with more show and swagger. Similarly, at his death when Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd with the words, ‘Behold the man!’ the glaucoma of fear prevented us from seeing that Incarnate love was in our midst. Because love is hard for us to recognise and accept; we find it too challenging. When Love came into our world, what did we do? We made Him a scapegoat and nailed Him down.

The festive crowd turns into a lynch mob. They will cheer every stripe whipped on Christ’s back and roar their approval at the theatre of the purple cloak. Trees are felled and prepared for the crucifixion of Love. The chant, ‘Hosanna!’ mutates into, ‘Crucify him!’ Standing beneath the cross, the herd has become immune to truth and love. Only an employee of the Roman state, a centurion, has stayed virus-free and humbly recognises that ‘In truth this man was a son of God.’

Three days later, grieving women would gather at the entrance to Christ’s tomb. Hardly a crowd, but first witnesses to the fact that, on the other side of fear and violence, all that was dead was stirring to new life; and the first light of that Easter morning was changing everything.

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