THIS SUNDAY WE HAVE ALL-AGE WORSHIP IN MY CONGREGATION, BUT IF IT WERE A NORMAL (HA!) SUNDAY AND THERE WAS A SERMON, IT WOULD BE SOME VERSION OF THIS…
Large groups of people are strange creatures (or monster’s, depending on your perspective). I’m more than happy to be in a group of 900 other people at the theatre, as there is a certain decorum and behaviour, unspoken and yet very much expected, that we have all silently agreed too. And there is nothing like being part of the crowd of 100,000 people at the MCG on Anzac Day (and no doubt Grand Final Day too). But again, there are certain rules and behaviours one is obliged to adhere too, (even towards the opposition). And despite saying this, I am someone who would claim to dislike large crowds of people. However this has more to do with the unspoken rules of behaviour generally, rather than the numbers of people- (I think!). The disorganised chaos is usually what freaks me out most about large crowds (and traffic for that matter), and why I would choose to avoid these situations rather than find myself in the middle of them. And yet, sometimes the choice to be in one of these situations needs to be made at the expense of the resulting fear and anxiety.
I don’t know how common similar dislikes of these situations was in Jesus day, but at Passover, I’m fairly confident the need to worship and celebrate overrode any sense to hide away from the crowd. No doubt, as a woman, I would have probably been stuck in a kitchen preparing food for everyone anyway, but the religious demand to honour tradition and celebration would have been top priority for all Jews.
The bible gives us no clue about the size of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem all those years ago. And it’s impossible to know how many actually knew who Jesus was, and how many simply got caught up in the excitement- sometimes that’s the power a crowd can have. Reality is, it doesn’t matter. The key to what we celebrate this day, this Palm Sunday, is that Jesus entered Jerusalem as the strangest type of King, riding on a donkey of all things! (on a non all-age Sunday, the kids talk may very well have been to read the story, The Wonky Donkey) – yet another in the long list of upside-down, backward indications that this Jesus character was nothing like what was expected for the Son of God or the King of the Jews. And not just that Jesus rode in on a donkey, it was also important that at least SOME of the crowd recognised and believed Jesus to be some special, significant, perhaps even the Messiah… In this case, just SOME was enough. Enough to trigger a series of events and observations and reactions that would result in one of the most tumultuous weeks in human history.
Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, we can only just, only barely, begin to fathom the reality of all that happened all those years ago. Each year we try, and each year we only just scratch the surface of what Jesus of Nazareth, sent by God and surrounded by the Holy Spirit, did for us. The celebratory high of an excited crowd at the entering into Jerusalem and the resurrection high of Easter morning are bookends for the lowest of lows and heartbreak of heartbreaks.
Each year, the attempt to recall that first Palm Sunday is always done in the shadow of the impending week. Which is perhaps why the day has been adopted as a day of crowds and parading by the Church and now secular world- cause we don’t quite know what to do with it otherwise. But through adopting it as a day to gather and parade for peace, and speak out for justice, we can both recreate that first crowd on the streets of Jerusalem, and honour some of the darkness and shadow that looms over our world, in the same way the darkness and shadow of the cross looms over us this coming week.
Somehow the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day, living under Roman rule, doesn’t seem as far away as it should. This afternoon, my own aversion to big crowds, is overridden by a greater sense of justice and hope as people of all and every walk of life come together to speak and walk for the great injustice done to asylum seekers and refugee’s in our country. While Palm Sunday was originally adopted as a day to unite for Peace around our world, recent years have seen its transform, in this country, into a day to speak for those who have no voice in our world. Although it is unfathomable to me, it seems that the subversive, upside-down nature of Jesus needs to be lived out in this society screaming against government and some kind of majority that choose to persecute the most desperate and needy of people in our world, who simply seek a peaceful and safe home. Reminding the government and wider community of this today that we stand with the lowest and the least is not just a vague idea, but an obligation for us all. As followers of the one who came for the lowest and the least, how can we do anything but honour that call in our life- and do it together so publicly and proudly.
All those years ago, it just took SOME people to bring the crowd together to welcome Jesus on a donkey into Jerusalem. The potential that we could be the SOME who welcome the sisters, brothers, children of Jesus, arriving on boats and planes into our country, surely must open up the maybe that others may see as we do, and welcome more fully and openly in their hearts and minds. Sometimes despite our own personal aversion and dislikes, we are called to something bigger, more important, where we lay those things and join the crowd. Whether we welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, or we welcome those with whom Jesus stands- asylum seekers and refugee’s – today we stand together as the crowd of God’s people.