|The Crowd - Palm Sunday - 2016 - Anitigua, Guatemala|
The largest crowds that I have been a part of in recent memory have been the Lenten processions on the past few weekends. They have been orderly, respectful, and pious gatherings of thousands of people. On the approach of the floats of Jesus and his mother, with clouds of incense engulfing them, proceeded by spear-carrying Roman soldiers, men took off their hats, made the Sign of the Cross, many with tears forming in their eyes. This was not a sporting event crowd or a partisan political crowd as we see most often these days, not a crowd trying to find someone to blame for anything, but a crowd that sensed that they, and truly everyone on the planet, are in need of Jesus' mercy and forgiveness.
As we gather on this Palm Sunday, with its two part liturgy of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem and his arraignment, conviction by the crowd, and Roman crucifixion, the question for me is how do you get from the "Hosannas" of Palm Sunday to the shouts of "Crucify him" of Good Friday? The crowds in both cases were practically made up of the same people. It wasn't like having a rally for one political party on Palm Sunday and another political party on Good Friday. The crowd clamored with excitement and hope as Jesus entered Jerusalem on that donkey and just a few days later shouted their disappointment and disgust.
It's what we have been talking about in Lenten sermons recently: crowds unite against common rivals and scapegoat certain individuals in order to find a modicum of peace for themselves. Human beings unite against common enemies ie. Herod and Pilate became friends on that day.
Jesus Christ, by freely embracing the role of the Victim, freed the world from this need for constant rivalry which benefits the powerful few and robs many of their freedom, livelihood, and their very lives. Jesus saves us from a culture focused on death and fear to a culture of mutual service (think: foot-washing) and abundant Life.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a humble donkey greeted by peaceful, hopeful crowds waving palm branches, but on the other side of town, Herod rides in on a war horse, surrounded by soldiers with spears, intimidating fear and the threat of violence. The watching crowds catch the contagion and get caught up in the spirit of the moment, imitating each other, unaware really, of what is driving them to good or ill.
This is why, in what ever crowd we find ourselves, it's important to keep our main focus on Jesus. This is what St. Paul was getting at, in a very confusing, polarizing, and pluralistic setting:
Have that same mind in you, that was in Christ Jesus.
Jesus, equal to his Father in every way, was never caught up in rivalry with his Father, but emptied himself of every perogative he had to leave us a supreme example of rival-less Love, even asking forgiveness for the crowd that called for his death.
I'll conclude here with two verses (Phil. 2:3,4) that come directly before verse 5 in our Philippians reading:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Have the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.
I invite you to join me in meditating on these words of St. Paul as we begin Holy Week. They will help us experience the Good News and the joy of Easter just one week from today!
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE
(everyone means everyone)