3/25/2018 Sunday of the Passion The text is the Passion Narrative – Mark 14:1-15:47.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Yesterday, as I watched the news reports about the people gathering in Washington and around the country protesting gun violence, I began to think about the crowds. Today, the crowds were filled of people of all ages, many of them youth, bound together by the horror of mass murders in schools and other sites…places where innocent people suffered and died at the hands of merciless perpetrators. How great it is that these people feel that they can make a difference in this world! And how wonderful it is that opponents did not gather and scoff at them or that terrorists did not cease the opportunity to create mass mayhem!
It’s appropriate to have such gatherings of people. People come together for all sorts of events…an inaugural parade, St. Patrick day celebrations, teams winning a Super Bowl or the World Series. Crowds gather to remember and to celebrate, or just to make some sort of statement. They rally at times of joy and at times of deep sorrow.
Today, Christians gather throughout the world as we remember the crowds that gathered around Jesus. The first crowd gathered to celebrate as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. With shouts of Hosanna, they laid their cloaks and leafy branches on the road to honor him as a messiah…one anointed by God to help them…to bring them out of their desperate situation under Roman rule. I am sure that the crowd was a mixture of old and young, male and female, as Jesus’ appeal was not limited to a chosen few. People had been waiting for a long time for someone like Jesus to come along. And here he was…before them, parading down the road on a donkey.
Of course, a donkey was the last animal that a crowd of this sort would expect him be seated upon as riding in on a magnificent stead would have been a more appropriate honor. But, not for Jesus…as Jesus was the fulfiller of the prophecy and the law, and he was humble and riding on an ass.
It’s surprising how quickly the mood changes…as the one who was hailed Son of David stood accused as a criminal. Once again, a crowd gathered. But this time, the crowd was not celebrating. There were no shouts of Hosanna. There were no accolades. There was no proclamation of Jesus’ messianic role. In this crowd, there were only demands for his blood…as the words, Crucify him, came off the lips of the gathered throng.
What happened in such a sort time is hard for us to fathom. But then even today those who are celebrated and admired for the wrong reasons usually fall off the fragile pedestals we have built for them and when they do, we are left disillusioned and angry.
What the people expected from Jesus was not something he was going to give them. He was no military leader. He wasn’t going to deliver them from the hands of the Romans. People were going to have to live their own lives as they unfolded in a hostile world. For, Jesus was there to save them from far greater enemies…those of sin and death.
Had Jesus done anything wrong that the crowd should turn on him? No, not in the eyes of God! But in the eyes of those who were disillusioned and angry, and those who felt threatened by his compassion, by his teachings, and by his unwillingness to bow down to anything and anyone other than the will of his Father in heaven, Jesus was more than a nuisance. Jesus was an enemy who needed to be destroyed. Although Jesus had done nothing deserving death, death was what the crowd wanted…and not just any death would do…they wanted the worst form of death possible. They wanted him humiliated and tortured. They wanted him to be lifted up as a sign to prevent anyone else from stepping on their toes. They wanted him nailed to a cross, naked and exposed, and then his body to be left for the wild animals to devour.
Where was that first crowd on the day Jesus was found guilty? How quickly they abandoned the one they acclaimed as their messiah. But then, fear of retribution can do that. It can have us hide our face, abandon our faith, and freeze in place. For no one in their right mind would want the same fate as Jesus. No one in their right mind, other than Jesus, could see salvation in a cross.
So, once again, a crowd gathered. This time, it was a mixed crowd of jeerers and mourners as Jesus was lead through the city to the hill on the outskirts known as Golgotha. Beaten and bloodied…exhausted and dying…Jesus was paraded before the people. Some gasped and cried as the funeral procession passed. Others cheered and jeered and were delighted to bear witness to a crucifixion, much in the same way people would gather to watch the spectacle of a hanging during the heyday of the Old West. For them, this was a type of macabre entertainment.
For Jesus this was the last crowd that would gather around him. There would be no more feeding of the 5000. There would be no more healing of the sick and casting out of demons. There would be no more accolades. For Jesus, in his faithfulness to his Father’s will and in hope of saving the whole sorry lot of us, there was only the cross and the darkness of the grave.
And the crowds became distant until they were no more. Amen.