How do you feel about crowds?
I'd guess that as you've chosen to come to this quieter and more reflective service you may be someone who finds them a bit uncongenial...not always easy to negotiate?
We've seen so many crowds in the news already this year – protesting against tyranny and campaigning for democracy in the Arab Spring that began first in Egypt
attempting peaceful protest but highjacked by those with a different agenda in our own capital,
standing silently as Ronan Kerr's coffin was carried through the streets of Omagh.
Crowds have a real power for good or ill – power beyond the sum of the parts.
Perhaps its wise to steer clear of them, in case we lose track of ourselves.
But in this Holy Week there is really no escape.
As we are swept up once again in the events that changed history, the voice of the crowd is rarely silent – and we are part of it.
Today we celebrate
We shout Hosanna as we greet our king with joy – though we may well be disappointed at the manner of his coming.
Still, we recognise our need for rescue and that lends urgency to our voices as we join in
“HOSANNA – SAVE US NOW”
We look about us and see so much that remains bound in our world and in our own lives.
Pause for a moment and think of those things from which you long to be free....habits of mind or behaviour, wounds from the past or fears for the future...
It is those, or things like them, that give breath to the great cry
HOSANNA and to the outpouring of blessings that carpet the route as thoroughly as do the palm branches scattered that day...
But we know, even as we share that great cry of excited welcome, that there is trouble ahead.
The way of the cross beckons, and it does not look much like the way of life and peace – but rather a place of broken friendship and betrayal, of injustice and wanton violence, of bullying and cruelty.
It would be good to step aside, if we could. To fast-forward without more ado to Easter Sunday morning – though to do so would be to deprive the resurrection of its impact, since without death and disappointment the revelation of new life has little value.
But since we know that we cannot altogether escape the cross – perhaps it is best to hide in the crowd once again....to rely on the majority to give us protective colouring...to lose our own voice in the sound of the mob.
For it is a mob now.....a mob hungry for blood......a mob unable to bear the silent dignity of the man from Nazareth, angered by his weakness, enraged by his pacifism
There can be no salvation here.
Better to get rid of all false hopes, all broken dreams as rapidly as possible
“Let him be CRUCIFIED”
Can you hear your own voice? Are you surprised to discover that you are joining in here too?
Because, you know, it was people like us – ordinary people with no history of violence, no blood lust in everyday life, who joined in the chanting
“CRU CI FY CRU CI FY”
Humanity has always needed scapegoats – people who will carry the blame for collective dis-ease, collective guilt
Watch children in a playground, see who they choose to be their victims – the outsiders, different because of something as simple as the wrong trainers, the wrong skin colour or body shape...The crowd delights to exclude them and also to blame them if anything goes wrong – and it's this, taken to extremes, that motivates the Passiontide crowds.
Do you remember Caiaphas?
It is expedient that one man should die for the people....
We are the people – the people then and now who seek our own salvation through the suffering of another, the people who hope to divert attention from our own shortcomings by attack, however unjustified and unjustifiable...
But, incredibly, because God is God......because the message of the cross is that loving self sacrifice is written into the very core of life itself....because we can look forward, even on Palm Sunday, to the events of Easter....because of all that, mob rule does not win the day.
Jesus hangs there, alone – but that solitary vulnerable figure draws all to himself and invites us to join him in choosing that way of self sacrifice
The joy of resurrection may be hidden for the moment, but as we dare to step out from the crowd and to follow the path that Jesus sets before us, we will find that the pain and struggle are in truth transformed.
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen