A homily, based on Mark 11.1-11, preached with the gathered assembly at the Lenten Wednesday Noonday Luncheon at First Presbyterian Church, Laurens, SC, March 21, 2018.
On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus, in grand parade, rode into Jerusalem.
I wonder. Who was in the crowd?
There were the clamorous. Those who shouted, “Hosanna!” meaning less “Hurrah!” and more, “Help!” They, including his closest disciples, knew about Jesus. They had heard his preaching and teaching. They knew of his power over the realms of nature and spirit; calming the storm, healing the sick, raising the dead. They wanted, expected Jesus to drive the Roman Empire from the land and restore Israel to her prominence during the reign of King David.
There were the curious. Whether they had heard about Jesus or not, they, drawn by the sound and size of the parade, came out to see.
There were the callous. They couldn’t have cared less. Whether they had heard about Jesus or not, they took one glance at the passing parade and, untouched, unmoved, shrugged, turned their backs, and returned to their personal business. Perhaps they, a week later, joined another crowd, taking part in another spectacle, crying, “Crucify him!”
There were the censorious. They numbered themselves among Jesus’ enemies. Deeply disturbed by Jesus’ ministry, by Jesus himself, they considered him dangerous. His teaching, heretical, foreign to their interpretations of sacred text. His actions, especially on the sabbath, violations of obedience to the Law of God. His testimony of his Messiahship, an abomination, for all knew that no Messiah or prophet had been foretold to come from Galilee.(1) They plotted to kill Jesus.
In that crowd, there was, of course, Jesus. Who, then and now, always, every day, every moment of the day calls to us, “Follow me.” So, I ask you and me: Who in that Palm Sunday crowd are we?
Speaking always and only for myself, I, from time to time, am all four.
Sometimes, I’m clamorous. “Jesus, I need you to do what I want.” When most serious, I pray for others beset by difficulties of natural calamity or by the ill will of human hands: “Fix it, Jesus!” When most selfish, it’s all about me, what I desire: “Give it to me, Jesus!” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I have failed the test of faith. For Jesus never promised me a life without worry and woe, but rather love unconditional, forgiveness unbounded, grace unlimited to persevere with gratitude, and life everlasting.
Sometimes, I’m curious. “Jesus, I’m amazed at the vast crowds who still gather around you, calling your name, especially in Africa and South America where the harvest is far more plentiful than in America and Europe, lands long-cultivated with the seed of your gospel. I observe it, saying, “Isn’t that interesting?” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I am like Revelation’s church of Laodicea, neither hot for Jesus nor cold against him, but only lukewarm, subject to his judgment to be spit out of his mouth.(2)
Sometimes, I’m callous. “Jesus, you are the Savior, I am not! And, by my God-given free will, I have things other than laboring for your kingdom that I want to do today to care for myself.” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I might as well cry, “Crucify him!”
Sometimes, I’m censorious. “Jesus, your gospel of unconditional love and justice call, demand that I be benevolent and fair toward people I don’t know, who are unlike me, who don’t think and feel as I do, who I don’t like. In a word, Jesus, you challenge my preferences, confront my prejudices and I don’t like it…I don’t like you.” Yet, when like this, I must confess, I kill Jesus anew.
Again, I ask: Who in the crowd are we? Wherever we stand, let us know this. Until God’s kingdom come, Jesus always, every day, every moment of the day enters the city of our lives in a parade that always, every day, every moment of the day wends its way to the cross, calling, “Follow me in my self-denying, cross-bearing, life-losing way.”
Will we? The words of a hymn come to mind and heart:
Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day His sweet voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow me.”
Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying, “Christian, love me more.”
In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease,
still He calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love me more than these.”
Jesus calls us, by Thy mercies, Savior, may we hear Thy call;
give our hearts to Thine obedience, serve and love Thee best of all.(3)
(1) See John 7.52
(2) Revelation 3.14-16
(3) Words (1852) by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (1818-1895)
Illustration: Jesus enters Jerusalem, James Tissot (1836-1902)