It’s spring after a long, cold, raw winter. Things are finally beginning to warm up. The flowers are blooming. People are beginning to emerge and the shops and markets are doing a booming business ahead of the holiday that is just around the corner. The city is filling up with visitors and there is a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air as folks look forward to seeing friends and family that they haven’t see in months. But mixed with this excitement is a foreboding dread of what might happen. Each year it is the same: excitement mixed with dread; dread mixed with excitement.
I could be talking about Boston as we approach this year’s Marathon Weekend, but I am actually talking about Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. The city was filling up with pilgrims and tourists ahead of the Passover holy days. Things were getting busy in the shops. And in all directions pens of lambs ready for the slaughter could be seen. What was troubling however, were the armed soldiers. They were everywhere. And more were on the way.
It was into this scene that Jesus and his followers arrive that first Palm Sunday, coming down the Mount of Olives towards the city. Some of us here have walked that same route, beginning at Bethpage and ending at Gethsemane at the foot of the mountain. Right across the valley is the Temple Mount where once stood the Temple in all its glory. Even today you cannot but have a sense of awe and excitement as you follow the route that Jesus took so long ago.
But just a then, so now; the armed presence in Jerusalem is nothing less than foreboding. Some days they seem to be everywhere. And just as Jesus and his band of followers approached the city from the east, somewhere towards the west more reinforcements were on the way, in the form of the Roman army.
The contrast could not be clearer. From the east came a ragtag band of women and men, following a charismatic leader riding a donkey, praying one of the pilgrim psalms: Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them, I will offer thanks to the Lord. … Hosanna, Lord, Hosanna! Lord, send us now success. Coming from the other direction was rank upon rank of highly trained, professional and no doubt experienced Roman soldiers in perfect formation, lead, not by a charismatic leader on a donkey, but a hardened military commander on an immense charger. Even without drawing weapons, the scene was meant to intimidate. Caught between the donkey and charger and all that they represented was the city of Jerusalem.
The events of this week will play out the tension between these two scenes. The whole city will be caught between Jesus and the Roman authorities. Hosanna will be on the lips of some; while others will scream out: We have no king but Caesar and Let him be crucified! Let him be crucified! No doubt there were some, caught up in the excitement of the moment, who cried out both that bleak, black week.
We see this scene acted out in the gospels and even now we can feel the tension between the excitement of Jesus and the dread of Rome. We hear the echoes of Hosanna and Crucify reverberating in the air to our own day, and sometimes to our utter shock and horror we hear the same voice crying out both, and the voice is ours. The voice is ours.
Like the residents of Jerusalem so long ago we too are caught up in cries of Hosanna and screams of Crucify. Like the residents of Jerusalem we too are fickle in our loyalty following first one and then the other.
This week of all weeks is an exhausting journey because it lays bare for all to see how, even today, we are torn between choices. Sometimes our choices are good, and right and just and in them we hear the echo of that long ago Hosanna. Sometimes our choices are wrong, and selfish and just plain sinful and in them we hear the echo of that long ago Crucify.
But we cannot know the power of the Empty Tomb without first knowing the fear of Good Friday. We cannot know the power of Father forgive, without first knowing the ugliness of Crucify. And we cannot know our need of a saviour, both ours and the worlds, without first walking the path that leads from the palm strewn road of Palm Sunday to the fear filled road of Good Friday.
This week is not an easy week because in it we will discover once more all that is within us, both light and dark, both good and evil. But all who seek the Garden of the Resurrection must walk this way. We must hear ourselves sing out Hosanna and we must listen as we scream Crucify. And today we have done just that. We have done just that: singing hosanna and screaming crucify.
Our journey to the Garden has begun. May God grant us all the courage and grace to continue it, so that we may know the power of God’s love which removes from our lips the stain of crucify and places upon them the bloom of hosanna. Our journey to the Garden of the Resurrection must pass this way, so let us begin. Let us begin.
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