The readings for the Liturgy of the Palms:
Psalm Psalm 118:1–2, 19–29
Gospel Luke 19:28–40
The readings for the Liturgy of the Passion:
Old Testament Isaiah 50:4–9a
Psalm Psalm 31:9–16
New Testament Philippians 2:5–11
Gospel Luke 22:14–23:56 or Luke 23:1–49
We rehearse this day a two-thousand year-old drama.
But we are not an audience. This is not a theatre. This is our Christian worship, and we are called by God’s Spirit to stop being onlookers, and to take our part in this drama of life and salvation.
We thought we knew all the characters of this play: Jesus, Judas, Pilate, the Priests.
But there is a major character we would prefer not to notice. And in fact we do so easily on other days of the church year.
But Palm and Passion Sunday we can turn our heads no longer. We are drawn in. We are forced to notice the CROWD!
All through the Gospel story The Crowd is there:
As the curtain rises The Crowd is there with John the Baptist, fleeing from God’s wrath like a brood of vipers, asking “What should we do? How do we truly repent?”
The Crowd eagerly listens to Jesus teaching. They won’t leave him alone. His own mother and brothers come to Jesus, but they can’t reach him because of The Crowd.
The Crowd presses in on him so tightly that Jesus is forced to step into a boat and teach from off shore.
The Crowd is amazed and excited about the way Jesus heals and drives out demons.
Everyone in The Crowd wants also to be cured of their many diseases. Everyone tries to touch Jesus because power flows from him.
The Crowd is hungry. The Crowd is like sheep without a shepherd. But Jesus feeds them and sustains both body and soul.
A large Crowd of despised tax collectors joins him at table, and they too are accepted and fed.
When Jesus raises from the dead a widow’s son and a synagogue official’s daughter, The Crowd swells to the thousands—so many are they that they trample each other in their frenzy.
So fixed are we on Jesus, disciples, and the Pharisees and priests, that we hardly notice The Crowd – until Palm and Passion Sunday.
Today we not only notice The Crowd, but we become The Crowd. And it is so bewildering and painful.
This Sunday, we, The Crowd, as Jesus enters our Holy City, wave palm branches and praise God joyfully with a loud voice, for all the deeds of power we have seen Jesus do. We hail him as Messiah King who has come to us in the name of the Lord.
But what happens on Friday? We come to arrest him in the Garden. We hear Pilate declare him innocent, but we insist, “He stirs up the people. Away with him. Crucify, crucify him. Don’t bother us with facts, just kill him.”
It is painful and bewildering because we, The Crowd acts so fickle; but also because being part of The Crowd seemed so safe. We don’t have to think that much in a crowd. We just go along to get along. And we don’t have take responsibility—we are just doing what everybody else is doing. Who can blame us for that?
Ah, but this is what the Sunday of the Passion is all about. It is telling us Crowd Thinking is dangerous. It is warning us that hiding behind anonymity and ignorance has consequences.
We read the Passion this year in Luke’s Gospel. But in Luke’s second volume—the Book of Acts, Peter, the Apostle, speaks to us when he speaks to the very Crowd who cried “Crucify him.”
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers…” But ignorance is no excuse. You must accept your responsibility. “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3)
From his cross Jesus calls us out of our hiding place in The Crowd. Jesus calls us out of our intentional ignorance. Jesus calls us to repent and accept God’s forgiveness.