Palm Sunday ends with Jesus and his little band of followers heading out to Bethany to spend the night with friends – quite likely Mary and Martha and Lazarus. But by the end of the week, the crowds, rather than shouting Hosanna, are now shouting “Crucify him.” Where are those who waved branches and sang Hosanna? Is it the same crowd? What happened to the community?
Let’s look back to chapter 16, where Jesus tells the disciples he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Just prior to this text, Jesus has been asking the disciples who people say he is, and there is this sweet moment when Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” We pick up the story when Jesus then tells them that he MUST go to Jerusalem and that he WILL suffer and die, and on the third day be raised.
Well the sweet moment with Peter is over in a flash, because this is surely not the kind of Messiah Peter had in mind. The other disciples are coping by disassociating themselves from what Jesus is saying, or else they can’t hear him over the sound of their own blood roaring in their ears. They hear nothing about new life on the 3rd day, because they are horrified by what Jesus says must come first – the end of the world as they know it.
I was at a course with Rev. Peter Short, former moderator of the UCC a few years ago, and he likened this news from Jesus to that of canoeing down a river, where you can hear the roar of the rapids around the bend before you can see what’s there. The disciples can hear in their minds the roar of the crowds, the roar of the Roman army. Suffering and death; this is not what we signed up for! There will no doubt be the Roman army in Jerusalem. This is Passover after all, a holy season in which they will be only too pleased to show who is really sovereign.
However, just as you might be able to skirt the rapids, or not get swamped, flipped, crushed or killed, by carefully maneuvering around the rapids, so Jesus might squeak through this time, if he doesn’t draw attention to himself by say – staging a mock parade and causing major havoc in the temple! What are the chances? Jesus of course, rode into town on a donkey while people shouted “Hosanna”, then went to the temple where he chased the money-lenders out of the courtyard.
We then gathered in a circle and pondered together about what happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday; how people act alone on in crowd mentality, and how community can be restored or supported. Here are some of our pondering questions:
What destroys hope and harmony and working for the good of all?
Who was fearful of Jesus? Who was disappointed in him?
In the presence of fear – how do you respond?
In the presence of disappointment – how do you carry on?
What sustains you?
How do we restore community?
How do we restore compassion?
Where do we see signs of it? How can we encourage it?
Some of the responses:
A program in schools that was building empathy among students when a newborn child was brought into the classroom, followed up by regular visits by mom and baby during the year. Children could watch the baby grow, ask questions, eventually get to hold the baby etc. – It was a wonderful experience of developing empathy.
Great pastoral care by another member of the congregation helped build a sense of community.
A harrowing canoe ride with a nephew, trying to build a bond of trust. It bonded many in the community too who came to look for them when they were long overdue. Everyone survived and that important relationship was restored.
Rev. Peter Short is a canoeist – that’s why he thinks of the journey to Jerusalem as the roaring of the rapids around the corner. Peter told us about the 2005 Saskatchewan Centennial five-day canoe race. On the final day of the race, three canoes overturned in the rapids, and a fourth stopped to help them. At the end of the day, no one remembers who came in first. What they remember is that 4 canoes came in hours after everyone else, as a flotilla, holding on to the gunnels of each other’s canoes so that no one finished last. It sounds like the kindom of God to me. Can we hold on to each other in that way? Can the crowd become a community of compassion?