Year B Palm Sunday Mark 11
When the Cheering Stopped
On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.
The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President's health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.
It's a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.
It happened that way to Jesus. When he emerged on the public scene he was an overnight sensation. He would try to go off to be alone and the people would still follow him. The masses lined the streets as he came into town. On Palm Sunday leafy palm branches were spread before him and there were shouts of Hosanna. In shouting Hosanna they were in effect saying "Save us now" Jesus. Great crowds came to hear him preach. A wave of religious expectation swept the country.
But the cheering did not last for long. There came a point when the tide began to turn against him. Oh, you didn't notice it so much at first. People still came to see him, but the old excitement was missing, and the crowds were not as large as they had been. His critics now began to publicly attack him. That was something new. Earlier they had been afraid to speak out for fear of the masses, but they began to perceive that the fickle public was turning on him. Soon the opposition began to snowball. When they discovered that they could not discredit his moral character, they began to take more desperate measures. Before it was all over a tidal wave welled up that brought Jesus to his knees under the weight of a cross.
Why did the masses so radically turn against him? How did the shouts of Hosanna on Sunday transform into the shouts of crucify him on Friday? I am not just talking about the immediate events that may have brought it about, but the deeper root causes. What were the underlying issues? In five days it all fell apart. Why? That is the issue that I would like for us to concentrate on this morning. Why did the cheering stop?
- Jesus Began to talk more and more about commitment.
- Jesus dared to suggest that all people are worth loving.
- Jesus began to talk more and more about a cross.
It's Not a Snuggie Love
Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)
Now that "March Madness" is over it is time to reclaim our particularities. Part of the "madness" the basketball championships generate is our love for, our longing to be, part of a crowd.
In a crowd we can become a totally different person.
- Shy, reserved people scream until hoarse.
- Non-violent, peace-activists holler for their team to "kill'em!"
- Guys who don't like to take their shirts off at the beach, paint their bellies blue or green or orange, and hope to get their hairy paunch on national television.
- A stadium full of strangers will energetically work together to create "the Wave."
In a crowd your own behavior doesn't have to make sense. What you do doesn't have to be well thought-out. Before you do what you do you don't have to draw up any long-range plans.
Crowds have personalities.
- There are joyful crowds - think of Billy Graham stadium revivals, or the Pope's outdoor Masses, or round-the-world "rock concerts for a cause."
- There are violent crowds - mobs ransacking Paris, Palestinian youths surging towards Israeli soldiers, British soccer fans rioting out of the stands.
- There are terrified crowds - Manhattan on 9/11; the crush of pilgrims caught in a stampede towards Mecca; wanna-be "Next Super Models" stomping on each other on a city sidewalk.
Whether a crowd's behavior is "good" or "bad," constructive or destructive, it can never really be trusted. The crowd-creature will eventually disband and dissipate the emotional energy it had generated. The level of excitement, joy, anger, or fear we feel in a crowd cannot be maintained by a "crowd of one."
When Jesus approached Jerusalem the atmosphere of excitement that hung in the air suddenly electrified the crowd. Joy was palpable. Hopes were heightened. The crowd began to celebrate Jesus as he rode into the city on that colt, with an exuberance beyond any individual understanding. The cloaks and branches lain down before Jesus honored a King the crowd could not even begin to comprehend.
The crowd's "Hosannas" praise one who "comes in the name of the Lord," without the crowd ever knowing that the name of the Lord is Jesus. The crowds bless the "coming of the kingdom," never realizing they are already standing in the kingdom's midst.
The crowd's words are not necessarily hollow or false. But the crowd's words are uttered only because it "feels good" to celebrate together, not because they have faith. In fact, you might call the love the crowd pours out at Jesus' feet a 1st century version of "Snuggie love"...