In the Crowd


I have to say Palm Sunday sometimes makes me angry.
Even though,
or perhaps because,
I am in that crowd,
cheering with the rest of them for the safest bet,
the quickest fix,
the most obvious answer.
In my heart I know with certainty that life requires of me a deeper attention.
And I know, that most of the people in that crowd, like me, weren’t paying attention.

The Godly Play story names it.

Jesus went to Jerusalem for the last time.
It was the time of the Passover,
and the city was full of people from many different lands.
They thought Jesus was coming to be king, but they weren’t paying attention.*

 This is the way the Godly Play story, begins.
It’s a good beginning.
We hear it as we tell one part of the Godly Play Story, The Faces of Easter, each Sunday in Lent.
Jesus went to Jerusalem for the last time; people weren’t paying attention.

Whether it was the last time depends of course where one draws the city limits
because after the parade Jesus did nothing but visit the temple,
look around at everything
and then go to Bethany.

And his going is so quiet.
There are most likely still the remnants of the crowd noise in the street,
the cry of a startled parent, the mischievous dashing laughter of children,
the brittle patter of the disciples,
and the things the breeze shakes.
But it is still, almost silent in one particular heart.
People weren’t paying attention.

It is most often the centre of the passage,
the loudest, part
that comes to our mind when we think of Palm Sunday.
It is seldom this man turning slowly round inside the temple, memorizing it,
taking it in,
and then carrying the day like a stone inside him,
passing the outskirts,
walking back to Bethany.
What must this day have cost him?

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

This was the verse on which the text swung open for me,
the verse on which Palm Sunday swung open;
the contrast between the quiet at the end of the day
and the shouting in the middle.
The long-stemmed integrity of the man,
the vivid quiet constancy of the God that few knew they wanted.

They weren’t paying attention.
And so it was heavy,
the carried stone of Jesus’ knowledge of the choice
that those he loved would so often make.
It was heavy not only because he had not been listened to but because his non-violent declaration of a qualitatively different king had hardly registered.

Jesus’ rode through Jerusalem on an unbroken colt,
a new colt for the new thing God was always doing.
He rode so much lower than the great Alexander on his high black stallion Bucephalus,
so much lower than Pilate on a war horse with chariots and weapons
to remind the Passover pilgrims that Rome was in charge.
Jesus rode low down under the radar of royalty’s usual beam.  Riding to redefine king as he redefined Messiah.

Carrying the weight of who he was under the cheers for the kind of king he wasn’t.

The people weren’t paying attention
They were doing as T.S. Eliot says, “the right thing for the wrong reason”.
“perhaps the greatest kind of treason”.

They were waving branches and throwing their clothes (which was the right thing)
for the very kind of ruler they expected this Jesus to overthrow.

They were cheering for the kind of ruler they wanted to be rid of;
violent, domineering and removed. (which was the wrong reason).
They couldn’t see that their release would come from the inside out,
one by one  their hearts pulled into the shape of the kingdom,

So Palm Sunday makes me angry.
And I am often in the crowd doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
I know that life deserves a deeper attention
both to the person I most truly am,
the faith community that we may most truly be
and to God with us
who must move from the parade in silence
carrying our inattention like a stone in the heart.

This quiet verse gathers up parade day as it draws to a close
and then spills it into the next day in Jerusalem.
It is as though the ride through Jerusalem was another kind of wilderness,
out of which the incarnate One emerged,
choosing again to be who he was.
Another wilderness,
a dangerous place of temptation,
out of which he emerged full of life and sorrow and anger and love,
cursing fig trees and clearing out temples;
a sweep of impatience with all that is inauthentic,
not what it claims to be, and incapable of supporting life.

This quiet verse and all that precedes it hold the cost and vision of showing up.
And the courage it takes to maintain one’s whole-heartedness.
In this scene of the parade,
that might seem irrelevant we see the pattern.
We are both in the crowd and in the rider and they are in us.
In the vulnerable, constancy of the God who rides through our choices,
we see who it is possible for us to be,
redefining the content of our lives as Jesus redefined king and Messiah.

From our place in the crowd we see who we need not become; inattentive and banal,
living unexamined lives and making predictable responses.

Coming upon this quiet we are called to examine everything we do in the sight of the one who has ridden like a sky-writer through the crowd;
his life trailing behind him the cloud-like words of life.
If we follow this One with the stone in his heart into the quiet
we will find the courage to ask who we really are you and I.

And for our gathered community;
we will have the courage to ask whether we live communally who we truly are
or only who we imagine we should be.
In our worship,
In our governance,
in our annual meetings,
in the activities we support,
in the way we spend our money, who are we really?
What do our lives show?
Over what kind of ruler are we waving a palm branch?

This day is not just one of light relief in the heaviness of Lent.
It is a day when Jesus Christ again moves through us
and shows us the cost
and the quiet glory
and the enlivening possibility of our lives.

Thanks be to God,  Amen.



*The Complete Guide to Godly Play:  Volume 4,  Jerome W. Berryman







About Catherine Smith

A retired minister with the United Church of Canada I’ve grown up in church, been ordained and served communities that are small or in transition. I’ve seen firsthand just how powerful these experiences can be in helping to foster meaningful connections with others and the Other, the mystery that holds us all. My greatest hope is that my writing and this website will help you live well in the big questions that face all of us in this beautiful, aching world.

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