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Lent Reflection: 3/24/13 (Palm Sunday)

3/24/2013 Brittany Roper, Assistant Coordinator for Outreach Ministries (C’09)
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’


When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.


Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’


Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.


As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’


Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’


One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’


It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. -Luke 23:1-49

Palm Sunday has long been my favorite service of the year. If you attend an Episcopal service today, you will most likely be given a palm before the start of the service. Congregants will gather around outside the sanctuary and the service will begin with the invocation to worship. From the onset, congregants are participants in the liturgy as they follow the procession into the sanctuary as the familiar words “All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King!” are sung a cappella. The tone is set for the rest of the service, as congregants become part of a crowd, processing together in remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

I’ve always loved the participatory nature of this service, which carries into the Gospel reading for the day. If you have attended a Palm Sunday service in Sewanee, you know that today’s Gospel reading is powerful as various people lend their voices to the players in the Passion of Christ, as the story of Christ being convicted and hung on a cross is told with a theatrical reading.  Just as part of the crowd in the procession, congregants become part of the crowd in the Gospel: as Pontius Pilate stands in front of the crowd wanting to release Jesus, we say “Crucify him, crucify him” condemning Jesus to death. The moment I lend my voice along with the crowd never fails to strike a visceral reaction. I feel the shame and sadness in the depths of my being. It forces me to reflect on what it means to be just another voice going along with the crowd. It sets a somber mood for the rest of Holy Week leading up to Jesus’ resurrection.

My reflections this Palm Sunday are focused on times when I chose to act as part of a crowd. I wonder what role I would have taken if present at the time of Jesus’ conviction. Would I have cowered in the corner and not uttered a word?; would I have proudly and loudly called for Jesus’ crucifixion?; or would I have stood up and declared his innocence? Either of the first two choices would have been easy, but would they be right? Even as an individual, there is an attractive quality of being a part of a larger group. For various reasons, I seek comfort in being part of a crowd, and I often find the opportunity for anonymity to be alluring. Not all crowds are bad, but when a crowd influences us to go against what we know in our heart to be right, we lose sight of the truth. I find hope in knowing that just as crowds can influence us to act against what we believe, so too can crowds reinforce and encourage us to seek out those beliefs. It is up to me to decide what I will stand for; to support those groups that seek out justice and truth, and walk away from the crowds that persecute and promote inequality.