“Crowd Control”

Palm Sunday Homily

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

There are two crowds in the Gospel stories for Palm Sunday.

At the beginning of the service, we hear a description of the crowd that greeted Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. Crowd Number 1 puts palm branches in his path to cover the dust of the street and, more significantly, to express their belief that he is the long-awaited Messiah. The palms were like the red carpet we put out for celebrities—in this case, the “celebrity” who would become the spiritual king of Israel.

Crowd number 2, though, is as hostile as Crowd 1 is adoring. This mob witnesses the capture and trial and execution of Christ. They are given a chance by Pilate to free Jesus. But instead, they call for his death.

The liturgy today allows us to place ourselves in either group. We sing the triumphant hymn of praise to Christ at the beginning of the service, echoing the “Hosannas” of Crowd 1.

Then, later, during the Passion Gospel reading, when Jesus has one last chance to escape the Cross and Crowd 2 refuses to spare him, the congregation repeats the crowd’s terrifying words of condemnation: “Crucify him!”

We don’t know if any of the same people were in both crowds. But we do know that crowds are fickle. A leader can seem to enjoy unshakeable popular support—only to see his approval ratings plummet in a few weeks. Human sentiments are always changing.

Even religious feelings can be capricious. Spiritual emotions lurch from positive to negative; God seems to be on our side one day, against us the next.

But the lesson of the Passion Gospel is clear: whatever we are feeling at the moment, it’s up to us to choose what crowd we join.

We can’t control the masses around us any more than Christ could stop the human forces that conspired against him. When life doesn’t seem to be going as we want, we may, like Christ, be powerless to turn the tide in our favor.

But one option is always available for us: to make our stand with Crowd One–to acknowledge Christ the King, who renounced the authority of earthly monarchs, and who walked over the Jerusalem palms and up the hill to the place of the skull in order to “give himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.” Amen.

Leave a Reply