Psalm 118:19-29 and Luke 19:28-40
This morning on Palm Sunday we are reminded of the pre-emptive celebration of the people of Jerusalem as they venerated Jesus as King. They came out in great crowds and waived nationalist symbols and rejoiced at the miracles and healing that had been reported throughout Israel. A joyous welcome to a long awaited liberator of God’s people.
It was pre-emptive and indeed misplaced to be welcoming Jesus as victor at this moment. And today is above all a reminder that our intentions and reasons for following and worshipping Christ are important. Today we are reminded that even those who profess a faith in Jesus can get things wrong. That our reasons for worshipping will always be exposed when faced with the suffering of Jesus and the earliest disciples. Worship must be based on more than human expectation of what God might do for us .. or even what God has done for us! In the Psalms today we read a song of great joy and gratitude for what God had done for Israel. But we know there are plenty of Psalms which are sung to the opposite tune .. songs of despair and weeping for the absence of God.
The worship of the Psalms is fickle. The worship and adoration of the Palm Sunday crowd was fickle. For we find very soon in Holy Week that same crowd shouting crucify the one we welcomed just a few days ago. We might reflect on whether the worshipping crowd ever truly understood what they were doing on Palm Sunday. How many of that crowd I wonder were there in ignorance of what the furore was all about. Singing their Hosannas and at the same time turning to their neighbour in the crowd and asking .. ‘who is He?’ .. ‘what has He come to do?’.
This same lack of conviction is shown in the response of the disciples themselves to the events of Holy Week. Despise their commitment to and following of Jesus around the Judean countryside they did not truly understand that their devotion would require danger and suffering and testing. Despite being with Jesus throughout his ministry they still thought He would escape the hands of the Roman soldiers, defy the accusations of the Jewish leaders and fulfill the expectations of the crowds of worshippers. And when their expectations were challenged they fled, they denied their involvement and their Hosanna’s became hushed as their leader stood trial, was condemned and was crucified as a criminal .. a challenger and threat to both political and religious power.
So here is the question for us at the start of Holy Week in 2022. Why are we standing in the crowd of worshippers this morning. What is our motivation for being here? Are we being carried along like the crowds of Palm Sunday without really knowing what or who we are welcoming? Are we like the early disciples still hoping that our friendship with Jesus will result in prominent seats and status whether on earth or in heaven .. as you will recall they were arguing amongst themselves .. their motivation not unlike that of the crowds crying for liberation in Jerusalem but focused on a Heavenly Jerusalem. A worship based on what might be gained rather than what might be suffered.
This is the vital question at the start of following in the footsteps of Christ at the start of Holy Week. Why are you here? What are we part of the crowd that has gathered to see how Jesus is and even welcome Him and HIs message? What are we hoping to receive, or experience or encounter as we shout Hosanna this morning?
We are in something of a privileged position this morning compared to that first Palm Sunday crowd because we know what the days ahead looked like for Jesus. Whether that makes it easier or harder to decide to align ourselves with Christ I do not know. But what we do know is that being part of the crowd that follows Jesus leaves our motivations exposed … our fickle self-ish nature revealed in the face of being let down or disappointed by God .. our fears and weaknesses exposed as our devotion demands suffering and persecution .. do you know this man .. and with Peter we say .. I do not know Him! Our willingness to betray the purposes and values of God’s kingdom as we seek our own gain in the gold pieces of this world that we are offered to betray Him.
The Israelites of the Psalms came in worship and praise of a God who would restore their fortunes. The crowds of Jerusalem came out in worship and praise of one who would heal their diseases and liberate their nation .. let us ask with sobriety why it is we come out to worship and praise this morning. And in doing so let us ask the question of whether we are willing to continue this act of worship through the trials and agony of the cross. Ours is not a worship of ease but a worship of action and agony. Let us take up our cross and leave the crowds of Palm Sunday to follow in the footsteps of Jesus away from the praise of the city of Jerusalem and towards the Hill of Golgotha where the Hosannas can no longer be heard but only the jeers and reproaches. Let us turn to Holy Week in the knowledge that our worship will be sacrificial if we worship in spirit and in truth!