It’s Palm Sunday this Sunday! A day when the Christian communities around the world traditionally have palm branches adorning their church buildings, where palm crosses are given out, and often there are processions around the church waving branches. But it is also a day when many Christians from different denominations gather together for the annual marches in their city centres raising concerns of social justice for refugees and asylum seekers.
But we physically can’t do any of these things this time.
However, the Uniting Church Assembly has organised an on-line ‘Walk for Justice for Refugees’ event to begin at 11am on Sunday morning and if you want to participate you can click this link on your computer. https://assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/3162-rally-for refugees-from-home
This week has been a challenging and demanding one for me as I have had two funerals to conduct – for two good friends. Normally you expect large gatherings at funerals, and especially for these two – whose faith, compassion and generosity touched many over the course of their lives. But in these strange times, the church was empty except for immediate family of under ten people. Yes, they were intimate gatherings, but there was also the knowledge that many others were connecting via the internet from Washington and New York as well as from all around Melbourne and different parts of Australia. These were two people from a former congregation of mine, and I was very grateful to the current minister for generously allowing me to take those services.
The carnival atmosphere of that Palm Sunday crowd which accompanied Jesus down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley and up to the pilgrim’s gate that led into the Temple Courtyard set behind the imposing walls of Jerusalem seems far removed from our empty streets and quiet neighbourhoods.
We are told ‘Stay at Home’ whenever possible, but I would like to invite you to use your imagination and join that throng who sang ‘Hosanna’, while waving palm branches, and if you do you may find yourself joining others in laying down your cloaks on the road to form a kind of royal carpet for the donkey carrying Jesus to step on. But if you do join in be careful, for the atmosphere of a crowd can quickly turn.
In many ways Jesus often attracted crowds but he never played their tune! Crowds often have their own agendas and often we find Jesus not playing ball. You remember the time an angry crowd wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery? Jesus faced that crowd down saying, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!’ He challenged them, brought out the best in them rather than unleashing the worst in them. He was in that sense a true leader not a crowd pleaser.
We see that again in the story of Zacchaeus – you remember he was the chief tax collector – a man of small stature that nobody liked because he worked by collecting taxes for the Romans. Many thought him a traitor and shunned him. Being a small man he climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus, and I’d be sure that he wasn’t the only one doing that, but Jesus noticed him, and picked him out from the crowd to have lunch with him. Was the crowd happy about that? No way! But again, Jesus challenged that crowd to see how God looks for the best in everyone, and how God touched the heart of Zacchaeus and made friends with him.
But crowds can also be fickle – singing Jesus’ praises one day and damming him the next and calling for his death.
As such Palm Sunday prepares us for Holy Week, for the eerie silence of Jesus’ disciples in the face of his arrest, and for their physical distancing as they stand far off watching their hopes nailed in agony to a cross. Yet it is there that we see God entering most fully into our pain, bearing our sorrows in love for all.