Reflection on Matthew 21.1-11 (Palm Sunday)

The crowds shouted: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. 

At major sporting events the crowds shout. They shout to support and encourage; they shout in disappointment and despair. Those shouts often take the form of chants or battle-cries intended to focus the crowd as it celebrates and seeks to inspire individual players and the whole team. Those same shouts are also intended to inform and intimidate. They seek to sway the wavering spectator whose loyalty is not yet committed to one side or the other. They are also delivered in a way that is meant to leave the fans of the opposing team feeling overwhelmed and without hope.

After the excitement and hysteria of the ‘big game’ the mood quickly changes. The shouting crowds are suddenly transformed into ‘critical experts’, or even baying mobs. Both victory and defeat are greeted with a level of negativity that is always dispiriting, and often undeserved. No player or team sets out to lose, but the adversarial nature of sport means there must be winners and losers. But the fickle, inexpert opinions of the crowd only serves to create a level of negativity that sees spirits crushed and careers brought to a premature end.

In today’s reading we hear the crowd in jubilant mood. Jesus is entering Jerusalem to begin the final week of his earthly life. As foretold by the prophet Zechariah, Jesus makes his regal entrance into the holy city riding on a donkey. The crowds recognize what is happening and they shout. They shout: Hosanna to the Son of David! They shout: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! They shout: Hosanna in the highest heaven!As they cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road the crowds shouted, but, as we will see in the coming days, the nay-sayers will soon turn the crowds into an angry mob. The shouts of Hosanna will soon become shouts of Crucify him!

As Lent enters its final days, the time has come for us to reflect upon our journey. How has the journey from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday prepared us for what lies ahead? Has our fasting, praying and serving strengthened our resolve to stand firm as we shout hosanna? Or … is that resolve about to crumble as we find ourselves shouting Crucify him?

Let us pray for the strength to see the journey through to the very end. Let us pray that we might stand firm in order that we will come to see and rejoice in that which lies beyond the crucifixion. Let us pray that even if our shouts of Hosanna give way to shouts of Crucify him, we might soon be among those who shout Alleluia. He is risen!