On the morning of October 3, 1995, a crowd gathered around a TV mounted high on the wall in the basement of the Duquesne Student Union, eagerly awaiting the news of a long, drawn-out Court TV show. And at 10:07 AM, the verdict in the OJ Simpson murder trial was announced. And the crowd gathered there erupted with shouts. Some were shouts of something approaching celebration at justice understood as vindication. Others were shouts of frustration at justice understood as injustice. The volume of the shouts on either side was pretty identical. But the shouts carried two different tones and opinions. At the same time.
In the last week of Jesus’ life, that happened too. But not at the same time. At different times, different tones and opinions.
The crowds were shouting for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday. Mark 11:9-10 says this of those waving the palm branches and rejoicing: “Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” Not everyone was shouting that—most notably, the religious authorities and the Romans sent to keep the peace were not, as they were concerned that a joyous celebration might turn into a riotous rebellion—NOT keeping the peace. But the bulk of the crowd, it seemed, were rejoicing at Jesus’ so-called “triumphal” entry.
By Thursday, crowds were shouting something different. Mark 15 says that the crowd was stirred up by the chief priests—some of those concerned with the potential riot at the “Triumphal Entry”—and verses 12-14: “Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’”
We don’t know that it was the same crowd. But we do know that public opinion CAN change. And we know that—for us, too—that if we don’t get what we want, in the way that we want it, and in the timeframe that we want it, that we are quick to try to figure out some other way to get what we want. So it’s not entirely impossible for us to believe that it was the same crowd.
It’s also not entirely impossible for us to believe that we would have been right there, on both Sunday and Thursday, with just those “popular” opinions.
God doesn’t always do things the way we want. We get impatient with that, and we get angry with God. Or we get indifferent with God. We are “blessed”, and then when all of a sudden something messes with those “blessings” our tone changes. Our attitude changes. The shouting we do is different. It is not always easy to remember that God is at work, that God’s love never lets us go and goes with us through the challenges, and, as the great quote (which hangs in my study) from the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” puts it, “Everything will be all right in the end . . if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”
Palm Sunday leads to Maundy Thursday, where Jesus gets betrayed, denied, abandoned, arrested, tried, has public opinion turn against him, is sentenced to death. Maundy Thursday leads to Good Friday, where he is executed, and is as dead as dead gets. But we know, it’s not yet the end . . . Sometimes in our own lives it’s hard to remember that.
GOSPEL Mark 11:1-11
1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
GOSPEL Mark 15:1-39
1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call* the King of the Jews?’ 13 They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ 14 Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
NEW TESTAMENT Philippians 2:5-11
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.