The desert in blessed springtime… Crystal blue skies, perfect temperatures, and actual green stuff creeping up through the sand; birds singing, bunnies hopping, colorful citrus ripe for plucking and juicing. All this abundance, AND, come Holy Week? You don’t have to order palm branches. You just ask folks to bring you the trash from their yard cleanup, and there you go. Instant parade.
Church folks love to march down aisles. Even in a place like mine that is decidedly ‘low church,’ we queue up at the back, wrangle the children, dig some tambourines out of the toy bin…and the Holy Spirit shows up. You’ve seen it happen too. There is just something about a gathered crowd.
I can only imagine the static joy that filled the air as Jesus entered Jerusalem. The city center, the very pulse of life, beating with anticipation. Fathers lifting children onto shoulders, songs of great rejoicing, a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd that could hardly move, yet found itself dancing all the same. What a sight to see…
Crowds tell a story. They bear witness to a moment in time. A crowd embodies the deepest hopes and longings of many—even those not physically present. A crowd connects past and future things, expecting that something good is coming. Crowds show up…therefore, the crowd writes history.
I think of the gathered masses we’ve witnessed recently, and the broad range of longing they represent. NCAA championship games (which some of us may, or may not be watching because our ‘sure thing’ team may, or may not, have been handily eliminated before the first round…) An inauguration; a papal election; a vigil following unthinkable violence…
There is power in showing up. In each of these moments, the gathered mass had one thing in common: hope.
I’ve often wondered why we ‘do’ Palm Sunday at all. The ritual of it seems a little archaic, out of step with our progressive theology and contemporary worship vibe, and maybe even a little sinister…I mean, we gather to welcome this King into our midst, knowing that, come Friday, we’re going to watch him die. How can we celebrate the arrival that we know ends in death and darkness?
Hope. This is the gospel of the gathered crowd. We hope that our team will win—because they have before!—even if all signs say they really just suck this year. We hope that the new guy in office will change things. We hope that the new guy in the papal vestments will turn the conversation around. We hope for an end to violence—or we hope, at the very least, that we can learn to talk about violence, without the world just losing its mind.
Never underestimate the power of expectation collected under one roof, in the same time and place. Our hope is forever in the new guy, and here he comes, riding on a donkey. So what if we know there is heartbreak coming? He enters in all humility and grace, with a promise that good things are coming. Even if our team is already out of the game. Even if there’s one more gun death in the news this morning. Even if we know that one new guy in the Oval, or one new guy in the Vatican, can do very little to stop it.
We gather, not to greet one more ‘new guy,’ but to welcome life itself—all of God’s love and grace and promise, riding not in a chariot or motorcade, but on a donkey. He brings the promise of every new thing God can bring about in us, every blessed transformation the world could hope for. And that’s not for nothing. It is enough that we show up, with offerings from our lawn and our heart, with hands lifted in praise. We show up, hoping against hope that this parade, this anointed one, and this gathered crowd will change the world.