How does one get from “Hosanna!” on Sunday to “Crucify him!” on Friday? What a week it must’ve been–people who adored and cheered and praised you, giving you a hero’s welcome to the city only to turn into a jeering, taunting vigilante mob only a few days later. Today is Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as the “Prince of Peace.” Imagine crowds of people cheering and waving palms and branches, laying them before Jesus as he rides in on the back of a donkey, humble and regal at the same time.
My mind keeps going back to the question, “Did he know then? When did he know?” Did he know as he was riding in on a wave of love and worshipful approval, that in a few short days, masses of people would once again be assembled, only this time it would be to witness his arrest, his trial, his sentence, and the long and agonizing hours of his torture, punishment, and death. I can remember as a child being horrified and angered at the behavior of the crowd. I also found it confusing, when attending Good Friday service to be one of the ones calling out “Crucify him!” when the part of the service that required audience participation came around. “Give us Barabbas!” we shouted, which I also didn’t understand or like. I felt like we were turning on Jesus.
It’s been many years since I’ve been to church on Palm Sunday, or Good Friday services, or even Resurrection Sunday itself. But the stories, the experiences, the feelings that I learned all those years ago remain with me. And I find myself admiring anew the fact that one human being who lived millennia ago can still have the impact that he does. As with the Buddha and other ancient teachers of note, Jesus’s impact remains as strong today as it has throughout the centuries.
But what captures me most these days, as I contemplate various aspects of these 40 days, is not his divinity, but his humanity. So often throughout these days I find myself reflecting on what Jesus the son of man might be thinking or doing as he walked through his days. How did he feel, for instance, riding through the crowds on that Sunday? This right on the heels of having raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead. It had to have been an awesome couple of days. Still, he knew, even as he arrived in the city and spent time teaching and preaching to the people around me that tensions between himself and the religious establishment were strained at best, antagonistic at worst.
I don’t know if on the day the crowds were cheering him that Jesus knew that some of the same people would, days later, call for him to be crucified. It goes back to the metaphor of watching Jesus’s life unfold as one would watch a movie where we see the protagonist walking blindly into danger. We want to holler at the screen saying, “No Jesus, don’t trust these people. Don’t let yourself get arrested, speak up for yourself. Call on your disciples to protect you. For heaven’s sake, do something!” But we know how the story goes, we know how it’s going to end. But for today, we acknowledge and accept Jesus as King. We wave our palms and sing his praise. And for his part, Jesus must have felt wonderful, even if the shadow is impending doom hovered right behind him.
Holy week will offer the opportunity this week for the final days of reflection and solemnity as we wait for what we know is coming. It provides a space in which we are both cheerleader and taunter, where we offer praise and scorn. The confusion of a people who are emotionally pushed and pulled between the forces around them result in this kind of split personality that we will watch unfold in the days ahead. From Hosanna to hatred in a few short days is a stunning and breathtaking reversal of moods that likely caught the people themselves off guard. Until, at the end of it all, Jesus stood alone and without support.
From Hosanna to most hated, from King to criminal, so too the fates of Jesus turned sharply. We will experience the passion with him this week, whether we follow the basic tenants of any particular faith or not. As we close out another 40 days, we will go through these last days gleaning what final messages we can before we close the book once again. And so it goes.