In the space of just a few minutes during our Liturgy of Palm Sunday we turn our chants from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” How can that happen?
Perhaps we mean only one of the chants, and we “go through the motions” with the other. Perhaps we cynically shout “Hosanna!” knowing that all we want to do is fit in with that particular crowd and anticipating the other crowd that we feel more in agreement with. On the other hand, it might be that our “Hosanna!” is authentic, but we have been cowed by the temper of the crowd in front of Pilate—brow-beaten, as it were, into a half-hearted but still audible cry of “Crucify him!”
Perhaps we actually are sincere in both. Is that possible? I think it can be. We may truly want our Lord to be our Savior—we long for Him to be our vindicator, the one who will justify us and perhaps (like the hopes of James and John) be placed at His right and left in glory. If we shout “Hosanna!” loudly enough, perhaps (like the pope in his winding through the crowds at the beginning of a general papal audience) He might notice us—reach out to shake our hand, smile (and wink?) at us. Then we’d have it made.
But then we listen more carefully to some of the “pre-requisites” of admission to His Kingdom, and we are not at all comfortable with the standards that are set. We might be all about judging others (like the woman caught in adultery from last Sunday’s Gospel), but not so keen on examining our hearts to find our own sins: we’re happy to remove the splinter from another’s eye and ignore the wooden beam in our own. We want to be recognized for our piety and would never consider associating with shameful tax-collectors who pray “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” To be first one must be a servant? Thank you—no. Deny yourself and take up your cross? I think not.
And so I might be sincere again in my second cry: let’s get rid of Him. I’d rather not have this kind of Savior, after all—I’d rather set my own standards (and no doubt I will be able to find others who promise to meet them for me). Will those promises come true? No, but they taste good to me in the meantime. And 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15) will tide me over for several months. Or perhaps I can use the money to buy my way into a political position and begin climbing the ladder of opportunity. I could become my own Savior! And I will pray with all my heart (though I’m not sure to whom) that Jesus’ story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 17:19) was mistaken.
In the long run, even if we do so in a matter of minutes this morning, I want to be someone who not only can shout “Hosanna!” with full heart; I also want to say, with Thomas (John 11:16) “Let’s go and die with Him.” Perhaps I’ll only have the courage simply not to shout “Crucify him!”—but it’s a start. It might lead to examining my heart, removing the wooden beam, befriending outcasts, becoming a servant—yes, along with Him taking up my cross and following.