Today we make a liturgical journey with Christ as He enters Jerusalem. This triumphal entry into the city kicks off a week in which we mark the Betrayal, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Before us stretches out a week of long liturgical ceremonies, long readings which we know and may not always follow as we should; there is a lot to take in. Now more than ever, we run the risk of not really engaging with the liturgy we are celebrating. But there is a meaningful way of reconnecting, because in this journey we find ourselves. God-made-man made it for us. So we are going to reflect today on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, and where we might find ourselves in that story.
We are the crowd. We are participating in that colourful, shouting, arm-waving frenzy. There is rejoicing and gladness, because a holy man, a renowned preacher, and perhaps even the one who is referenced throughout Scripture as the Messiah, is coming into the city. He is going to show us the way.
Why are we so glad? It can only be because Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem means something for us. It means something profound, something that is going to change us.
He comes riding on the back of a donkey, and we rush to lay clothing and palm branches on the ground, to pave his way. We can see this as the action of subjects towards their King. But we can see deeper than this, too, because we are paving the way for Him in our hearts. Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem marks the beginning of His Death and Resurrection – the beginning of our freedom as children of God. When we look at ourselves in the crowd of people who welcome Christ, and when we are ‘there’ in retrospect, knowing as we do how the story pans out, we are placing ourselves inside the Gospel in a special way. We throw down our best coats and clothing, and anything we can lay our hands on, because we know that this man is willing to die for us. The crowd did not know this, at the time. But we do. And this is what makes us so glad: that God our Creator came and died for us.
To what extent did the crowd realize that there was a very different, special kind of leader in Christ, the man they cheered along the way? It must have been obvious that Christ was a man of extreme oratorical strength, having the capacity to draw many people to His teachings, to directly challenge the religious leaders of the day, and to work extraordinary miracles throughout the land. So they knew something of what this man was. But we should remember that this same crowd would be jeering at him in a few days’ time, shouting ‘kill him! Crucify him!’ Their minds were fickle.
And so to ourselves. We can be fickle, too. Do we always cling onto the words of Christ, working with all our strength to be like Him? Or can we be part-timers, to a degree? When there is opposition, and we find ourselves in the middle of it because of our beliefs, do we stand out and speak on behalf of Jesus? Or do we slink into the shadows, convincing ourselves that we don’t really need to be Christ-like right at this moment?
Further down the road and into the Passion, the crowd jeered and called for Christ’s death. They were stirred up by those who wanted Him dead. Crowd frenzy, we might call it today. It can be challenging to remain true when those around us don’t agree with us. We get a special taste of this at today’s Mass and on Good Friday, when our own congregational part in the Passion narrative includes the crowd shouting for Jesus to be crucified. We take on that voice in the liturgy, as we bring our voices together and cry ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ This should be a reminder to us, that we can also take on that same voice in life. We shirk from talking about Him when those around us would laugh at us. We want to blend in. We feel like the odd ones out. But it can also happen in more nuanced ways. For example, we may feel pressure to ignore a homeless person because everyone else is ignoring them. We may not have the courage to give that crucial kind word to someone who is being laughed at by those we hold dear.
It is called ‘sticking our neck out’, and it is uncomfortable. But this is what love demands of us. The lives of the saints are testimony to this kind of ‘sticking the neck out.’ St Maximilian, who took the place of a condemned prisoner at Auschwitz is just one such individual. But the world is full of them. And we can use these examples to inspire us, too.
So, as we contemplate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, and place ourselves there in the crowd, shouting in praise and triumph to the one who comes to deliver us, we might also consider if we will continue being like that crowd. Will we easily turn our backs on Him in just a few days’ time? Will we be part of the reign of darkness that Christ announced in the Garden of Gethsemani when those who followed Him turned against Him. Or will we stick our necks out in the way we live, and issue forth the reign of God, the Kingdom of God, in our actions, our words, our thoughts?