This sermon was preached on the 24th of March 2024, Palm Sunday, the Sixth Sunday in Lent, in the Anglican Parish of Kalamunda-Lesmurdie

Text: Mark 11.1-11; Mark 14.1-15.27

Beware of crowds.

Look to your safety when large numbers of people are gathered together, especially when emotions are high. Especially when honour and shame are involved. Especially when right and wrong are involved. Especially when religion is involved.

The truth of these assertions is self-evident, given our readings today from Saint Mark’s Gospel.

We hear a crowd today, walking with Jesus, ahead and behind, crying out Hosanna. Those people shouted to God in joy, they cried out their praise, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

We hear a crowd today, coming with swords and clubs, and taking Jesus away.

We hear a crowd today, crying “crucify him”, crying those words to Pilate, the chief authority of the Roman Empire in the land.

Crowds can be very sinister things indeed. And I would be surprised if any of us, young or old, didn’t know this not just from the Gospel, but from experience.

I’ve never cried out ‘crucify him’; but I remember as a child egging on a schoolyard fight, joining with other young people in baying out ‘smash him’ as two of my fellow school children faced off against each other.

And that doesn’t just vanish in adult life. Those of us who are a little older can likely recall a moment when we joined in some action that we regretted, when we were part of a crowd.

There are so many ways we human beings do this: not just physical violence, but ostracism, denigration, ridicule. And of course, mistreating someone because of their gender identity, race, ability, religion, or sexuality.

And today, we’re a crowd. Today, we take on that persona. We embrace it.

Yesterday, Father John and I hung the banners back up in the church – you can see them, tucked there behind the palms. My hope is that makes it easier to imagine us, the people of this parish, there that day.

So take a moment to imagine us there that day, as Jesus rode in to Jerusalem. Imagine us crying out in joy, waving our palms.

And then, as difficult as it is, imagine us in Pilate’s forecourt. Imagine us crying out, with equal vigour, ‘crucify him’. It breaks my heart to imagine myself saying that. It breaks my heart to imagine us saying that.

And that’s why we do this: that’s why we enter into Holy Week. That’s why we walk together, as community – dare I say it, as a crowd – through the journey from false triumph, to death, to resurrection.

We are Christians. For us, the events of Holy Week are not mere history. They’re the most profound telling of what it is to be human. They’re the most profound bringing together of tragedy and hope. They’re the most profound disclosure of who God is.

I don’t hide from the fact that I might have cried out ‘crucify him’, if I were in that crowd on Good Friday. I don’t need to hide from that, as painful as it might be. In truth, I need to embrace that reality. We need to embrace that reality, and be changed by it, with God’s help.

We, all of us, have the capacity to sin. To do the wrong thing, to hurt our fellow person. To do things that distance us from God. And to do things that distance our fellow people from God.

But much more than that, we also have the capacity to be wonderful. To be kind. To embrace joy. To care for one another, and to love one another, without condition or reservation. It’s a care and love that has been evident in our community this past week.

This is the conflict, the contradiction, at the heart of Holy Week. It’s the conflict that we embrace over the course of next seven days. And we don’t embrace this experience alone, as individuals. We embrace this experience as the Church, as the gathered people of God.

We embrace this experience as a crowd – with all that comes with that.

Over the course of Lent, I’ve talked about the Cross coming to loom large. On Friday, Jesus, our Lord, the great love of our hearts, will be nailed to the Cross, and at 3pm he will die.

It was people, just like us, who put Jesus there. It was people, just like us, who ran away.

But it was people, just like us, who stood and watched, praying, and weeping. And we must acknowledge that it was the women who stayed and gave this steadfast, costly witness.

This will be an emotional week. Embrace that.

Embrace the experience of Maundy Thursday, when our Lord shared one last meal with his friends, his companions on the Way.

Embrace the experience of Good Friday, when our Lord died so that we might be reconciled to God: so that we might see the futility of violence, the futility of hatred, the futility of rejecting the God who loves us.

And remember Sunday. Remember that God did not respond to violence with violence. God responded to violence with new and abundant life. That was the true triumph: a triumph that we could never have foreseen.

God through Jesus Christ embraced death so that it might be defeated. Jesus descended into hell, so that those trapped there, those who would accept his hand and be drawn to life eternal, might be rescued.

I said before that we don’t go into this week alone. This is not an individual experience: this is an experience of Christ’s Body gathered, of the Church.

And so I address this exhortation not to any of us individually, but to us together, as a body.

Go forth into this week with courage.

Go forth open to difficulty.

Go forth open to hope.

Go forth open to change.

May God, three persons in one substance, all creating, all redeeming, all sanctifying, draw us closer to Godself, so that we might emerge from this experience a holier, kinder, and more loving crowd.