Sermon April 10 2022

Often a mob of people is defined as a group of people intent on violence. However, all of that changed in 2003 when Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s Magazine organized a gathering of people in the rug department of Macy’s Department Store in New York City. One hundred and thirty people converged around one expensive rug, for no other reason but for a social experiment. Since then flash mobs, in which people usually sing or dance, have popped up in airports, malls, or busy street corners. My favourite is one that takes place in a plaza in Sabadell, Spain. A double bass player appears to be busking when a young girl puts a coin in his hat. As the girl stands to watch a cellist approaches and they begin to play the familiar tune of Ode To Joy. Out of the alleyways more and more musicians appear, including a timpani player and then half of the crowd that has converged to watch turns into singers! The video has been viewed over 18 million times, so you know it’s good. I’ve never seen one live but I have spent a lot of time down youtube rabbit holes watching different flash mobs. Unlike other stories of mobs they are supposed to be peaceful and playful. They are kind of magical because they give the impression of appearing out of nowhere, are often incredibly choreographed and then when it’s all over everyone returns to their regular daily behaviour. Imagine what it would be like to be caught up in a flash mob, suddenly someone shows up in a somewhat descrete, yet coordinated, way and then another starts to sing and then more and more voices join in. The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is often taken for granted. This story is so imbedded into our church psyche that I think we sometimes miss some of the nuances and even “magical” quality of the story. In part because, while the history books say that the first flash mob took place in 2003, I think the story of Palm Sunday tells us that the first flash mob happened long before that.

First, like a well choreographed flash mob, the events on this day are well planned and seamless, despite the fact that it begins with a rather odd request. As they approach Jerusalem Jesus stops at the Mount of Olives and directs two of his disciples to go ahead to the village to find an unbroken colt. They do as they are told, and even though the owner questions why they are taking his colt, their response that “The Lord needs it,” seems satisfactory. Securing the animal has gone as planned irrespective of the odd request. This is important for us to remember, Jesus knew how this day would play out and it goes as planned. What is perhaps lost when we hear this story is that the cold has never been ridden before. Now, I have never ridden a horse but even I know that riding a colt that has never been ridden before is normally a really bad idea. A colt like that, does not normally take kindly to a stranger on its back. Yet, even that goes on without a hitch. Then, as Jesus rides along the crowd that has gathered throws their cloaks on the road and the multitude that has gathered begin to joyfully praise God. You see, it is a skillfully carried out flash mob! Sort of.

What perhaps, in our familiarity with this story, we miss is how the first century people would have received it. There is a lot of symbolism going on in this story, not the least of which is that a peaceful mob has gathered to sing praises. In her podcast entitled “Walking Humbly” Sally Foster-Fulton reminds us that there was a good chance that on the other side of town Pontius Pilate was entering Jerusalem which much pomp and circumstance. There would have been foot soldiers, majestic horses, banners and standards bearing golden eagles, the symbol of Rome’s authority paraded in through the main gate. After all, this was the festival of the Passover, so Jerusalem was teeming with Jewish pilgrims and as a result Pilate was sent to “keep the peace” through whatever means necessary. Rome was exercising their authority! Meanwhile, here we have Jesus coming in on a colt or donkey. One that has never been ridden before, which means that this colt was likely a working colt in agriculture. Pilate comes in on warrior horses, on war machines while Jesus choses a symbol of agriculture as his mode of transportation. Jesus is being very clear, choreographed even, in his symbolism and is stating, I am not here to cause violence I am here for peace. Foster-Fulton says, “The triumphal entry was a parody of Pilate’s grand procession, a mockery of it. And it wasn’t an accident either. It was a staged demonstration.” It was something more than a flash mob, it was a holy protest.

The fact that Jesus’ entry was timed at the same time as Pilates may also explain another important note. Despite the multitude of people that have gathered to say and sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” it appears that there are no agents of Rome in the crowd. It is not Roman officials or representatives who try to stop this parody, it is the Pharisees. By the way, in Luke’s version of the story of the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem, this is the last time the Pharisees make an appearance. Through this gospel the Pharisees have appeared sometimes as dinner hosts but most often as agitators and yet, in this scene all they try to do is put a stop to it and then they don’t reappear for the rest of the story. This will also set up how Luke will attempt to balance the relationship between tradition and the early church as he records the Acts of the Apostles in his sequel.

Yes, this passage is often referred to as Jesus’ Triumphal Entery into Jerusalem but really Jesus is mimicking the way we exalt earthly power. It should also cause us to ask which parade do we want to follow, meaning, what power do we turn to? Foster-Fulton says, “We have to decide which one we will join. When we choose to forgive or not, we choose a certain path. When we choose what we will do with our money, our energy, our love. We walk a certain way.” To be perfectly honest, I’m the kind of girl who loves big parades with ridiculous floats, so I know which parade I would have most likely been drawn to, but on the other hand, it would have been pretty amazing to have been part of a flash mob.

The disciples have been travelling with Jesus for a while now. They have witnessed his deeds of power, not just at this entry into Jerusalem but in all kinds of miracles. Yet, Jesus never wields his power in a way that requires recognition. If anything, after most miracle stories Jesus tells them to not tell anyone about these things. Jesus’ power is one of humility and that is symbolized today by his riding on a colt. The power of Jesus’ humility will continue to be expressed this week as he washes the disciples feet, follows God’s will toward his arrest and is hung up on a cross.
The problem is that this flash mob of praising disciples, and it should be pointed out that for Luke the term disciples does not only refer to the twelve but rather to a large group of people, this praising mob does change from a peaceful, playful, rejoicing one, to a more “traditional” mob intent on violence. Within the week their cloaks will turn to whips and their cries of hosanna will turn to crucify. They do eventually decide to join the wrong parade. Perhaps this is because on the surface, power displayed in pomp is more appealing than power displayed in humility. But this is the great thing about the God we believe in and the Christ we follow.
Within an instant, kind of like the crowd, or a flash mob after their performance, we transition from the story of the palms to the story of the passion. There is no greater story, I would argue in history, that displays the power of humility than Jesus willingly taking up his cross. It is an example of faithful obedience like no other example before. Jesus’ humble power and faithful obedience is what brings the salvation of humanity. How might our humility and obedience be displayed this holy week and always?