Yesterday our church celebrated Palm Sunday, a holiday whose mood swings I find disturbing, as I’m sure I’m meant to do. Some aspects of the traditional service feel like a preview of Easter: the entering procession with the palm fronds, the triumphal and almost martial music. At the same time, a minor chord is struck by the Passion Play and the hymns later in the service that uncomfortably foreground our guilt for Christ’s suffering.
I found myself wanting to arrest my long slide toward liberalism and force myself to dwell on this ancient accusation. What does it mean when I shout “Crucify him”?
Like Peter, surely, I can imagine myself losing my nerve to confess loyalty to Jesus when faced with torture. Hopefully this is an unlikely scenario in America, so there must be more ways I can challenge myself with this passage of Scripture.
Perhaps, like the crowd who would spare the bandit Barabbas over the Messiah, there are times when I rush to condemn someone without knowing enough about them. It’s easy to spread gossip, for instance, or racist stereotypes, because I don’t want to be the only one in the crowd with nothing to say. It’s easy to convince myself that I understand who the heroes and villains are because I read something bad about “those people” on the Internet.
By choosing between Jesus and Barabbas, the crowd gets it half right. No one should be crucified. Their lack of insight is twofold: they play the role of jury in a system that metes out excessive punishments, and on top of that, they condemn Jesus, who is innocent. In what ways am I participating in an unjust system by not seeing beyond its false alternatives? Change could start with something as simple as choosing to contribute to both charities whose flyers show up in my mailbox today, rather than one charity and a new hat. Trivial maybe, but these choices add up.
Though I’m not threatened with physical harm or even job discrimination for my justice work on behalf of the GLBT community, I still often feel deep pain and self-doubt when the opposition is led by fellow Christians whose faith I respect. I complain too much to Jesus about how hard and confusing it is to follow him. “What did you think you were signing up for?” he says. “Be grateful that you have the privilege to choose to enter into this place of shame, when many have no choice.” Then he shows me how it’s done.
And so, our song for today:
Sing along at Oremus Hymnal.