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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

And the Crowd Cheered

Mark 11:1-11

New Revised Standard Version

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

If you have ever been to Edinburgh, Scotland, you know that one of the must do’s is to walk the Royal Mile. I preferred to walk from the castle since the trek is then downhill to the palace at the end.

Edinburgh Castle sits atop Castle Rock. It is an imposing feature that dominates the skyline of the city. The views from the castle are exhilarating. You can see the entire city and much of the surrounding countryside.

There has been a castle on Castle Rock since the 12th century, although archeological studies have shown that the site has been used since the 2nd century. At least one building, St. Margaret’s Chapel, dates from the 12th century. Most others are from the 16th century. There have been numerous renovations since that time.

As you walk down from the castle, you pass many shops, closes (alley’s), historical buildings (like John Knox’s house), and the beautiful St. Giles Cathedral. At the end of the Royal Mile is the imposing Holyrood Palace, the royal residence in Scotland (the Queen usually spends a week there at the beginning of the summer to attend to official engagements and ceremonies). The Palace dates from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Walking the Royal Mile, I imagined the processions from the castle to the palace that may have made that trek. Bagpipers and drummers in kilts. Military garrisons in their dress uniforms. The monarch riding in a coach. It must have been an incredible sight for those watching the parade and cheering for each group passing by, especially the monarch.

For pilgrims making the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, the journey could be arduous. The last section began in Jericho and then climbed the road to Bethany. The final stage took a traveler up the Mt. of Olives, almost 3000 feet high. Upon reaching the top, the first view of Jerusalem was exhilarating! From the top of the mountain the city and surrounding lands lay out before them.

During Passover, the city was filled with pilgrims who had made the journey. In Jerusalem they gathered with friends, relived the story of God passing over the doors of their people so they could escape from Egypt, and celebrated. The air was full of excitement and expectation.

For the disciples, this Passover was different. They had probably been to Jerusalem for the festival before. But this time they had higher expectations. They had inklings that Jesus was the new ruler the Jews had been waiting for. The one who would free them from oppression and restore David’s kingdom. And they would be a part of it all.

The disciples weren’t too surprised at the enthusiasm of the people who lined the road as Jesus rode in on the colt. The excitement and expectation crackled in the air. We might think of the atmosphere as akin to Times Square on New Year’s Eve as the crowd waits for the ball to drop.

The people, who had heard about Jesus’ teaching and his miracles, greeted him as they would a king who was entering the city shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

On the other side of the city another procession was taking place – the Roman imperial procession. Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem, and his garrisons had come for Passover. Not to celebrate, but to keep peace in the event of the riots that were usually part of the gathering of 1000’s of pilgrims. Passover was the most politically volatile time of the year.

Everyone had their own expectations of what the future would hold. The disciples were excited for the new kingdom they thought would be ushered in. Pilate’s expectations were the same as every other year – crowds, riots, and unrest. He couldn’t wait for the festival to end.

What about Jesus’ expectations as he looked over the city? He was the only one who knew where this trip into Jerusalem would lead, how it would end later in the week.

We live life full of expectations. We expect the sun to rise and to set every day. We expect that the weather forecast will be right (or that it won’t!). At the start of baseball season, we expect the Yankees or Mets to win the World Series.

We expect things to happen as we have planned, as scheduled on our calendar. Then, we have lots more snow than we have had in years. There is road construction – it seems that Valley Road is always under construction – that reroutes us causing us to be late. We lose our cell phone or car keys. Illness prevents us from going out.

We have hopes and dreams for ourselves, for our children, for our families. Then life takes a different turn.

As is true for most parents whose children are approaching their high school years, we looked forward to what we would experience with our sons – going to their games and other events, proms, and graduation.

But life took a different direction. For different reasons, our sons went to boarding school instead of the local high school – one half-way across the country, the other 600 miles away. Neither one chose the traditional high school path at the township school.

Our youngest surprised us when he asked to go to boarding school and chose an all-boys school. So much for proms. The school was too far away for us to attend his tennis matches. Graduation wasn’t what we thought it would be for either son.

Expectations don’t always pan out as we thought. Life goes down a different road. The same can be true for our life of faith.

What are our expectations for our Christian faith? For following Jesus? Often, we like our faith to fit into our plans. We look at our calendar, how we have allotted time for other things and then try to find a spot for God that works for us.

We may look to God to help us realize our dreams. We paint a picture for ourselves of what our future or the future of loved ones will be. Then we lay out the picture before God and ask God to open doors and create a path so that it will be smooth sailing to the realization of our dreams.

We read the Bible to learn what God wants us to do and not do. Our children go to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School where we expect them to learn right from wrong, good from bad. Faith becomes a tool for establishing a good moral background.

At times we treat God like a gumball machine. Put in a coin and get a candy. But what happens if we don’t like the color or flavor of the gumball?

Despite our expectations, our faith as we know it often leads us to places we would rather not be and to challenges we would rather not face. This past year has brought us to places we don’t want to be and deal with challenges we never imagined. COVID-19 has dramatically changed our lives. Those everyday activities we took for granted are harder to do if we can do them at all. Plans for family gatherings, vacations, retirement, and other dreams have been put on hold. How much we would like to get a gumball from God that fixes everything. Instead, we put God in a box with a sign on the outside that says, “Emergency Use Only.” God, our faith, is our last resort.

On that first Palm Sunday, everyone – the crowd, the disciples, Pilate, Jesus – had their own expectations of what would happen in the days ahead. These were based on each one’s experience, desires, plans, and dreams. In short, on their own understanding of God’s activity in their lives. All though they knew how things would turn out. Only one knew for certain.

The crowds cheered for the one they thought would be their new king. The one who would overthrow Caesar and his government and remove Pilate from his place as governor of Jerusalem. Pilate looked at the week ahead seeing the unrest he would have to deal with as he had every other year. What he didn’t expect was encountering Jesus.

Many who cheered at the beginning of the week would jeer at the end. “Crucify!” would be their cry. Expectations changed with the circumstances as the week’s events unfolded. The peoples’ would-be king became a criminal. A criminal became a free man. Disciples abandoned their teacher. Only one’s expectations were fulfilled that week – Jesus.

What are your expectations for this Holy Week? To follow Jesus’ path from his entry into Jerusalem to the cross? To live life as planned, following your usual routine? Consider the choices you will make this week.

What are your expectations for your Christian life, for following Jesus? What are your expectations for your life? Good questions to ponder this week.

Most importantly, where does God fit in your plans?


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