If I had preached, though, I might well have talked about the experience of being part of the "congregation" during that reading. We read together some truly terrible lines. From the crowd of us come words of disrespect and disbelief - challenging Jesus both before the crucifixion and while he's on the cross. It's our role during this reading to call out, "Crucify, crucify him!" At the beginning, it's clear that for most of us we're sort of caught off guard by our turn to speak - our turn to condemn him. But by the end of the story, we seem to have found our voices, bravely chiming in and submitting ourselves to the experience - seeing ourselves in the shoes of those who crucified Jesus.
As a child, I remember refusing to read these words. I wasn't there, was I? Surely, I would never have contributed to this. But as we grow into our faith and into maturity, we come to realize that this moment appears frequently in our day to day life. And we do regularly participate.
As Christians, we believe that Christ is present all around us in creation - and especially in our neighbors. So when we fail to defend our neighbors, when we fail to feed the hungry, when we fall short of protecting God's creation, we betray and deny Jesus. When we sit idly by and allow leaders and politicians to make second-class citizens of our neighbors, when we fail to denounce hate speech and bigotry, when we give in to a culture that encourages us to think of ourselves as individual islands, we contribute to the suffering of Christ in our neighbors. And in these moments, we become part of the crowd that cried out for him to be crucified.
It's a hard truth to face - but one that our liturgy helps us to see both on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It's part of why the story of Palm Sunday is so compelling. Jesus rides into Jerusalem triumphant - welcomed, celebrated. Only a few days later, this crowd who welcomed him, who cast their garments on the street ahead of him, would cry out for him to be crucified. In their minds, Jesus wasn't who they expected him to be - who they thought he should be. His message of love and faithfulness, the call to purity of life and sacrificial love, was too much for them - and some days (perhaps even more often than that) it is also too much for us. In our humanity, we are not capable of loving so fully, so completely.
Our journey then, through Holy Week, must include a careful look at our own failings. At the times when we have not taken up the cross - when we have not sacrificed ourselves, our desires, our needs, our reputations, our security, our egos, for the sake of a neighbor. Our looking at this is intended to call us back to faithfulness, to newness of life, to the willingness to start over and try again because we know that God loves us. And because we know that in Christ we are all a new creation. Capable of more than we know - capable of all the good work that God calls us to do.
In some ways, Holy Week is a microcosm of life - a shorter glimpse of the struggle to live in Christ. Of what it means to be faithful - and to let God work in us over time - slowly helping us along the way - like a rock rolling down a hill that slowly becomes smoother as it goes. Holy Week is part of this refining process - helping to smooth out some of the rough edges in this moment - if we will enter in to the process.
But as I said in my short homily yesterday, on Monday in Holy Week, we must also keep in mind that this week ultimately is about God's triumph - the victory of life over death - and Jesus' own sacrificial love for us. So while we look, while we hear ourselves speaking words that betray and deny Jesus, while we wrestle with our humanity, we must also hold onto the hope of Easter. The light that is coming. And the infinite nature of God's faithfulness - love for us that overcomes everything - even death. And if we do that, then this look into our hearts and this view of where we have fallen short, becomes a compelling part of our journey toward God rather than something to be feared.
May God bless you in this great week - and as you draw near to the Holy Mountain, may you be strengthened to do the work that God has given you to do.