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Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-9a

The first time I traveled abroad, I visited my brother while he was teaching English in Japan. After we spent a couple of days together, he went back to work for a few days and turned me loose to explore the city and the region on my own. So there I was, an Iowa small-town kid, in the biggest place I had ever been by myself, with a subway pass and some cash in my pocket. I got off the subway in Osaka, and there was this crush of people, behind me and in front of me and around me on all sides, and they all knew exactly where they were going, and I had to look very carefully to find the part of the sign that was printed in English. I couldn’t possibly navigate and keep up with the crowd at the same time, so what I learned fairly quickly was to sort of stay up with the energy of the crowd and just let them carry me along; it felt kind of like surfing. After they had pushed me along for a while, there would usually come a spot where I could pull off to the side for a moment and really get my bearings. In the meantime I learned to feel the crowd, like it was its own living thing that could tell me what direction to go.

There are crowds all throughout the stories of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The crowds were there in our opening reading this morning: they had gathered to celebrate and praise God as Jesus entered Jerusalem. That same crowd would follow Jesus as he went to the temple to teach and to argue with the religious authorities. And the same crowd would be gathered on Good Friday, outside of Herod’s palace, calling for Jesus’ death. The crowds are there, and they are a character unto themselves in this story.

It is so hard, when the crowd is pushing this way and that, to choose your own direction. But that’s what Jesus does. When the stakes are so high, and the crowd is so dominating, Jesus is able to stand firm. He refuses to back down from the accusations presented against him; he refuses to take this crowd and try to rally them like troops rising up against Rome. He stands firm under all that scrutiny, in the face of that violence, and puts his trust in God.

The prophet Isaiah had to speak and to stand firm in just those ways. This prophet spoke of the downfall of Babylon, which was the power that had taken the people of Judah into exile. He was committing sedition against the reigning power, and he describes the consequences here: beatings, insults, disgrace. Yet he was able to trust in God, to trust in a power greater than human violence.

Well, does that sound familiar? The early church thought it sounded familiar too, a lot like was Jesus demonstrates in this Holy Week. Jesus shows us the ultimate strength of that clear focus on God’s ways. With that deep grounding in God’s presence, he found the power to resist the crowd and walk in a different way. He isn’t carried along by this surge of energy and emotion or crushed when it comes crashing back down on him. Instead, he chooses his own way, the way of faithfulness to God.

When Jesus chooses that trust, that faithfulness, he chooses a way that will lead through the darkest shadow and the depth of human sin. He chooses a way through death. We know, as we read this story today, that the crowd will turn on Jesus and stand there at the foot of the cross, mocking his trust in God. Isaiah calls on a God who will prove him innocent and faithful in this trial, but we know that Jesus’ path of faithfulness to that God will lead through an unjust trial and a wrongful execution. And yet, that God will prove himself faithful, even in the face of the crowd with all its swirling energy, even on trial before ruthless despots, even at the cross, even at the mouth of the tomb. Our God is faithful in this story.

So we are invited, this week, to know some of the places we might be in the crowd. Remember, the crowd itself changes in so many ways during this week. Our place in the crowd can change as well. Sometimes, in the midst of the crowd, we can be self-aware and choose something more than what the crowd has decided we ought to do. Probably more often, we find ourselves caught up in the surge of feeling around us, all the energy and the people pushing one way or the other. Even our sense of disorientation, even our senses of dislocation as we find ourselves pushed this way or that way by the crowd – even that sense is a testimony to God’s faithful presence beneath it all. If we can tell that we’re turned around, at least there’s something to be turned around on top of.

As you have noticed, our worship service is all turned around this week too. In place of the affirmation of faith following this meditation today, we have a prayer of confession. Both our prayers of confession and our bold affirmations of faith are statements of the truth. They’re both ways for us to acknowledge the reality of our life. As we acknowledge that reality, we proclaim in trust that God is faithful. God is faithful, even beyond our ability to believe. So let us offer ourselves to this truth.

Let us pray…

(prayer of confession from Lectionary Liturgies (2007), by Thom M. Shuman)