Throughout the Lord’s public ministry, people flock to him.
The ministry of Jesus, after all, was not a secret ministry, but a public one. People came to him. In droves.
The disciples worry about feeding the crowds (Matt. 14:13-21). Jesus climbs mountains (Matt. 5) and takes to boats (Mark 4:1) to teach them. A woman fights the crowd to touch the hem of his garment (Matt. 9:20).
Constantly people surround him (Mark 5:21, Matt. 13:1). The sick are brought to him and he cures every ailment (Matt. 4:24). The throngs are such that one group has to be creative about how to get their paralytic friend to Jesus (Luke 5:19). Word travels fast whenever he enters a village (Luke 8:4). Often so many come to him that the disciples do not even have time to eat (Mark 3:20).
Jesus is so often attended to by so many people that the moments that he’s alone become special vignettes, little asides, in the great narrative of the Gospels. The one-on-one’s with the Lord have a different tone from His usual work.
Christ’s triumphant entry of Jerusalem is no exception to the norm. A crowd gathers as he enters the holy city on that special day. Today they are particularly exuberant.
They come in droves to laud his praise. “Hosanna!” the congregation sings. Waving branches, spreading their cloaks on the street, the assembly shouts with joy at his arrival.
Then the crowd turns. Days later the assembly’s shouts of joy turn to murderous clamor. The echoes of “Hosanna to the Son of David” are drowned out with the jeers, “Hail, King of the Jews!” No longer does the crowd sing, “Hosanna in the highest.” Now the crowd shouts, “Crucify him!”
And then, just like that, there is no crowd.
There is only the tomb.
And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who “remained sitting there, facing the tomb.” At the end, there is only the Lord, placed in the tomb, and his two friends, still there, with him.
This Palm Sunday we are not the crowd. We are not the jubilant throng assembled in acclaim. We are not the sons and daughters of Zion welcoming with acclaim our king.
This Palm Sunday we are the two friends, sitting watchful, attentive, remaining.
One can imagine the depth of their sorrow. They must have seemed like statues themselves, perhaps blending with the stone hewn around them. In shock. Mystified. Not yet understanding the work of the Lord.
How they loved Him so! These holy women, witnesses to the miracles he had worked, recipients themselves of his endless mercy. They were bound to him by that love; not even death could tear them from their devotion. How heavy their hearts must have been, and yet they would not be separated from Christ!
Christ did not tell us in the Gospels that he would be in the crowd. On the contrary. The Lord promised us, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” In the midst of our quarantine, a time when we are waiting in our homes, we are the two friends, sitting, awaiting …
The wonders we have seen (even still see around us) should bind us all the more to Christ. Now is not the time to abandon him. Now is not the time to turn from faith. Now is the time to cling to him! We must refuse to be cut off from the Lord!
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived at the tomb on the morning of the third day, intending, it seems, to pay homage to the dead. Luke’s Gospel reports that they brought with them spices to further anoint the Lord’s body. They attempt to preserve, to keep death at bay.
And yet, the Lord has so much more in store for them. The Lord will not be beholden to death!
We may be the two friends seated beside the tomb, at a loss and shaken by what the Lord is doing. They did not yet see all that would come to pass. Those friends of Christ’s, however, did not forsake him, and neither did he turn his back on them.
This Holy Week may we not leave him. Let us revel in this time alone, which can be time alone with Christ.
May our thoughts and prayers always turn to him. May our hearts reach out to him. May our minds gaze upon him. For if we remain with him, watchful, waiting, we will not miss the glory he intends to reveal.
Palm Sunday in art