In my internship parish, Palm Sunday is observed in its own right, rather than Palm/Passion Sunday. So, yesterday in traditional worship there was a glorious procession into a packed sanctuary full of people eager to break out those bright spring outfits, with palms and choirs and bagpipes and "Hosanna." Songs of "Lead On, O King Eternal" and "All Glory Laud and Honor to you Redeemer King." Abundant praise.
And yesterday at our free breakfast, it was an overflow crowd of people who can't always shower, often carrying various bundles, whose outfits are often layers of whatever. An overflow beyond the regulars and the semi-regulars. I watched as one man brought five children and hoisting bulging plates overhead he called to them- “Come and sit- we have a feast today!” They paraded over to a table needed some extra chairs which I brought over. And then before they ate, he said to them-“First we need to give thanks- we need to pray to Jesus Christ” and he placed their hands together and they prayed. Their exuberance filled their part of the room. Joyful praise.We need to give God the glory, and our praise and our devotion for what God has done.
The room was filled with people who wanted to share joyful praise and also those who were ready to just make a mad dash for food and coffee, but here is what praise sounded like:
“I have been looking for a job. I waited for help but none came. God gave me the strength to push on for six months and now I start next week! I feel like a real person again!”
“I know you will be sad, but I am leaving- I found a group home that will take me and I can leave the Mission!”
“This is my stepson- he just got out of prison this week-in time for Easter!”
“My girlfriend is finally out of the hospital”
“A man tried to start a fight with me and you know I get angry, but I know if you pray with me now, I can let it go.”
“This week I decided I want to join this church and have my girls baptized- I see I don’t have to try to go it alone.”
“I was asked to pray and I could not- I told God you need to do it for me-and the words that came were beautiful- I knew it was not me-It changed everything and I need to tell people my story.”
“I have started reading at the library about sitting and listening for God- it really works!”
“It has been three years and four months since I drank- I could never have done it without God”
One man shared that he sings hymns all day as he walks around the city- If you saw this man, what would YOUR response be?
There at the breakfast, the gospel for the day was coming to life. Coming down the mountain, all gritty and sweaty momentum- Praising God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen. People who journey often and whose life is as seemingly random as “go and untie that colt because I said so.” I feel pretty certain that the crowds of Jesus' followers were not all fresh and pulled together and likeable, that they may have been a bit unruly. That it may have seemed overwhelming as they shouted at the tops of their voices. When we have about 150 for breakfast and people want to make sure they are heard, it really does take the top of one’s voice. Their energy level could be a little overwhelming.
Beyond our breakfast room, there were some voices who wondered-“Why are there so many?” Voices who wondered whether it could be that the weather was a little colder and it was good to be inside. It could be that it is the end of the month and resources are tight. Or that addictions force people to live this life. And in part these reasons are right. These were certainly the speculations of others who were feeling a little overwhelmed with “where have they all come from?” Feeling a little like those Pharisees who urged Jesus to admonish or rein in the followers.
It was a little overwhelming. And not all in the crowd were there to praise, a good number were just there to eat. That’s the thing about crowds, they can be a mixed bag.
But when the Master is in our midst, things do get stirred up in abundance. An unpredictable abundance. People do want to praise, and we are confronted with whether our need for control will get the best of us- When our need for control turns us into cold, rigid, non-living ones who are silent and weighty, like stones. Who allow decorum to trump enthusiasm, who allow the weight of judgment to squash what seems too much. Who want to schedule things rather than take a ride on unbridled praise.
And yet as the psalmist writes, “Deliverance belongs to the Lord, your blessing be upon your people!” Ps. 3:8. “Let my mouth be full of praise and your glory all the day long. ” Ps. 71:8.
While there were those voices that were unsure about where this ride was going, I give thanks that they stayed with it, and with where the Master was leading as before our eyes, the Word was made manifest. As we head into this week of recalling our Lord's Passion, let us not forget that moment of the triumphal ride. When we gather for Easter may we not be constrained, but lift our voices in praise of the power and triumph of our King, Master and Lord.