This coming Sunday begins our week long journey to the cross. We hear of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem as the crowds gather around him in praise and honour. It is a highly exalted and glorious scene, packed with the intense cries of the people for the saviour to do his work. Yet these cries shift a few moments later, as we leave the triumphant procession, and journey with Christ in his procession of shame. Palm Sunday, after all, is also Passion Sunday, and our cries for a saviour to save us becomes twisted into cries for the saviour to die. This Sunday the congregation lends its own voice to those shouts; “Crucify him!” we cry, again, and again, and again.
The liturgy for this Sunday often involves a dramatic reading of the Gospel narrative. We walk through the betrayal, the arrest, the denial, the condemnation, and the execution. We will hear, with our own ears in our own time, the representative of the state ask “What crime has he committed?” which is met by our own vehement plea to crucify the Incarnate. We will again hear the testimony of the crowd, now gathered in the pews of the church, that we have no king but Caesar. We hear about our own culpability and responsibility for the torturous execution. “Crucify him!” we cry, again, and again, and again.
There is no question that this is an uncomfortable scene. After all, we don’t like hearing our voices added to these shouts. This is probably why some refuse to say these words. Since I have been ordained, every year, in every church, I have had people come to me and say that they could not bring themselves to join in with the crowd; they remain silent when the time comes for the congregation to plea for crucifixion. Some refuse to say these words out of a deep recognition for what they mean – for the guilt and shame associated with them. Some remain silent out of a sense of righteous refusal. “I would never shout to crucify him – Even if all others deny him, I will not!’ they resolutely claim.
I understand where they are coming from, and by no means to do I wish to belittle anyone who takes this approach to the passion liturgy. However I do believe that the refusal to scream out “Crucify him!” – no matter how well intentioned it may be – leaves us wanting of something important in our journey to Easter. The fact is, in distancing ourselves from crucifixion cries we distance ourselves from the cross. We stand removed and apart from it. The refusal to join in with the cry of the crowd brings within it a sense of faulty pride, by which we self-righteously assert that we have no role in the crucifixion story.
This, of course, is completely off base. Just as Christ came as evidence to God’s love for all, so too his death on the cross is in response to the sin and rejection of all. Scripture says “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace.’ If we remove ourselves from the sinful cries that lead up to the crucifixion, are we not removing ourselves from the justification and grace that flows from it?
We may not like that the voice of the crowd is our voice, but it is our voice. Whenever we make Jesus take a back seat to our own self-indulgent plans and designs, we cry out “Crucify!” Whenever we choose to acknowledge a human person, authority or power above the Word made flesh, we cry out “Crucify!” Whenever we perceive faith as being ‘in the way’, and thus downplay and hide our personal allegiance to Jesus, we cry out “Crucify!”
When we remove ourselves from that which leads up to the cross, we inevitably remove ourselves from that which occurs afterwards. It is only as we hear our own voice in the cry to crucify are we able to hear Jesus turn to us and assure our place in paradise. The death of our sin not occur through our own human effort, but from Jesus hearing our voice and responding in love and salvation. So as uncomfortable as it may be; as hard as it may be to listen to; and as horrifying it may be to associate ourselves with, lend your voice to the passion liturgy. Understand that the cry of crucifixion is powered by your own voice, and is in an honest and authentic expression of your life with God. It is only when we enter into that place, then we open up ourselves to hear Christ’s words of comfort and peace. It is only when we sit with the messiness of the crucifixion, can we fully enter into the glory of the resurrection.
How do you respond to the having to lend your voice to the cry of ‘Crucify him?’ Have you ever refused to say those words? What was your reasoning?