Celebrity culture is not new. The crowds waving palms and singing hosannas were trying to make Jesus into something he wasn’t: a triumphant king riding into Jerusalem to shake off the grip of their Roman occupiers and restore the glory of his ancestor David. They were building up an unreal image, putting him on an impossibly high pedestal. Small wonder then that just a few days later, when they realised that he was not going to fulfil their expectations, they would be so easily whipped up into a frenzy by his enemies, believing the lies told about him by false witnesses and baying for his blood. ‘Hosanna’ can so quickly turn into ‘Crucify him’.
In our celebration of Holy Week, the hosannas last for only a few minutes. They appear only in the short Gospel which is the introduction to the Mass of Palm Sunday. The rest of the readings for that Mass, properly called ‘Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion’, set out Jesus’ real agenda. Isaiah prophesies not a triumphant king, but a suffering servant who will make no resistance, offering his back to those who strike him, his cheeks to those who pluck at his beard, who will not cover his face against insult and spittle. We will recite Psalm 21, repeating the words that Jesus will cry out on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The Letter to the Philippians will set out the mystery of Jesus, though his state was divine, emptying himself to become like us, and then to be humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross, before God raises him high to give him the name which is above all names. Only then, after the journey through Passion and Death that we will walk with him this week, do we arrive at the Resurrection, when he receives not the fake praise of the crowd, but the glory that is his from the beginning of creation.
If we want to serve Jesus we must follow him and drink the cup that he drinks. Holy Week is a time for reflecting on how the pattern of our life follows the pattern of his life, for rejecting the false images that we and others hold of us, and for emptying ourselves of everything that does not matter. It’s a time for discovering our true identity as children of a God who loves us enough to make the journey with us through Death to Resurrection.