Monthly Archives: March 2012

Cheers and Jeers

A sound track would be an especially helpful tool for understanding readings from the gospels dealing with events over the coming week. Holy Week begins Sunday. The week in Jesus’ life was an almost continuous cacophony. Reading the words – whether in personal devotional reading or in public worship gatherings – is far too quiet an exercise. Jesus’ world during his last week in Jerusalem was LOUD!

When I watch a movie or TV, Sometimes I can interpret the action on the screen from the sound track – but other times I can’t. Often the sounds of an exuberant crowd and the tumult of an angry mob are astonishingly similar. Listen to the roar of the crowd in the New Orleans superdome this weekend during a Final Four basketball game. Then listen for coverage of not-so-peaceful political demonstrations from anywhere in the world. From a distance – or with casual inattention – cheers and jeers can be difficult to distinguish. Often only close personal attention or more intimate involvement in the story or the events themselves will allow one to discern between shouts of joy and cries of condemnation. Both are resounding elements of the sound track of Holy Week.

The week begins with an exalting crescendo as Jesus traveled to Jerusalem. A spontaneous singing, praising, dancing parade broke out! Jesus sent a couple of his followers to fetch a donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem. Enormous crowds had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and they were thronging to Jesus wherever he went. Matthew’s account needs accompaniment of gleeful, celebratory crowd sounds: “Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, ‘Hosanna to David’s son!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!’ ‘Hosanna in highest heaven!’ As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken” (Matthew 21:8-10a MSG) An exhilarated host of people hoping to crown a liberating king streaming into a city jammed with Passover pilgrims would have been heard across the hills and valleys surrounding Jerusalem.

But the thunderous noise changed in tone before the week was out. By Thursday night and Friday, jubilant praise was transposed into clamorous condemnation. The roar of the crowd echoed through the streets, but with a sinister edge. A mockery of legal proceedings ended at Pilate’s house under a cloak of darkness. Pilate’s administration of justice was thwarted by the hostile mob insisting that Pilate could not release Jesus from custody: “the crowd went wild: ‘Kill him!’… {20} Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again. {21} But they kept shouting back, ‘Crucify! Crucify him!’ {22} He tried a third time. ‘But for what crime? I’ve found nothing in him deserving death..’ {23} But they kept at it, a shouting mob, demanding that he be crucified. And finally they shouted him down. (Luke 23:18a, 20-23 MSG) Matthew 27:24 notes that the chanting was cascading into a riot. The roar wasn’t confined to Pilate’s courtyard and neighboring streets. Another parade surged along the route to the execution knoll, a place known as “The Skull,” or Calvary. Deafening cries and laments coursed along with the mass of bodies: “A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.” (Luke 23:27 NRSV) Even as Jesus hung nailed to a cross, the strident commotion rang on: “People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: ‘You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days-so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!'” (Matthew 27:40 MSG) How could the jubilant cheers of Monday have deteriorated into the vicious jeers of “Good” Friday? And how much alike did they sound to distant passers-by?

Thankfully, the following Sunday brought a return of a rejoicing sound track. I can’t imagine Mary and the other women discovering Jesus’ empty tomb in a hush. I am sure that shouts of shock gave way to shrieks of joy. Mary Magdalene’s loud weeping dissolved into a squeal of recognition as she realized that her Lord was alive! (See John 20:20.) Excitement gathered as 2 followers traveled to Emmaus with an astonishingly relevant Bible teacher, whom they finally recognized as the risen Jesus, himself. (See Luke 24:13-35.) The celebratory sound continued to grow: “[Jesus] showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20 NIV) The glad cries would crest 40 days later as thousands heard the good news about faith in Jesus and God’s gift of grace at Pentecost – another mighty roar in the streets of Jerusalem.

How well can you distinguish the sounds around Jesus during that final week? Most of us want to add our voices to the glad chorus welcoming Jesus as our beneficent king. But don’t we also need to confess that we are regrettably present in the mob denouncing Jesus’ claim to rule over us? From a distance, the noise sounds almost the same. Draw close to the action.. Put yourself in the crowds shouting for joy or fomenting in despair.. Feel the emotion and the spiritual power of that week.. Find your voice in the cheers (and confess the jeers) directed to Jesus. Be sure what kind of sound your life is making in response to Jesus.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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