All those shouted acclamations, all that waving of palms, all the hosannas - what did it amount to? Jesus was not going to be taken in by a burst of street popularity. We read in the gospel according to John: 'Jesus would not entrust himself to them, because he new all people … Jesus knew what was in everyone' (2.24-25). He knew that the crowd which yelled praises one day could turn on him the next.
Jesus does not use the surge in popularity to build up a power base. Although he cleanses the Temple, he also counsels his listeners to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, to God what belongs to God (Mark 12.13-17). Instead, Jesus uses the time remaining to him to build up the disciples. He continues to teach them. He shares a Passover meal with them, and gives them the beginnings of the eucharist. Jesus encourages them and gives them a source of communion with himself which will be for all time.
Teaching, encouragement, communion - what small things these seem. Smaller still when compared with marching armies, and all the power and panoply of the great people of our day. Yet these are the seeds which have built up the Church, making it a world family, helping it to branch out from one generation to the next. These are the roots of faith which over the centuries have enabled many to go out to heal the wounds of the world, inspired by Christ.
The popularity and the excitement of the crowds on Palm Sunday passed in a moment. What endured, what lasted, was the living presence of Jesus himself. He gave himself to his disciples, and he gives himself to us still, every time we kneel in prayer, every time we stretch out our hands in communion. Sometimes we think that the Church is strong when it enjoys power and popularity. I am not so sure. Looking across history, it seems to me that it is precisely when the Church has courted power and popular acclaim that it has been at its weakest. So let us stand alongside the crowds this Sunday, and acclaim Christ. But let us remember that what counts is not their acclaim, but the love and sacrifice that took Jesus to the cross. We stand with the crowds, but our heart belongs to Christ, and we will walk alongside in the week that lies ahead, so that he may walk alongside us for the whole of our life.