Political power and the power of the crowd come second to the power of love, says the Revd Ruth Whitehead, moderator of the South Western Synod of the United Reformed Church.
Every year, the Church begins Holy Week by marking Palm Sunday. You can read one version of it in Matthew chapter 21, verses 1 to 11. Jesus comes into Jerusalem surrounded by crowds of people, who carpet the road with their cloaks and spread branches from the trees in the path of the donkey Jesus is riding. They shout out: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ Apparently ‘the whole city went wild with excitement.’
Having been asked to write this reflection, I thought I should look back to see what I had said about it before. One part of my sermon from six years ago made my blood run cold:
‘We have seen amazing scenes from the Middle East and North Africa over the last three months or so. People kept subdued for many years by the evil and oppression of tyrants, suddenly starting to believe in “people power”, and calling for change and the bringing in of a democracy.… President Assad of Syria has formed a new government following the resignation of the previous government following protests … ’
Fast forward just six years and see how well that choice of ‘people power’ has served Syria. Every time I lead worship I say something like: ‘We continue to pray for Syria, where the suffering seems never-ending.’
In 2017 all the stories of world politics feel entirely different. ‘People power’ has been replaced by populism – a cynical appeal to fear has replaced hope. Truth is the victim of ‘fake news’. More than once I have wondered whether democracy is really working, or whether some people (possibly me included) are just too badly informed to be given a vote at all.
We shouldn’t be surprised: the gospel writers tell us that the people who went wild with excitement on Palm Sunday bayed for the blood of Jesus Christ just five days later. Yet the crowd get something right – they cry ‘Hosanna!’ which means something like ‘Lord save us!’
Only Jesus can provide them with the hope they need of real change. Only he can show them what real power looks like – laying down his life to defeat death utterly when he rises again. Political power, the power of the crowd, the power of populism, all come second to the power of love – greater than death. Only this can save Syria – and all of us who cry out for hope today.