The Roman Catholic world is all aflutter! They have a new Pope, Pope Francis. There are some reasons for all the excitement. This is the first Pope from one of the Americas and Francis appears to be distinctly different than Pope Benedict. This pope also took the name of one of the great saints; St. Francis whose compassionate heart was directed to helping the poor. Perhaps, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in his new role as Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church will feel that same compassion for the poor and will act on it making a difference in the lives of the disenfranchised worldwide.
Apparently, our United Methodist bishops are expressing the same cautious hope. Bishop Rosemarie Wenner from Germany and President of the Council of Bishops said in a statement following the announcement of Bergoglio’s election: “For the first time ever the Roman Catholic Church elected a pope who comes ‘from the edge of the world,’ as Pope Francis said himself. What a sign for the change in the map of Christianity.”
A brief history of papal elections reveals that the election of this Pope was fairly quick. It took 5 ballots over a 2- day- period to elect Pope Francis, a near record. But, true to human nature, no church institution is free of intrigue and rumor. The Roman Catholic Church is certainly no exception. Within minutes of the official rising of a white plume of smoke, the newly elected Pope Francis was receiving both cheers of joyful acceptance and slurs on his reputation due to the suspicion he may have had a hand in Argentina’s 1976 bloody war. Cheers and Jeers seem to be the fate of anyone who rises in power or appears to be heading that way. We see it in our own country and we see elsewhere and throughout history.
So we come to the circumstances that led Christ from the streets laden with strewn palms and filled with crowds of cheering fans to the bloody hill of death called Golgotha and crucifixion. It all seems to happen so quickly but then again, suspicion and distrust, power struggles and despair, well, they do seem to diminish our better nature. In our least God-filled moments, we look for the bad in each other rather than the good…a result, perhaps of our fallen nature.
Scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book “The Last Week” propose a fuller picture than we might see in this brief passage for there were two processions going on during Passover week; one from the west entrance to the city where Pilate, decked out with regal wear and imperial splendor enters surrounded by his royal guard and the other procession from the east where a simple man in a simple robe rides in through the gates to the holy city of Jerusalem on a small donkey, his only guards and champions are the ones he had enlisted as his disciples. A clash of kings states Borg and Crossen and so it would seem, yet these two men came with far different agendas…Pilate to uphold the Roman structure and Jesus to share the kingdom of God. The two agendas are at cross purposes. Psalm 118 captures this hope for the future – it is a song of deliverance. Pilate and Christ in silent battle over the hearts of humanity – There would be, inevitably, a violent ending to this march.
We enter this week of preparation called Holy Week uncertain of our response but with certainty that God through Christ, has made a move on our hearts; God still seeks us. We may be already looking beyond Holy Thursday with its solemn sharing of a Last Supper, beyond the trial and ultimate pain of scourging and the whip, which leads to Good Friday and the Cross. We may be planning our Easter feasts and a day of joy with our families, but in this moment, we remember that to move from one place to another – from the pain of death to the hope of life, we must walk those streets that lead Christ to his death for our sakes. What happened on the days that will eventually lead to Easter does affect us still. Christ gave our lives back to us so we can sing, with the ancients, a psalm of hope, Psalm 118. We know, though we may not want to live through it again that Christ has fulfilled our hope; we are rescued. As the psalmist sings these words, as we repeat them, the proof of eternal life is our desire to be the Disciples of Christ fulfilling, even in the smallest of ways, God’s hope for the world. And so we sing:
“I thank you that you have answered me
And have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing [and]
it is marvelous in our eyes.” Amen.
 Feasting on the Word, p. 152 (William G. Carter) and 153 (H. Stephen Shoemaker)
 Psalm 118:21-23