They had been waiting for him. He promised so much. And he arrived, waving to those who greeted him so enthusiastically (especially the photographers and the press), and rode the beast through the great city. Some had got ahead of themselves: they were already disenchanted, already crying ‘crucify’ — or at least ‘get the bankers!’ — but for most, the hope was there, the hope of a saviour, come at a time when the old ways, the old certainties, could no longer be sustained. Surely, with his coming there would be the promise of restoration: we would again feel comfortable with ourselves, assured that our lives would again be blessed and fruitful.
Well, so much for last week’s G20, and the arrival of Barack Obama. This week, of course, it’s a different story, a different arrival. The expected Messiah comes on a donkey, and it takes a while for the mood of the crowd to change. But the fearfulness with which we seem to live because of the global economic downturn, and the hopes invested in the meeting of world leaders last week, above all in the new US President, provided a strange parallel to what might have been the mood of an expectant, fearful, hopeful Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Will we be as disappointed as those Jerusalem crowds in the outcome of last week’s deliberations? Will we turn on the politicians, the people in whom we invested those hopes, and demand reparation — not perhaps their lives, but at least their seats and their expenses, as compensation for not setting all right, not returning us to the ever-increasing affluence to which most westerners and some in the developing world have become accustomed?
In some churches, when the passion narrative was read last Sunday, the congregation will have given voice to the bystanders, the crowd. We, the gathered company, are asked to see ourselves as the fickle ones, now enthusiastic, now hopeful for the wrong things, now condemnatory. And if we are the crowd on Palm Sunday, so perhaps we should, as the spectators of the G20, ask what responsibility we have, what part we play in bringing ourselves, our economy, our environment to its current state — and ask ourselves too, just what our Easter hope is, this 2009.