In the spring of 1521 Dr. Martin Luther was summoned to appear before emperor Charles V on charges of disrupting the church with his teachings.
On April 7th he preached what he thought might be his farewell sermon in the church of his old monastery at Wittenberg. The crowds spilled over into the courtyard. The students in his lecture room swelled to 400.
It took Luther and his group over a week by horse-drawn wagon to reach the city of Worms. When he arrived at Worms on April 16th, trumpeters announced his entrance to the city and the imperial herald led the procession. Some 2,000 people escorted Luther through the city gates. Three German princes came to visit him in his quarters.
Emperor Charles V complained that, while he had summoned Luther for trial, the reformer had entered the city like a conqueror.
Yet Luther had no illusions about all this popular support. He knew it could not keep him safe if the emperor chose to execute him. He also knew that a mob has many heads but few brains. They can turn against you as quickly as they first supported you.
He commented at the time: “I have had my Palm Sunday. Is all this pomp merely a temptation, or is it also a sign of the Passion to come?”
The comparison to Palm Sunday was well-drawn by the good doctor of theology. Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” is a lot like the reception the gospel has initially received at many times in many places throughout history.
In His parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus spoke of those who “receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.”
On Palm Sunday the fickle enthusiasm of the crowds soon melted away. Soon, only a handful of followers remained to fearfully watch the events of Holy Week unfold. Many joined the chorus that cried out: “Crucify Him!”
Following that first Palm Sunday, Christ Jesus cleansed the temple, driving out the merchandisers of religion. Luther, in his day, wielded the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – to cleanse a corrupt church.
In either case, the cleansings, the reforms, did not last. The crowds always went home, leaving only a remnant to carry on. When the crowds go home, each generation must take up the torch once more and carry on.