It’s customary at Mass on Palm Sunday, to recall our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem by re-enacting the part played by the crowds who followed Jesus on the day when he began the last week of his life on Earth. However, for most of us, today will be the first time in our lives when we’ve been unable to begin Holy Week in this way. There’s little doubt that this will be very difficult, but it does give us an opportunity to think, perhaps in a fresh way, as to what it means to be part of a crowd. An experience which for us right now has been taken away, but whose loss might make us more aware of both its joys and its difficulties, when it’s given back to us again.
Being a part of a crowd can be very powerful, and often we just get carried along by the emotion, which somehow seems to grow by itself.
I expect it was like that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A few people started to sing his praises, and then in a kind of spontaneous gesture it just got bigger as he approached the City.
Once a crowd begins to move, it’s hard to hold it back. Once you get caught up in a demonstration it’s very difficult, as they say, not to “go with the crowd”
But crowds are very fickle, and how things changed! Just a few days later, Jesus was on trial for his life. Pontius Pilate wanted to release him, but the religious authorities, who felt so threatened by him, found it easy to stir up the crowd. Those who cheered him as he entered Jerusalem were the same people who, a few days later, shouted for his execution.
When we’re in a crowd we can leave all of our inhibitions behind, and we can express our true feelings. This can be good, but if we get addicted to this kind of emotional release, it can be dangerous.
As we think about the crowds surrounding Jesus both on Palm Sunday and later in the week, we do well to remember the part which they played in all of those events. The emotions which were such a strong part of the gatherings took many of them down paths which they wouldn’t have chosen by themselves.
As we enter Holy Week, can we recognise ourselves in the characters around Jesus? Are we fickle and easily manipulated? Are we hard-hearted towards the sufferings of others? Do we ever secretly relish the spectacle of violence, or mock those whose faith we don’t understand?
There’s a striking contrast between the obedient, trusting nature of Jesus and the petty, destructive behaviour of those around him. In the Passion of Jesus we see our own failures mirrored in those characters; but we also see the costly self-giving of God through Christ. And, you know, the moment we see the greatest difference between ourselves and God is the very moment when we begin to be brought back into relationship with him.
So this is a good time for us to stand back from the crowd and examine our own faith.
We need to be fully aware of just how much like everybody else we actually are. But we also need to be satisfied that despite all of our imperfections and failures we can still come to Jesus, with or without a crowd. We need to be able to speak with Him in the silence of our own hearts, and ask Him to transform us to be like Him; to give us the mind of Christ, so that we too might learn to trust God completely, and give ourselves generously, just as He did.