Blogging through Holy Week [1] – Palm Sunday

I’m not a great blogger to be honest – extremely irregular! So I thought as a final piece of Lenten discipline I might try to blog each day through Holy Week. (I say “try” because we’re away from Good Friday until after Easter Sunday, so there may be more than one day updated in one go…)

Anyway, it seems fitting to start with Palm Sunday, the traditional beginning of Holy Week when we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (or a colt, or both). The Gospel reading we had at church this morning was Matthew 21:1-11, what the NRSV terms “Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem”. There are so many things to talk about in this very well known story, but what I started thinking about this morning during the sermon was the role of the “very large crowd”. (This was not the subject of the sermon: get me for my attentiveness!)

Verses 8 and 9 of this passage say that “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’”

Who was in this crowd? Where had they come from? Had they been following Jesus for some time, or were these brand new followers come Palm Sunday? We don’t know any of this from the biblical record, so thinking about this is all a bit speculative. I think it is safe to say, though, that we do know how crowds/mobs behave nowadays, and crowds then and now are probably not so different.

So, how much did the very large crowd know about the One they were welcoming into Jerusalem. Did they really know who they were greeting, or were they just swept along? And does that even matter? If you’re welcoming or serving the LORD, and don’t know Who you’re greeting, or in Whose Name you are serving, does that matter? “Classical” Christianity would say it probably does matter, but I’m not so sure.

The most intriguing question that struck me this morning was where were those very large crowds by the time Good Friday came? There’s no indication that Christ in his last hours was surrounded by those same crowds trying to protect him from a terrible death, by force of arms if necessary – indeed I don’t think the LORD I worship would have wanted that.

Then there was that other crowd, that other mob which called for Christ’s death. Who were they? Were they so very different from the crowd who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday? Were any of the Palm Sunday crowd there in Jerusalem later on in the week, no longer crying “Hosanna” but “Crucify”? Again, we don’t have any definite answers, but I’m tempted to say there probably were.

Why would I think that? Well, I think unfortunately because I could see exactly the same sort of thing happening if Christ came today – people are quick to follow a new thing (The New Thing in fact), but ultimately they’re easily swayed by other voices – don’t you think life would be easier if you didn’t follow Him? isn’t He a bit dangerous? if we follow Him, might we lose our freedom, our friends, our power, our privilege, our safe little position in society?

So, what would we say? Hosanna or Crucify? Or, being honest, both?