A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21. 8 – 11)
Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15. 6 – 15)
A Thought We have just celebrated Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We considered once more the king who came in peace and humility riding on a donkey rather than on a grand white charger. Jesus had crowds with him and as he came into Jerusalem even more joined the throng. They lined the streets, spreading their cloaks and branches of trees on the road before him. David pointed out that this was worship, the recognition that Jesus is the Son of David, the one who comes in the name of the Lord. He then compared it to the winners of the FA cup, driving through the crowds of fans in an open-top bus. David then asked the searching question: Like football crowds, will it last? Or are they just caught up in the euphoria of the moment? Five days later, many of these same people will be shouting “Crucify him!”
Last week, we also went into Walgrave School for the final Open the Book assembly of the Spring Term. As might be expected just before the Easter holidays, the team were re-enacting the events of Good Friday through to Easter Sunday. I was playing the part of the religious leaders stirring up the crowd, and the whole school was playing the crowd repeating everything I said. As an ex-school teacher, I am used to getting the children to do exactly what I have asked of them. However, I was in for a surprise on this occasion.
There were a small number of children scattered across the hall who wanted to free Jesus, and shouted for Jesus rather than Barabbas. In their heart of hearts, from what they had heard of the story, they knew that this was the right thing to do, and they were prepared to say so. I found this fascinating, and I was able to pick up on this with the children afterwards.
I realize that this was a drama and it was conducted within the environment of a school assembly, where the children felt safe, but… I wondered whether as adults we would have been so bold, even in a fictious setting. Food for thought, as we too journey with Jesus through the events of Good Friday - his betrayal and arrest, trial and subsequent crucifixion.
A Prayer (The Collect for Palm Sunday)
True and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah: grant us the faith to know you and love you, that we may be found beside you on the way of the cross, which is the path of glory. Amen.
My song is love unknown – from King’s College, Cambridge Note the contrasted crowds in verse 3.