Palm Sunday. The Crowd Scene. So often filmed but so seldom experienced for what it was and what it still is. It’s easy to see it as another cameo image, one to add to other snapshot moments of the Gospels that hang around in our minds, like the Christmas manger, or the feeding of the five thousand, or the Sermon on the Mount. The first tends to get stored in our memory attic, along with the Christmas decorations. The others have a habit of popping into our consciousness, or sub-consciousness, when we are reminded of them by association, a summer picnic perhaps, or a public gathering of some kind.
But what of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem which marks the beginning of the most solemn time of the Christian year? To what might we compare it? Is it a mass gathering of fans? Is it a momentary escape from the harsh realities of ordinary life, both for Jesus and for his followers? Does this young Galilean give us a reason and an excuse to lay branches and garments at his feet as he passes by and to hail him as leader and deliverer? What is he thinking? What are the authorities thinking? What should we be thinking?
There are, of course, no straight answers to any of these questions, perhaps because the questions themselves are more important than the answer we might give to them at any given moment. They invite, instead, a much deeper understanding of what they really signify, of why the questions return to us. It is an understanding that takes us beyond words. If it were not so, the moment would have disappeared. But it does not disappear. It returns to us in our own most private consciousness as an invitation to follow this young leader. It questions and invites us to throw caution to the winds and join the crowd, even if, like me, you are not really a crowd person.
It seems, judging from his rather detached expression, that the young Galilean isn’t much of a crowd person either. He accepts the crowd but remains detached from what it offers him – adulation, instant fame, empty political fantasies. Instead, you get the feeling that he knows every single person who is shouting and waving as if he has known them all their lives. Perhaps they sense this as they shout and wave. Most crowd idols give their fans the feeling that they matter in a uniquely personal way. That is part of the art of being famous. But the young Galilean does not give off this kind of aura or convey this kind of knowledge. It seems he identifies with their suffering, their collective suffering as a people under occupation and the private most secret suffering of every person there. It is as if he knows each one, as he knows us right now in this moment.