Crowd Control? Holy Week

30th March 2023

This week I’ve been thinking about ‘crowd control’ and the cult of celebrity – specifically the violent demonstrations in France and Tel Aviv as well as the appearance of Gwyneth Paltrow and Prince Harry in two very different courtrooms.

In some ways it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of an adoring public – the temptation to be seduced by constant affirmation and adulation breeds an insatiable appetite for more. Expectations grow; demands must be met if people are to receive the attention they cannot live without. At first the admired cannot helped but be pleased and flattered by the renown and attention they see – success is measured in column inches, articles and images published. They worry when they are not being talked about. But, as we know and all too often see, the media can destroy anyone…

This coming Sunday, Palm Sunday is the day when we think about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem – when Jesus is subject to an admiring public. We are told that many people spread their cloaks on the ground and others spread leaves along the way with great shouts of ‘Hosanna’. The presumption was that ‘the King had come’ – the one whom they had waited 400 years for.

It’s worth noting that there’s no scriptural evidence that Jesus entered Jerusalem so that he might be praised by the crowd. The evidence suggests that it was more of a subtle, covert political statement. At one and the very same time, the annual ceremonial procession of Roman soldiers was processing into
Jerusalem from Caesarea Philippi – replenishing supplies, demonstrating force, their horses trampling on and over anyone who got in the way.

The crowds who celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem could not recognise the servant nature of this King. In Philippians, Jesus is described as the One who had been ‘born in our likeness, taking the form of a slave. Humbling himself he became obedient to death, even death on a Cross.’ This is a very different King.

Worldly kings, worldly power, knows how to use the admiration of the crowd, the fickle. They know they have to manipulate the crowd – maybe even use the sword, deal in threats – to bend the expectations of the crowd to their will. Such is the way of worldly power.

But Jesus’ refusal to do this tells us that his power is not from the crowd, but rather by his obedience to the will of his Father. He cannot resort to the sword or any other means of manipulation or crowd control. The power of King Jesus is displayed in his willingness to glorify the Father by suffering humiliation – even to the point of death.

The question we must face up to is simply this – which Kingdom do we want to be part of, associated with, join ourselves to?

Jesus’ kingship means that his followers must, like him, resist the temptation of being seduced by the desires and expectations of the crowd – and obediently do the will of the Father. That’s hard – much harder than we really know or understand.

So, perhaps, Holy Week is given to us that we might be trained in crowd control. That we might recognize that we are, not the crowd, but the church – the one that witnesses to the power and presence of a living Lord.

This coming Sunday we begin our journey with Christ along the road that leads to the scene of his crowning as King on the Cross. May we resist the temptation to be just enamoured admirers or disinterested spectators. Instead, let us follow him as faithful disciples who take bread and wine in humility, in obedience and in hopeful and certain anticipation of his glory and his victory over sin and death.

I look forward to sharing the journey with you.
Rev Paul