Materials for Worship for Holy Week

Nerys writes: I wonder when you were last in a large crowd? Can you remember what it was like? Was it fun or were you frightened? In the Gospel of the Palms and the Gospel of the Passion which will be read in church today, Jesus faces large crowds. The first one welcomes him and treats him like a king, shouting ‘Hosanna’, the second one wants him dead, shouting ‘Crucify him!’. Sometimes we welcome Jesus and other times we turn our backs on him but our loving God will always be faithful to us.

As you read Matthew 21.1-11 today and work your way through Matthew chapters 26 and 27 during the week, you may wish to imagine the various crowds that gathered around him and even place yourself among them.

Crowds had followed Jesus throughout his ministry. People came from everywhere to hear him teach. Some followed him for fish and bread. Some came for the chance of seeing one of his miracles. Many came to be healed. Very few recognised him for who he was.

Jesus didn’t seek crowds. He sought personal ongoing relationships. He didn’t drive away the crowds but on several occasions, he escaped them to be alone or with his disciples. Nevertheless, the crowds continued to seek him.

On his last journey, though, Jesus led a large crowd from Jericho to Jerusalem. His disciples had been forewarned of what lay ahead. The crowd had no notion of what they were part of. Many were eagerly anticipating a glorious Passover, an uprising perhaps, leading to freedom from Roman oppression. And the grand entry Jesus had choregraphed seemed to confirm all their hopes. Many responded with shouts of joy as he made his way into the holy city as the Messiah, the new King of Israel.

Pope Francis kisses a baby after celebrating his first Palm Sunday Mass, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican,. The square overflowed with a joyful crowd of some 250,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans eager to join the new pope at the start of Holy Week 2013. (Photo: Alessandra Tarantino)

Others sought to silence the crowd. The Jerusalem establishment had been shaken by the popularity of the outsider who was now inside their city. The joyful, worshipping crowd was a threat to the political status quo. Its leader was a threat to their authority. They conspired to get rid of him and they succeeded …

The crowd which gathered at Pilate’s palace after the arrest of Jesus was a very different crowd. This was a crowd attending a political event designed by Rome. It was a crowd drawn together by self-interest.

Every year during the festival of the Passover, the Governor would release one prisoner. It was his cunning way of displaying his power and currying favour among a conquered people. The crowd was made up of factions who had come to support a particular figure. There were also onlookers drawn by the spectacle, people who might be easily swayed to follow the majority. The crowd voted by voice. The name being shouted loudest would be released. On that day the voices of the crowd drown out the pleading of Pilate’s wife and the whispers of his own conscience.

A crowd of Palestinian Christians  carry a cross through streets lined with Israeli soldiers during a Good Friday procession in Jerusalem..  (Photo: Sebastian Scheiner)

The crowd at the cross was the most diverse of all the crowds of Holy Week. Some were triumphant, some heartbroken, some just curious. But watching the crucifixion held everyone spellbound. They were all spectators apart from the Roman soldiers carrying out their orders. Some remained full of disdain and contempt. Some were bereft, disappointed, in the depths of despair. Others left profoundly moved, realising that the crucifixion of Jesus was no ordinary crucifixion and that Jesus was no ordinary man. No one in the crowd fully understood what had happened that afternoon.

The understanding was to come later among those who were ready to form a lasting personal relationship with the risen Christ. It was to come in early morning encounters, in locked rooms, on the road, on mountain tops, wherever two or three were gathered together …

Wonderful God, thank you that you meet me right here where I am sitting – in the ordinary stuff and activities of my day. As I journey through Holy Week, help me to recognise you in Jesus, and empower me to live like him. Amen.