Palm Sunday to Good Friday, a frenzy of adulation turned suddenly to condemnation. How should we explain this sudden change? Did the crowd realise that Jesus wasn’t the messiah they expected so thought it best to crucify him? Hardly. Perhaps each crowd – Palm Sunday and Good Friday – was made up of different individuals? Or not, it doesn’t matter in coming to an understanding of those days. Whether the same crowd or entirely different individuals, the behaviour is entirely explicable. The episodes are linked because both crowds did exactly what crowds do, whether in adulation or condemnation. The common denominator is crowd behaviour, not the membership of each crowd. What is common between them is their unity of opinion vis-à-vis Jesus. The loyalties of crowds shift, their unity for or against the one does not.
The Gospels narrate this crowd behaviour many times elsewhere. Herod and John, Pilate and Jesus. The desertion of Jesus by the disciples (it’s not just a matter of cowardice), the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (not just a matter of greed), Peter’s denial of Jesus around the campfire (not just a matter of trying to deflect, Peter had changed sides). The same kind of contagion is displayed daily in social media. And many of the great injustices of our day and of history aren’t just a matter of prejudice or the like, but again, are explained by the contagion of crowd behaviour. (Think of racism and why education and legislation can’t defeat it.) It is why, when the ‘revolution’ comes there are always new victims (i.e. any associated – at least in the mind of the revolutionaries – with the old order).
And the unanimity of condemnation by the crowd of Jesus would have remained in force to this day, and the memory of Jesus would have been lost, if the unanimity had not been broken by God through the resurrection of Jesus. God, in the resurrection of Jesus, breaks the unanimity of the crowd. Nothing has been the same since. If you are looking for a new way of talking about the resurrection to your family and friends, or congregation, this Good Friday or Easter Day try this: the resurrection breaks the unanimity of condemnation that crowds since time immemorial have perpetrated on scapegoats, asking of us a new awareness, not of the rightness of our cause but of the power of group behaviour, and the dangerous memory of resurrection.