I am beginning to think about my Palm Sunday service (only because I don't have to do Passion Sunday as it's a 'Cluster' service with the BUGB president preaching).
Last year we had a sermonless service with loads of reading from the Bible and a central visual focus and lots of interactive bits as we went from Palm Sunday to Gethsemane in an hour! We had Communion as we read of the Last Supper - it was all quite powerful and meaningful really.
This year, given that few will be at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, I intend to cover similar ground but in a more traditional preaching form. I plan on using a Palm Sunday account counterpointed with a Good Friday trial account - two crowds and two very different responses. It got me thinking about crowd behaviour and wondering which, if either, crowd was an authentic representation of people's views. We like to think the Palm Sunday crowd was good because people acknowledged Jesus as 'he who comes in the name of the Lord' and the Good Friday crowd as bad (even as we think we Jesus had to die to fulfil his mission) because they shouted 'crucify him!'
This seems too simplistic and I started hunting around the web to find more educated views than my own. For example, we tend to see massive 'responses' at evangelistic campaigns as 'good' while football pitch invasions are 'bad.' Why? At one level the behaviour is the same: people fired up by some sort of crowd fervour act in ways they might not do otherwise. Yes, people are converted at evangelistic campaigns - but not the numbers who apparently respond. Likewise decent law-abiding citizens can get drawn into violence once they are part of a big crowd (although here it seems to be called a mob!).
I suppose I'm left wondering if the crowd is ultimately just inauthentic in some way. It is perhaps authentically 'of the moment' but with time to reflect guilt, regret, a sense of foolishness or artifice can set in. I'm not entirely sure how this helps with my sermon but maybe we do well to be aware of crowd behaviour and a little less swift to judge individuals as 'good' or bad' because they are part of it. It also makes me take stock of what I think of as 'good' events which may, to others, be bad (e.g. I think Palm Sunday is good; presumably for some Jews it remains part of a terrible and regretable heresy). It also makes me think about the internal tensions inherent in a faith that is centred on a 'bad' crowd deciding to execute an innocent man so that 'good' may come out of it, and all the muddled theology that surrounds it - but that's a topic for another day!