By Steven Norris

    It was a fairly typical Saturday afternoon in early December. A pair of college roommates had spent most of the morning cramming for final exams.

     “What are you doing this afternoon?” one roommate asks.

     “I don’t know.”

     “Want to go to the holiday parade?”

     “I suppose.” Arriving downtown, a mutual friend approaches.

     “I need help! Some of my volunteers didn’t show up and our float is going to be a disaster. Can you help?”

     “Sure, I guess,” they replied. Hypothetically speaking, this is precisely how one might end up making his debut as a 6-foot-tall elf in green tights and a tunic (made for a much shorter person) walking down Main Street in his college town.

     I cannot help but think that some of the pilgrims throwing down palms and laying their coats before Jesus ended up at the parade on Palm Sunday in much the same way, without much forethought or planning. Instead, they heard the commotion and followed the crowd.

     All four Gospels include “the crowd” as a character in the narratives of Holy Week. It is precisely this kind of circumstantial, emotionally-driven groupthink that lead “the crowd” to shift their cries from Sunday’s “Hosanna!” to Friday’s “Crucify him!” We all know the temptation of exchanging critical thinking for the ease of not standing out. However, the spirituality of the crowd is not enough to sustain us in days like this.

     I am talking about the superficial spirituality that leads many of us to read only those people with whom we already agree or go to churches that merely parrot the preconceived ideas we brought with us. A spirituality of the crowd invitesyou to check your brain at the door of the sanctuary because it cannot stand up to the weight of honest intellectual inquiry. It hides behind simplistic platitudes and looks to voting booths or market reports for the security that can only come from God’s Spirit.

     This superficial crowd mentality is exactly the kind of weak faith that crumbles in the face of the cross. It runs away from pain and suffering. It insists that God is only interested in bringing us blessing — financial prosperity, emotional ease, and relational harmony. This is the kind of faith that caused all of the disciples to abandon Jesus in his moment of greatest need.

     Jesus models for us a different way. He models a faith that can stand up under scrutiny. He models a faith that doesnt require a worldly show of strength and power. Instead, Jesus shows a faith that enters into Jerusalem in humility and relative obscurity. He models a mercy that welcomes his betrayer at the Last Supper. Jesus’ spirituality cries out in prayer, Not my will but yours be done.” It causes him to cry out from the cross, Father, forgive them. They dont know what they are doing.”

     As we approach Holy Week once again, may we remember that today’s world desperately needs a spirituality of the cross, not a spirituality of the crowd. Resurrection is only available to those who take up their own cross and fix their gaze on the one who was lifted up for us all.