By John Evans
During Lent, my congregation is reflecting on the stations of the cross as seen through the eyes of Jesus.
On a recent Sunday we pondered the trial of Jesus before Pilate and Herod. The congregation was invited to participate in acting out the story.
Herod and Pilate sat out the front, and we were the mob. Jesus and Barabas, suitably shackled, stood to the side. So, at the appropriate time, we all heartily yelled “Release Barabas”. Then we were asked to yell, “Crucify him. Crucify him”. We even had to stand up and point at Jesus as we called for his death.
Yes, this is a familiar, critical moment in the story of the cross of Christ. Pilate was weak. He misjudged the mood of the crowd. Pilate and Herod became good mates.
That Sunday, I understood all of that – but actually, to stand there pointing at a person dressed as Jesus, yelling, “Crucify him, Crucify him” was difficult. Very difficult. It seemed more than just play acting; more than just retelling this part of the Good Friday story. I was challenged. Somehow, I was the person under judgment. I will admit, I mumbled at this point in the service.
Since that Sunday I have reflected on my hesitancy, my unease, and in turn, why that mob was able to successfully persuade Pilate to condemn Jesus to death even though Pilate obviously wanted a different outcome.
The easy part of my reflection was to acknowledge the power of the mob. Here the crowd, a passionate crowd – got what they wanted. True, a crowd can sweep us along; we find it very hard to resist. Peer pressure is for all of us, and not just for teenagers. In fact, I recalled a stunning photo, prominently displayed in the Berlin museum: The Topography of Terror. The photo was of a crowd of German shipyard workers all saluting Hitler – except one: believed to be one August Landmesser. August stands there, towards the back, with his arms resolutely folded, surrounded by hundreds of his fellow workers who are all saluting. He resists the power of the crowd. He is alone in his quiet protest.
No, that was not me that Sunday. My hesitancy was not some profound rewriting of Christian history. I was not some standout hero of humanity who saw at that moment, the truth. I was not like August Landmesser, risking punishment and hostility for the sake of higher good. Although I do appreciate better, the strength and integrity of those who don’t go along with the mob.
Rather, I think my reluctance to yell out, was the surprising realisation that I was just as sinful as the next person: not that day just with my fellow worshippers engaging in playacting, but my relationship with all of humanity through time. From that first Good Friday to the present.
I was really a member of the mob too. Paradoxically, on the one hand I could not believe I was really that bad, standing and pointing, baying for the blood of Christ. I was better than that, surely.
At the same time, I realised Jesus at his trial was prepared to wear the sin of his religious and political leaders and even the ordinary folk who had once flocked to him to hear his words. He was in that moment prepared to forgive; even “on the third day” offer new life.
Perhaps in equal measure, arrogance and awe led me just to mumble “Crucify Him, Crucify him” that Sunday.
Rev Dr John Evans is a retired Minister