Yet if we define a holy space as a space inhabited by God, then the Gospels affirm crowded places as distinctly holy. Jesus was often with crowds–more often than he would have liked. He was with friendly crowds, pleading crowds, confused crowds, hopeful crowds, hostile crowds. And each crowd was made holy by his presence.
It is interesting to think about this crowd of people gathered just outside Jerusalem as Jesus comes riding up on a donkey. It must have been an incredibly diverse group. The twelve were there of course, and other committed followers like Joanna and Susanna. In addition, there were probably fans–people who Jesus had healed, people who had found wisdom in his teachings. Some of these fans might have even been Pharisees and Sadducees, skulking around, trying not to be seen. Many in the crowd were simply pilgrims coming into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration; people who didn’t know who Jesus was and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
This motley collection of people, this crowd, is holy. Because there sits Jesus in the midst of it, riding along on a loping donkey.
This crowd is holy, because it is not just any crowd. This is a crowd under the sway of Jesus. And this procession, this celebration, is also a protest. A satirical protest that pits the Kingdom of God against the kingdom of Caesar; the donkey of Jewish prophecy against the warhorses ridden by the Roman officials; the rag-tag disciples of Jesus against the stately entourage of Empire.This display of religious fervor must have seemed ridiculous to the Roman citizens. Yet it struck a chord of fear as well.
In explaining the process of nonviolent protest, Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
This rejoicing, protesting crowd outside the city of Jerusalem is a bit hard to ignore. And so there was likely some derisive laughter going on. The fighting is yet to come. And also the victory.