Spirited Reflection: A great number of people followed him . . . crowds who had gathered there
Large numbers of people, bodies crowded together in one place, along the side of a road, or on top of a hill . . . these images fill me with unease in the Easter season of 2021—a year after a global pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization. I want to flee from them and return to the safety of my socially distant, locked condominium rooms. It is too soon. I have not yet been vaccinated. The majority of my fellow citizens have not yet been vaccinated. And a “third wave” of new COVID-19 variants is filling hospital beds in my city.
At the same time, when I think of large numbers of people, of bodies crowded together, I remember the world we are accustomed to living in and enjoying. Memories are easy to recall of times when being in a crowd made me feel excited, energized, joyful, and inspired to common purpose. Walking down a street filled with people, gathering outdoors on a hillside, or sitting with hundreds or thousands inside a large hall or stadium, elicit warm memories of what it is like to be together with others at pleasurable events—concerts, the theatre, competitive sports, meals in crowded restaurants, feasts, and large group tours of the natural and historic wonders of the world. These crowd-filled memories are images of hope, and of the now hoped-for time when human beings will come together again, no longer fearful of transmitting or being infected by a terrible virus.
A great number of people followed Jesus, says Luke, in chapter 23 of his Gospel, verse 27. Alas, they were beating their breasts and wailing for him. These crowds had gathered to follow Jesus to Golgotha, and to watch and wait with Jesus as he died on the cross.
In 2021, in spite of and because of the pandemic, I confess that I do see great crowds of people, a multitude, a crowd in their billions. Where are they? Where are these crowds? They are the people of the earth united in their isolation, making common cause of the need to stay apart, showing solidarity with each other precisely by limiting their contacts with each other. I am astonished by these crowds. Most of the people of the earth have committed for more than a year, in a remarkably peaceful and mutually supportive fashion, to protect themselves and each other, by accepting limits on their freedom to congregate. They have recognized the importance of covering their faces with masks while in public. They have cancelled plans to travel. They have accepted that they cannot come together even with close family members for annual holidays, to celebrate happy milestones such as graduations or marriages, or to mourn the passing of those whom they have loved most deeply. A great many have accepted real disruption in the ways they make a living and deep hardship recognizing that they need to do so for the good of all. The level of cooperation of these crowds in their multitude in the face of an unprecedented threat to life is beyond anything I might have hoped for or imagined before the global pandemic was declared.
I see in this crowd, this host, this multitude in isolation, the faces of the crowd who were willing to follow Jesus, a teacher who preached universal love and care for the other whoever and wherever that other might be. I see around me and around the earth crowds of people, like the crowd that watched Christ’s crucifixion in faithful wonder, trusting in God’s promise of new life, not knowing what that new life would look like or feel like or when it would come. And I am bold to say that maybe our common Creator, observing the crowds of people on planet earth in 2021, isolating out of common concern for each other in their multitudes, is looking upon us in our isolation and saying, these are my beloved children in whom I am well pleased.
Written by Lori Ransom, Interim Executive Director, KAIROS