I haven’t been to church today (a long story in itself). I decided to sit with the Bible narratives instead and see what I found. My thinking and prayers were shaped by time on the Mount of Olives in January….
I tend to associate Palm Sunday with donkeys and the “entry into Jerusalem”. But the day had started for Jesus and his followers in Jericho – 15 miles way and over 3000 feet lower. As they left, blind Bartimaeus attracted his attention (with a friend depending on which gospel you read). A man shouting, wanting something, when they were just setting out on a 15 mile walk, which by any calculation is several hours. Jesus stopped, they talked, there was healing. And so Palm Sunday began.
The walk to Jerusalem went through a bleak (if beautiful) landscape. It’s a far cry from the green hills of Galilee. Not much water, no shade. As walks go, it’s tough.
Jesus and his friends were aiming for Bethany, home to Mary, Martha and of course Lazarus. According to John they stopped there (and Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with nard that evening).
But according to the Synoptic Gospels, they carried on. A donkey and her colt were found, and Jesus climbed on. Donkeys are so small. There’s something a bit comic about a man on a donkey. Numerous sermons will have been preached today about it. Palm branches, cloaks, cries of “Hosanna!” The Pharisees implore quiet, Jesus tells them even the stones will cry out. I always imagined wide flat streets and a polite distance between Jesus and the crowds. After walking down the Mount of Olives on a road so steep there were hand rails and so slippery that one of us fell over, I imagine it differently. The view of the city is magnificent and Jesus wept when he saw it.
The cloaks and branches will have given the donkey something to grip on the steep path . There’d have been a rush to lay them down, pressing in on the donkey like the crowds round cyclists as they ride up mountains in the Tour de France. Then the struggle to retrieve a precious item of clothing and to keep up with proceedings. It wouldn’t take many people to make a crowd – our pilgrim group was a crowd in itself. What an end to the journey… heading for the Temple.
There’s another sermon, the Son of God enters a place of worship….
Again, accounts vary. Some have Jesus look round then return a mile back to Bethany to sleep (I wonder if he rode the donkey back? Or led her, with her colt?)
But in others, he protests at the sight of the temple trade, overturns the tables, and ends the day as he began, healing people.
I suspect that between trying to ensure a “good” Holy Week, worrying about processions, and the excitement of donkeys, we miss a lot of Palm Sunday. Healing, desert, journeys, meeting friends, comic rides, speaking truth to power. A truly remarkable day.