My Holy Week – Palm Sunday

In previous year’s I’ve written specific blogs that people have been able to follow during Holy Week.  This year I thought I’d do something a little different.  I hope you don’t object to me calling it ‘My Holy Week’. It’s as much yours as mine, ours in fact.  But what I want to do – and this may prove to be interesting or not – we have yet to find out – is to simply record what Holy Week has meant for me this year, what has got me thinking, reacting, reflecting.

People often say to me, as they did last week, ‘It’s your busy week coming up!’ In one sense, of course, they’re right – it is a busy week.  But not in the same way as other weeks are busy.  Lacking in self discipline and diary management skills some of my weeks are almost undoable – but I manage to scrape through. But Holy Week is different in that the normal round of meetings is absent and instead I’m able to worship and lead worship and hear confessions and do things that are priestly in a way sometimes that, speakinging frankly, some decanal tasks aren’t.

The other thing that makes a huge difference is that I can listen to someone else preaching and not have to worry as much about preaching myself.  It’s not that I won’t be preaching – I am tomorrow lunchtime and twice on Easter Day.  But the Holy Week preacher – this year Canon Mark Oakley from St Paul’s – does the bulk of the preaching.  It’s great.  I can be fed alongside the rest of my colleagues and the congregation.

Having recently returned from co-leading the Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Bishop of Southwark, I was eager to begin Holy Week so that the fresh memories of Jerusalem could be brought to life again in the liturgy. It’s only a few weeks since we began on the first proper day of pilgrimage as most pilgrim groups do, standing at the top of the Mount of Olives and looking across at the view of the Temple Mount and the beautiful Dome of the Rock and being reminded that the rather precipitously steep road down is the route that Jesus would have taken. On this occasion it was pouring with rain and I mean pouring. As we left Dominus Flevit the road outside had become a river and we struggled to hang on to each other as we made our way down to the Garden of Gethsemane.


The Mount of Olives


I woke this morning to a gentle shower of rain and that question that’s in the head of many priests on Palm Sunday morning ‘Will we get away with it this year?’ The IT is the outdoor procession and last year we didn’t – it was really raining and we had to make the difficult decision not to go out.  That was such a disappointment – the procession is so integral to the liturgy and doing a ‘figure of eight’ round the Cathedral just isn’t the same.


The congregation arrives


Fortunately the weather wasn’t too bad as the time for the procession approached and we headed off to the Borough Market.  That’s where the first part of the liturgy is held.  In what is normally a packed space with market stalls and shoppers we pack with worshippers and it’s a great beginning.  Then out onto the Borough High Street and shocking the people wandering about there or passing by on one of the many buses.  You can see bafflement in people’s faces – ‘What are they doing?’ – for some it clicks and they remember, others remain baffled.  A builder working on the High Street stopped what he was doing and stood back and a Steward went and gave him a Palm Cross.  He really beamed with the most tremendous smile and proudly held it up to show his mates in the shop behind him. Some others joined us, caught up in the fun, just as must have happened on that first Palm Sunday.


Entering the Cathedral


There is something good about Palm Sunday, it’s sameness.  It takes me back to my days as a chorister, out on the streets then, singing the same hymns – ‘All glory, laud and honour’ and ‘Ride on, ride on’ – the same style of palm cross, the same sense of anticipation and there is something so connecting about this.  Not messing about with Palm Sunday is as it should be.  Egeria on her pilgrimage experienced it like this in the 4th century and we connect with that experience and every large or small procession, with or without donkey.

Yet, even though its the same as ever, its always a fresh expression of church.  The procession is made up by a new congregation, with new Christians and, being in the northern hemisphere, there is a spring-like freshness to it all.  I love it and I loved it today.

In the first of his sermons in the afternoon Canon Mark Oakley spoke of something which I had never thought of before.  He said that we had to remember that in fact two processions occurred that first Palm Sunday.  One came from the north, a peasant procession which in many ways had begun in Galilee.  The other came from the east, from Caesarea Maritima, the Roman headquarters.  This was an imperial procession bringing Pontius Pilate to bolster his troops in what could be a difficult and fractious week in Jerusalem, Passover week, when the memory of shaking off oppressive rulers and finding freedom made the people restless in their present, dominated situation.  Two very different processions – one with imperial stallions, one with a donkey; one with gleaming standards one with palm fronds; one with the glint of armour worn, one with coats spread on the road.  Both were triumphal entries but from very different worlds and these worlds, these images of the kingdom, were to collide and would collide around Jesus.

It has given me a lot to think about as I begin this week and the day is not over yet.

your humility challenges
our need for power,
your majesty challenges
our attempts at glory.
As worlds collide
hold us together
with wounded, majestic hands.

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