All over the country people having being begging or borrowing a donkey from a local farm, organising the palm branches and praying for decent weather so that the Palm Sunday procession can take place as both planned and looked forward to. For many churches this is the only occasion when they take their liturgy out of the church and into the street. If you haven’t tried it I thoroughly recommend it.
Many years ago now I was Parish Priest in the Parish of Richmond Hill, Leeds and our three churches, All Saints, St Hilda’s and St Saviour’s loved to take religion out of the church and into the community. Whether it was our May Festival with a bobbing around statue of Our Lady on the shoulders of some of the parish lads, Corpus Christi with the monstrance, or Palm Sunday and then a procession with the cross between the three churches on Good Friday, as well as carol singing in the streets and in the pubs in the run-up to Christmas, we all loved it. This was witness, this was mission. People scratched their heads wondering what we were up to or shouting ‘What’re you up to, Father?’ And that gave us the opportunity to tell them and to invite them to join us.
So I’m delighted that each year the congregation of Southwark Cathedral begins Palm Sunday not inside, but outside the building and in the Borough Market. The liturgy begins, the Palm Sunday gospel is read and the choir sings their hosannas. With holy water and with incense the palms are blessed and then we all process into the Cathedral through the streets. And people in the open-topped tourist buses look down, and some may recognise what we are up to and others may wonder, but everyone notices and the pictures go up on Twitter and Facebook.
This blog is titled ‘Triduum’ and before you send me a message telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I do know that Palm Sunday is not part of the Great Three Days, which is precisely what the word Triduum means. But you can’t get to Maundy Thursday when those three days that changed the world began without passing through Palm Sunday. Jesus had to enter Jerusalem if he was to be expelled from it, carrying his cross outside the city wall to those places of death and burial.
For the past few years I have done a special blog for Holy Week – ‘Passion in Real time’ and ‘Calvary Bound’ and you can still read those. So this year I thought I would just put onto this blog some meditations for the Triduum itself. The reason I wanted to be able to set down some thoughts is because, as some of you will know, I was on sabbatical last year and for six weeks of that I was living in Jerusalem. Each day I was out discovering new places and walking old paths. I know that as we go through each of the days of this Holy Week and as we celebrate Easter, I will be reliving some of the experiences that I had there. So I invite you in joining me in some of those reflections.
Almost all pilgrims to Jerusalem will begin their visit looking down from the Mount of Olives and seeing spread out in front of them the fabulous view of the Old City with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground and in the middle distance the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is an amazing view, breath-taking and though in the distance you can see the towers and tall buildings of modern west Jerusalem, you know that it is something, something like the view that Jesus saw that made him weep. You walk the steep path down the side of the mount knowing that the triumphal Palm Sunday procession passed this way, knowing that countless generations of worshippers, like the pilgrim of the 4th century, Egeria, have followed the same path, doing the same things, hearing the same gospel, singing the same hosannas.
But I suppose that for me when of the particular memories of being in Jerusalem was being taken to Bethphage. This little village is just over the crest of the Mount of Olives and is halfway down the eastern slope before you get to Bethany. That town was of course the home of the friends of Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He may have begun his Palm Sunday journey from their home but it was when he got to Bethphage that he mounted the donkey and rode the rest of the way.
As a result of the construction of the wall that divides Jerusalem from the Palestinian territories in the West bank it is now impossible to follow the journey that Jesus made. He would have been stopped by the wall if he tried it now. But close to the wall is a lovely Franciscan church which commemorates that first day of Holy Week in the frescos around the wall. But close to the sanctuary is something more beautiful. Enclosed now in glass is the ‘mounting block’ that Jesus is supposed to have used when mounting the donkey. He didn’t use it of course, it’s a Byzantine invention, but it is beautiful. On each of the four sides are the most lovely paintings of the events of that day, reminders of the powerful nature of the events that we have been remembering.
Many congregations will have been singing the traditional Palm Sunday hymn as they made their way from start to finish. ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty’ was written in 1827 by Greenwich educated Henry Hart Milman
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.
That second verse captures something so important about this entry, the ‘lowly pomp’ that will be reflected on a number of occasions as we enter those Great Three Days, that Triduum as the triumphs now begin.
whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified:
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.