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A Holy Week Thought - In the Palm of your hand
Please read Zechariah 9 vv 9-12 / Mark 11 vv 1-11)
I was born…. I suspect anyone reading those three words is tempted to stop, imagining the book they have dipped into will prove a rather poor biography, but I assure you this is but a brief intro. So! I was born and brought up in London and my parents, conscious I was not having the experiences they had enjoyed in their childhood, took me on holiday to Cornwall every Easter from the age of four to fourteen, when they moved to Norfolk.
I still remember my excitement on seeing the wide open spaces for the first time and meeting all sorts of livestock, including the two donkeys who lived in a paddock at the end of the Hotel’s garden. When I was later allowed to ride one I could hardly contain my excitement – as the photographs testify!
The two passages of scripture identified above and which I would encourage you to read, are both about individuals riding donkeys and it is astonishing, given the similarities between them, to discover they were written almost 600 years apart and by two very different individuals.
Zechariah, a prophet, was writing in circa 520 BC. He talks of a long awaited Messiah – God’s anointed King - who will enter Jerusalem not on a prancing charger, surrounded by men of war, but in lowly dignity riding upon a donkey. His reign will be marked by a rule of peace and the release of all Hebrew captives.
The justification for his confidence this day will come is found in the covenant of Mount Sinai, delivered to Moses by God, which was sealed by the sprinkled blood of the Passover Lambs. It is therefore binding upon God, as well as his people. After a period of great suffering, Zechariah tells his readers, they can be hopeful again.
Mark, thought to have been a disciple of Christ, was writing in 70 AD, of events some forty years earlier. He tells us of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem where he is greeted as a King, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy. The crowds hail him with the cry “Hosanna!” (Saviour) and are optimistic he has come to release them from Roman tyranny. We read of them laying leafy branches on the road and those branches are thought to have been from palm trees. The crosses some of you may have collected on a Palm Sunday are made from those same tree branches leaves.
Christ’s arrival on a donkey was symbolic. To enter any city mounted was a Royal prerogative and everyone else walked. Added to that, to ride in on a horse was an act of warfare, whereas to arrive on a donkey meant you came in peace. Christ arrives as a King in peace, but the true nature of that Kingship was yet to be revealed.
The great shock, as we know, is that those who acclaimed his arrival were, in just five days time, to call for his execution, when his sacrifice would fulfil so many prophecies.
Christ knew what he was to face - Mark records that he foretells his death three times – and yet still he rode into Jerusalem. I cannot imagine the bravery that took. On the first occasion, Mark tells us, having spoken only to his disciples of this, he then called the crowd which had gathered to him and said to them “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.
Donkeys, as you may well know, have a cross on their back. The apocryphal story is that the donkey who had carried Jesus into Jerusalem stayed with him to the end. As he turned away from the cross, only once Christ had died, its shadow fell across his back and shoulders, where it has remained as a tribute to the loyalty and love of this humble creature. He and his successors have taken up their crosses ever since.
Last Sunday marked the start of Holy Week. I do not think, in this year, we need necessarily deny ourselves, as we have been denied so much of late, but perhaps we might instead indulge ourselves by setting aside some time on the remaining days of this week to take up our cross – palm or otherwise and imagine ourselves walking with Christ on his journey to glory.
The Church Times this week suggests we might imagine ourselves in a variety of roles – a Roman soldier, a Jew visiting Jerusalem for the first time, a member of the Sanhedrin, a woman disciple, or perhaps the hardest – Peter, who was to deny him three times. The choice is yours and I do understand that some may prove uncomfortable.
You might even choose to share a Last Supper with him on Maundy Thursday evening and follow in his footsteps – figuratively, or physically, past the fourteen stations of the Cross on Good Friday, before holding your own vigil on Holy Saturday.
If you find the experience helpful in feeling closer to Christ then don’t stop there, put the palm cross somewhere where you can see it and touch it daily, remembering its significance and praying with it. I have one on my desk and one stuck on the fridge door. This prayer is taken from the Palm Sunday Liturgy :
God our saviour, whose son Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem as Messiah to suffer and to die; let these palms be for us signs of his victory and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever - Amen
We will of course gather this Sunday, on Easter Day, to mark the 15th Station, the empty tomb and the most glorious of times – Christ’s resurrection – and acknowledge him as our Messiah and saviour. What a joy that we can do so once again.
I will always remember my childhood holidays in Cornwall and the fierce Easter egg hunts, but I will think of those donkeys a little more deeply in future.
I wish you all a very Happy Easter. Charlie