Image: Orthodox icon of the Entry into Jerusalem.

‘One palm branch, one cloak …’

Andrew Collis
Palm Sunday, Year A
Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus enters Jerusalem, slowly. Slow enough that people walk alongside the donkey he rides. People follow behind him. Some even walk ahead. There is something about the pace of this story that just might help us right now. A slower pace encourages reflection. A slower pace promotes gratitude, kindness – more time for conversation, housekeeping, note-taking, perhaps art-making … 

On my mind today is the re-imagining of our garden – conversation with First Nations participants promises a faithful and inspirational community space, but also demands of us patience and listening, learning, letting go, letting be. There will be opportunities for partnership, many opportunities … There will be opportunities for truth-telling and peace-making … which may well mean, among other things, openness to a change of name … radical creativity …

Jesus the artisan (carpenter and parable-poet) is certainly creative. This story shows him in playful street-theatre mode. Carefully dramatic, symbolic, political. Playing to messianic desires, he is also challenging, provoking. 

Matthew even goes along with the joke, it seems, having the disciples procure not one but two donkeys (an absurdly literal interpretation of the prophecy from Zechariah).

So, a slower pace allows for humour. With all that’s going on in the gospel (religious and political collusion, persecution of the poorest and weakest, threats to ministries of compassion), there is merriment and joy. 

The scene calls to mind our friend/frond Norrie’s bubble-powered bicycle – Norrie riding nobly, pedalling gracefully, blue-pink bubbles up and down the street.  

I love the icons for Palm Sunday. Bright colours, movement, children climbing trees and waving palms. Jesus riding the donkey/colt, a messiah for street people, for children and the young at heart, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. 

Iconographers depict Jesus with a scroll, symbol of wisdom. He is Wisdom/Sophia, rejoicing in creation, delighting in humanity (Proverbs 8:22-31). Typically, Jesus turns his head toward those following as if to say (with a smiling wink): “Come on, keep going, we will get there.”

One palm branch, one cloak, one step at a time.

Merriment, as intimated, does not preclude seriousness. Sharing the joy of creation and delighting in humanity means solidarity with those denied dignity, opportunity, freedom, respect. Palm Sunday is a Christian festival with social – secular and interfaith – resonance. It communicates. It works. People, it seems, understand its significance as a festival of peace – with justice. 

The Sydney Palm Sunday rally and march will meet at Belmore Park today at 2pm. The theme is Permanent Visas for all Refugees. Act for Peace. (Endorsed by: Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Asylum Seekers Centre, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Pax Christi, House of Welcome, Independent Education Union NSW/ACT, Labor for Refugees NSW, Maritime Union of Australia Sydney Branch, Migrante, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace, Mums for Refugees, NSW Nurses & Midwives Association, NSW Teachers Federation, Refugee Action Coalition, Search Foundation, Social Justice by the Bay, Sydney Peace & Justice Coalition, Tamil Refugee Council, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.)

One palm branch, one cloak, one step at a time.

I’m a big fan of process theologian Catherine Keller, who writes of a “third way” between the relative and the absolute. In terms of today’s gospel, perhaps it means a faithfulness between a comical “anything goes” and an earnest/anxious insistence on convention or precedent. 

Wisdom/Sophia as third way rejoices in creation (unfolding), delights in humanity (unfolding), and affirms creation with humanity, everything in relationship (enfolded/enfolding).

With regard to Jesus and messianic expectations, I note these wise words: “A messiah complex, however virtuous, is a formula for burn-out … Redemption … is a process that infinitely exceeds human capacities. Inasmuch as the love-priority becomes our own, we take part in redemption; we participate in the new creation …” (On the Mystery).

Even Jesus takes part. Even Jesus participates. This is good news, gospel. 

Palm Sunday brings us to the start of Holy Week, and to the edge/fold of whatever is meaningful. The call is to join in, to follow. Amid all manner of threat and challenge. Aware of many risks. In spite of uncertainty. By faith … which means faithful to a God of love … slowly … in a Spirit of active patience, grieving, working, resting, caring, sharing (solidarity), waiting (vigil) …

One palm branch, one cloak, one step at a time.

Icons and illuminated manuscripts are typically “written” on gold backgrounds. The colour gold signifies goodness and glory, divine mystery, the im/possible. “Inasmuch as the love-priority becomes our own,” Keller writes, “we take part in redemption; we participate in the new creation.” Gold before us, gold behind us, gold under our feet … 

Our festal procession is underway: Gold within us, gold over us, let all around us be gold. Amen.