Palm Sunday: The Pilgrimage


Entry in Jerusalem – Duccio Maesta

We human beings are sometimes called homo viator, meaning a person on a journey, a pilgrim. We think of the pilgrimage we make each year from Palm Sunday on as the journey to Easter.

Palm Sunday is a journey by itself; a journey through packed and narrow streets, trying to keep the man riding the donkey in our sight. But he is always just ahead around a corner. It’s a journey where we cheer ourselves hoarse. ‘Hooray,’ we shout, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ it’s a journey where we are jostled in the friendly crowd. Excitement is contagious. ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!’ we cry out together.

I recall Palm Sunday processions at St David’s, Applecross, when the whole congregation walked from the nearby oval to the church, singing ‘Hosanna, hosanna!’ to a guitar accompaniment, chatting and socialising on the way.

I also recall more formal processions around church buildings with processional cross leading, robed servers and clergy, and all waving zamia palms and singing ‘All glory, laud and honour’. Usually, we managed to get out of time with the organ inside thumping out the tune!

This year, because of the pandemic, we will miss these cheery processions. We will make do with worship at home and online, poor substitutes for the real thing.

We can still reflect on the pilgrimage of Palm Sunday. We know that we are in a crowd that cries ‘Hosanna!’ today and ‘Crucify Him!’ tomorrow. We know that it is hard to keep in view the real Jesus, the humble donkey-rider. We know that our enthusiasm for Jesus will be challenged by the realities of suffering. And we know that our faith holds out against darkness. But this does not erase the truth of joyous praise as a season in our pilgrimage.

As we hear the story of the Entry into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday, whether it is our solitary voice reading it, or someone reading it to us from our screen, let us enter into the emotions of the Jerusalem crowd that day: the joy, the hope, the cheeriness, and the enthusiasm. These emotions can be a powerful antidote to the fear and uncertainty around us. We can own those feelings as a valid and notable season in our journey of faith.

Let us walk in imagination this Palm Sunday with the pressing crowds in Jerusalem and shout with them, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Palm Sunday procession in Madrid, Spain