Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Palm Sunday in Poetry – Sermon for April 1, 2012

Revised Common Lectionary for Palm Sunday, Year B: John 12:12-16; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; and Mark 14:1-15:47

We have just read the simple, yet dramatic story of our Lord’s Passion as related in Mark’s Gospel. But we began our worship this morning with John’s story of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In the span of a few minutes we covered an entire week at the end of Jesus’ earthly life. Logic and reason cannot really make sense of this, and no ten-minute homiletic exegesis of these texts can help us comprehend the enormity of those events.

Perhaps, instead, some poetry.

Hark! how the children shrill and high
Hosanna cry,
Their joys provoke the distant sky,
Where thrones and seraphims reply,
And their own angels shine and sing
In a bright ring:
Such young, sweet mirth
Makes heaven and earth
Join in a joyful symphony.

And thus Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. In this little poem entitled Palm Sunday by Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), the Welsh metaphysical poet, we get a glimpse of what was at the beginning, the joy that was supposed to be, the glory that was lost.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), who has been called “the apostle of common sense” but was also known for his humor, gives us a glimpse into the mind of one of the lesser-considered characters in the drama of Jesus’ entering Jerusalem:

When fishes flew and forests walked,
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry,
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
Of all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient, crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Chesterton’s little poem is entitled The Donkey.

Marie J. Post (1919-1990), a 20th Century poet and hymn writer whose poems often appeared in The Banner, the denominational magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, in her poem, also entitled simply Palm Sunday, suggests parallels between that Palm Sunday ride and the Way of Tears Jesus would walk later in the week:

Astride the colt and claimed as King
that Sunday morning in the spring,
he passed a thornbush flowering red
that one would plait to crown his head.

He passed a vineyard where the wine
was grown for men of royal line
and where the dregs were also brewed
into a gall for Calvary’s rood.

A purple robe was cast his way,
then caught and kept until that day
when, with its use, a trial would be
profaned into a mockery.

His entourage was forced to wait
to let a timber through the gate,
a shaft that all there might have known
would be an altar and a throne.

A poem by a 17th Century Dutch theologian and poet, Jacobus Revius (1586-1658), whose poems have been translated into English by Dr. Henrietta ten Harmsel, helps us face the hard fact that it was our guilt, our sins for which Christ suffered; we are the villains in the tragedy that is Good Friday. His poem is entitled He Bore Our Griefs.

No, it was not the Jews who crucified,
Nor who betrayed You in judgment place,
Nor who, Lord Jesus, spat into Your face,
Nor who with buffets struck You as You died.
No, it was not the soldiers fisted bold
Who lifted up the hammer and nail,
Or raised the cursed cross on Calvary’s hill,
Or, gambling, tossed the dice to win Your robe.
I am the one, O Lord, who brought You there,
I am the heavy cross You had to bear,
I am the rope that bound You to the tree,
The whip, the nail, the hammer, and the spear,
The blood-stained crown of thorns You had to wear:
It was my sin, alas, it was for me.

Finally contemporary Canadian poet Carol Penner, who is also a Mennonite pastor, reminds us that the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week are not simply historical events; they are present realities. Her poem is entitled Coming to the City Nearest You.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Jesus comes to the gate, to the synagogue,
to houses prepared for wedding parties,
to the pools where people wait to be healed,
to the temple where lambs are sold,
to gardens, beautiful in the moonlight.
He comes to the governor’s palace.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you,
to new subdivisions and trailer parks,
to penthouses and basement apartments,
to the factory, the hospital and the Cineplex,
to the big box outlet centre and to churches,
with the same old same old message,
unchanged from the beginning of time.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you
with his Good News and…
Hope erupts! Joy springs forth!
The very stones cry out,
“Hosanna in the highest,
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The crowds jostle and push,
they can’t get close enough!
People running alongside flinging down their coats before him!
Jesus, the parade marshal, waving, smiling.
The paparazzi elbow for room,
looking for that perfect picture for the headline,
“The Man Who Would Be King”.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you
and gets the red carpet treatment.
Children waving real palm branches from the florist,
silk palm branches from Wal-mart,
palms made from green construction paper.
Hosannas ringing in churches, chapels, cathedrals,
in monasteries, basilicas and tent-meetings.
King Jesus, honored in a thousand hymns
in Canada, Cameroon, Calcutta and Canberra.
We LOVE this great big powerful capital K King Jesus
coming in glory and splendor and majesty
and awe and power and might.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Kingly, he takes a towel and washes feet.
With majesty, he serves bread and wine.
With honour, he prays all night.
With power, he puts on chains.
Jesus, King of all creation, appears in state
in the eyes of the prisoner, the AIDS orphan, the crack addict,
asking for one cup of cold water,
one coat shared with someone who has none,
one heart, yours,
and a second mile.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Can you see him?

3 Comments

  1. Ruth Switzer

    Just wanted to share!

  2. Dorothy Bevill

    LOVE the poems, as this Palm Sunday falls in April — National Poetry Month!

  3. Aquilino Rodrigues

    Thank you for sharing these masterpieces!

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