Sunday of Branches

musty Tenebrae books with Sisters’ careful notes in the endpages, red fabric draped on cross, black fabric, crown of thorns, white fabric waiting just out of sight in the closet, soggy ground, cold, tips of bulbs pushing up from the ground

You shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God.  Leviticus 23:40

Keeping with our “local” and “seasonal” manifesto and specific practice in Lent, I explored the sisters’ acreage for anything we might use for “palms.”  Even the pampas grass, soaked and limp and dirty seemed unworthy of the liturgy.  Finally, I gathered the most beautiful of the dried vegetation available: fern pods, artemisia, grasses, hydrangea, with forsythia I forced, placing them in vases around the dining room at St. Aidan’s so that we could each design and bind our own assortment of branches, tied with red ribbon.

We began the liturgy at St. Aidan’s, singing and praying, and then proceeded throughout the farm to bless and be blessed at each “gate” of the heavenly Jerusalem, that is, the stations of our working, our praying, our living.  After mucking through the fields, I celebrated mass in my wellingtons.

“Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”  At these words, I wept.

A sister offered one of the best sermons I’d ever heard.  She contrasted vahana, the animal vehicle upon which Hindu deities ride, with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  After all, he usually walked.  She imagined the Roman dignitaries riding magnificent Arabian horses through the city gates.  But Jesus borrows a humble donkey, and comes through the back gate through the poor neighborhoods.   She imagined what onlookers might have thought and felt in this spontaneous act of Jesus, coming purposefully, not furtively, into Jerusalem.   She opened the metaphors into a discussion of “the field” Lynn McTaggart’s concept of influences and intention.  The cultural, political, social, spiritual ” field” of Jerusalem within the oppressive powerful “field”of the Romans.  And Jesus, coming through the back gate, bringing his own “field” of influence and subversive power, which, indeed, changed everything.

I’m happy we decided to save the passion reading for Friday.  This is the first Palm Sunday in which there is time to contemplate the “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem. 

It is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats of lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  But we have clothes ourselves with Christ’s grace, with the whole Christ – “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” – so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.        Andrew of Crete   (8th century)


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