“This week instead of reading the story of Palm Sunday – we will walk the journey” It was my first journey to Jerusalem during Holy Week. We set out and walked the road to Bethphage and joined the motley group of pilgrims, from all corners of the world, along with our Palestinian brothers and sisters from the local Christian communities. Waves of people, led by the Scouts from Bethlehem, moved across the Mount of Olives. A mighty procession, each group singing in their various languages hymns of praise. It was a day of great excitement full of rumors that the procession wouldn’t get permission to enter into the city. (This is the only time Palestinian and others are allowed to march into the old city of Jerusalem). We entered and gathered in the grounds outside the Patriarch’s house for Benediction of the True Cross. Then we went our way reflecting and meditating on what had taken place. Our Palestinian brothers as they returned to Bethlehem marched around the old city with fife and drum – the Church in Bethlehem has one of the largest Bagpipe bands outside of Scotland – It was a day to remember.
A real insight into the tensions within the land of Israel and Palestine: – The experience removed any romantic or pious imaginings of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It reflected some of the dangers inherent in the time of Jesus when according to tradition he entered into the Temple Mount through the Golden Gate. To enter through the Golden Gate was a sign of enormous significance – a sign of leadership and power. ( Tradition has it that when Saladin, the great military leader who defeated the Crusaders entered the city he did so through the Golden Gate leading his horse with one of his servants mounted on the animal as a sign that he came in service and humility). Today the Golden Gate is sealed, closed and overlooked by soldiers as it still carries great symbolic significance – a place of richness and tension.
That Palm Sunday walk took place in 1979. To day the journey is even more surrounded with tension and difficulty. A substantial wall separates much of Bethphage from the road across the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem and the walk of witness of the first Palm Sunday is even more fraught with difficulty.
Will it or won’t it be allowed to take place. By the time this is read we will know and we will have taken part in our own Palm Sunday walk of witness and been moved by its strength. However we won’t have the tension of entering the City Gates and the sense of foreboding that surrounds each walk in Jerusalem – yet as we enter this Week of Weeks the contrast between Palm and Passion is tangible indeed. We are moving into a downward journey, into the very depths of what it is to be in solidarity with all that is truly human. In solidarity with the best and the worst of us.
In Luke’s Gospel chapter 9 we are told that Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’. There was no turning back – there he would face palm and passion and on Friday of the week of weeks on the Cross he would say those truly amazing words “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” As we journey though this week in solidarity with our Elect who have ‘set their faces to the new Jerusalem’ may we do so in solidarity with our brothers and sisters both Christian, Jew and Moslem in the Holy Land and pray that we all may learn to forgive the wrongs done to one another ‘for we do not know what we are doing’.