Palm Sunday: the Glory and the Sorrow

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Nothing is so beautiful as spring!
           When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.
Thrushes’ eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
           Through the echoing timber doth so rinse and wring the ear,
It strikes like lightnings to hear him sing.
            The glass pear tree leaves and blooms,
          They brush the descending blue.
That blue is all in a rush
          With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

 What is all this juice and all this joy?
           A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning,
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
            Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning.
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
            Most, O maid’s child, thy choice, and worthy the winning.

 Every spring, nature re-enacts this first celebration of existence with the exuberance of spring, as life unfurls in dizzying colors and fragrances and shapes.

Each year I return at this season to this sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins, as my senses are re-enlivened and I am drawn out of my winter introspection into the festival of nature. With the eyes of the poet, I see the grasses, the thrushes, the blooming trees and the blue of the sky. I hear the birds above and the lambs on our farm. With the heart of a eurythmist, I savor the dance of sound, the repeating consonants and the rhyming vowels so powerfully woven in the alliteration of sounds.

In this poem, I can imagine the first day of Creation. God (the unlimited source of all) could no longer contain the abundance of love, and overflowed with an outpouring of living ideas and thoughts, some as big as universes and some as intimate as molecules. God created us, too, on this first day, as creatures equipped to receive all this beauty, all this world, all this love.

This is the glory of Palm Sunday, a celebration of all that we have been given for our joy and well-being. Palm Sunday celebrates Christ as the Son of God, the Sun God, the spirit of the Sun who walked on earth as a human being. Songs of praise surrounded Him as he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey those many years ago.

As we considered yesterday, every birth inevitably contains the coffin of a future death. The poet writes that the Garden of Eden will soon come to an end, but we are urged to “have, get, before it cloy, before it cloud, Christ, Lord, and sour with sinning.”

This year, like none before, we all enter Holy Week with solemnity. In our self-made cocoons, we learn to seek what is essential. We all know that the beauty of spring will soon give way to the heat of summer, and then, at length, to a withering and fading away. This year, the ghost of death draws much nearer to us. 
The man who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday did not raise his arms in boastful, triumphant, narcissistic celebration. He rode into Jerusalem fully aware of the solemnity of the hour, of the trials and sorrows that would lie ahead, knowing that he would be sorely tested, that he would have to seek to fulfill deeds of cosmic magnitude.
We, too, enter this week aware that by the end of this season, many will have died. 

Where will we find the forces of resurrection? What seeds will this week bring to us?

Palm Sunday is the last Sunday of the “old mysteries.” We must acknowledge that only if we can re-discover the living forces of creation that lie behind the world of the senses can we unite with the forces of life and rebirth.

And on Easter Sunday, through connecting with the very source of life, Christ will illumine for us the path of resurrection.

For, in the words of the poet, this earth is indeed “worthy of winning.”


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