Tag Archives: HolyWeek

April 9th, Palm Sunday 2017: Shropshire Daffodils

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Wordsworth may have the fame when it comes to daffodils in verse, but in Shropshire last Spring we saw drifts of daffodils beside the roads, beneath the hedges, shining along the footpath edges … apologies; William is too easily parodied.

But I wondered why such county-wide devotion to a Welsh emblem: surely not love of the western neighbour? Rather love of the flower itself, and its defiance of lingering resistance from Winter’s rearguard winds.

And then I picked up Houseman, and these lines from A Shropshire Lad:

The boys are up the woods with day
To fetch the daffodils away,
And home at noonday from the hills
They bring no dearth of daffodils.
Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.
In farm and field through all the shire
The eye beholds the heart’s desire;
Ah, let not only mine be vain,
For lovers should be loved again.


The girls’ palms are of course the pussy willow, whose ‘silver-tufted wands’ set off the Easter daffodils so splendidly in the vase.

How good to be reminded, even by the morbid Houseman, to link our native flora and ourselves, to the ‘Hebrew children’ who went to meet the Lord carrying olive branches, and singing ‘Hosanna!’

Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum, obviaverunt Domino, clamantes et dicentes, Hosanna in Excelsis.

The Hebrew children, carrying olive branches, went out to meet the Lord, shouting out and saying, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’


Sheet music and recording of ‘Pueri Hebraeorum’



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18 September: Intergalactic Discoveries: VI – Stranded in Kent!

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On their return from Earth and the Solar System, ‘T’ and the Chihuahuax had many meetings with the Ossyrian Council and even more with the civil servants of the Ministry of Intergalactic Relations. The three returned delegates were fascinated by their visits to earth and used every opportunity to press their leaders to make a formal ‘first contact’ with the human species.

‘T’,the Director, who had of course assumed human form whilst on earth, had noticed that a great many television programmes and films were made in another sea-side place, called California. This, he thought, would be the ideal place to arrange a spectacular arrival ceremony for an official Governor’s delegation to humankind. When the Ossyrians learnt that it was from that same part of the world that the Chihuahua dog originated, it seemed to all concerned that the troika delegation should return to Earth in their accustomed disguises and make further preparations for a full embassy mission.

Their earth clothes and equipment had been stored in the Margate flat, so thither they returned, fixed in their earthly bodies for the duration of their stay. Alfie and Ajax as Chihuahuax were upset that much of the beach was now out of bounds to canines, but there were always walks in the park and visits to human friends to liven up the week. And all could look forward to two months in the California sun.

The dogs’ chagrin increased a hundred-fold when T came home one evening. ‘Sorry boys’, he transmitted, ‘but we messed up. If you come to California, you’d be spending most of the trip in what they call quarantine. Sitting in kennels, not allowed out, till the vetinarians are happy you don’t have fleas or rabies or distemper. I don’t know what to do. I really have to go to California.’

‘There is Will’s place’, suggested Ajax. Alfie looked decidedly sheepish. Last time they’d visited Will, baby Abel had been visiting his grandparents and was sitting between Will’s legs, babbling to the dogs, when his mother arrived and went to pick him up. A surge of emotion had flashed through Alfie, and before he could put his thought into words, he had nipped Abel’s mother. ‘I was trying to protect him’, Alfie said later.

Emotions! Disappointment at not going to California, shame at having misread the situation with Abel’s mother, worry about the summer holiday. These new feelings needed careful thinking through; a far cry from the even tenor of life in the scientifically devised and controlled world of Ossyria. ‘What’s happening to us?’ asked Alfie.


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March 25, Good Friday: Dying with Christ.

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We are all called to die with Christ.

Strasbourg Cathedral 

We are all called to die with Christ. One way of doing so is the way of red martyrdom, bearing witness (the meaning of the Greek marturō, from which the word ‘martyr’ derives) with our blood, as more Christians than ever before are doing.

There is also a white martyrdom, originally exemplified by those who withdrew into the Egyptian desert after the example of Anthony of Egypt. This is a death to all that separates us from God. By following the threefold way of purification, illumination and union the white martyr reconnects with the interior silence in which we know God face to face.

This death, which is also a journey, is traditionally imaged, after the Book of Exodus, as the soul’s ascent of the mountain of God. We ascend by allowing our perspective to expand. We ‘rise’ from self-centredness to other-centredness. This means allowing all of our habitual ways of seeing and thinking, however cherished, to be changed by the inflowing (the in-fluence), of grace.

bonaventure.ryeBonaventure saw that at the apex of the ascent we ‘behold Christ hanging on the Cross’ and ‘celebrate the Pasch, that is, the Passover, with Christ.’ We –

‘rest with Christ in the tomb, as one dead to the outer world, yet experiencing, in as far as possible in this pilgrim state, what was said on the cross to the thief who was hanging there with Christ: This day you will be with me in Paradise.’

The face of God is the face of Christ crucified. Our face, too, is the face of Christ crucified.

St Bonaventure from St Anthony of Padua, Rye.


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March 23: Into that Good Night …

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“Do not go gentle into that good night”.

As I slipped into the dark crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, Dylan Thomas’s poem to his dying father slipped gently into my mind, and there it stayed:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

So this was the prayer I had to sit with.

Note that, as a true Welshman, Dylan writes of a ‘good’ night; knowing that at nightfall a Welsh parent might sing ‘Ar hyd y nos’:

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,

All through the night.

Guardian Angels God will send thee,

All through the night.

Dylan himself had an angelic First Voice Under Milk Wood, watching over Laregub, his ideal corner of the Principality of Heaven; now though he was facing the death of his atheistic father, and with mixed feelings. Should an atheist, could an atheist, accept death without a burning rage?

The prophet Simeon’s ‘Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace,’ (Luke 2:29) was uttered when the old man saw the true light come into the world (Luke 2:31; John 1:1-14). But what did Dylan’s dad see at the end? Did his light die?

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Jesus went out into the night of Maundy Thursday, well aware of the dangers facing him. He did not rage, he went gently, but even so by way of intense emotional and spiritual wrangling with himself and his Father. And an angel did attend him (Luke 22:43).

The angels were to be seen once more on Easter Sunday morning (Luke 24:4) testifying to the Light reborn.

The peace of the Prince of Peace was not lightly won, but it is freely given. (John 14:27) Let us pray that Dylan and his father were able to receive it at last. And let us be grateful for the peace that the world cannot give, but that we can indeed receive from the one who calls us his friends. (John 14:27; 15:14-15).


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22 March: Keeping the Peace of the World.

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Prosippio was one of the Centurion’s guard waiting in the courtyard outside Pontius Pilate the Governor of Judea’s palace. They had been waiting, all 100 of them, for over an hour and they could hear the angry buzz of the crowd outside the gates. They were experienced men and they knew that this buzz could easily turn into a riot and there were not many of them to suppress a riot of angry Jews. At this time of year, ‘the Feast of the Passover’, a lot of the Jews seemed to be rather angry.

Down in the cells, as Prosippio well knew, was Barabbas, who was little better than a terrorist although he would prefer the term ‘freedom fighter’. He could mobilise thousands of supporters. These ‘wild ones’ wanted to kill Jesus of Nazareth who was going to be tried by the Roman Governor as a ‘heretic’ who had offended the Jewish priests and the elite among the scribes and Pharisees because he had claimed to be ‘The Son of God’. This seemed a bit of an exaggeration in the eyes of Prosippio and most of his mates. Possibly he was a ‘nut case’ who deserved a flogging before being released.

There was a blast on a trumpet, and the guard was called to attention as Pontius Pilate, Jesus Christ and a small guard came on to the balcony. Prosippio was thinking, ‘He doesn’t look guilty.’ In fact Jesus was a mild, pleasant-looking man who had clearly been roughed up by his guards. Pilate did not seem to want to find Jesus guilty of anything, indeed he seemed sympathetic to the prisoner and repeated several times ‘I find no fault in him’. But when he asked the crowd whether they would prefer Jesus or Barabbas to be released, the shout for ‘Barabbas’ was deafening. So, although Pilate would have preferred to release Jesus he was clearly moved by the crowd’s implication that freeing Jesus might be considered a threat to Caesar and so a threat to Pontius Pilate.

Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified as the crowd had demanded.


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20 March: Palm Sunday

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In this panel from Strasbourg Cathedral, Jesus himself seems to be carrying a palm branch – symbol, as we know, of martyrdom.

And here we see the martyrs’ palm engraved on the War Memorial in Boffles, Picardy, France. These  men might have paraded through crowds in Amiens on their way to the front, and are counted as ‘morts pour la Patrie’ – dead for France.

1914-18 did much to tear the heart from Christian Europe: too many clergy supported their own country’s War. Too many people died and suffered.

How do we face that? We remember that Christ rode into Jerusalem as Prince of Peace; that he would not let his disciples fight; that he told Pilate his Kingdom was not of this world.

Holy Week sees the would-be Messiah and liberator snuffed out by High Priest and Roman Governor, his followers broken, betraying themselves as well as him.

We too betray him and his Kingdom: that is, if he was who he said he was: the Prince of Peace, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

If his claim is true:

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman, Christmas.

stbartspalm (364x309)If true, it changes everything. God lived a human life in Palestine, unto the bitter cup of disappointment and death.


We will never understand human wickedness and sin, however much suffering we see. But let us not despair: the palm was awarded to the martyrs because it was the symbol of victory in the ancient world.

Your redeemer comes, riding on a donkey, go out to meet him! Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9.

The disciples’ courage after Easter testifies to the truth of what they learned about Jesus. Tradition says that Bartholomew was martyred by being flayed alive. This panel from his church in Chichester, shows his initials either side of the skinner’s knife, surrounded by palms. Picture: NAIB.



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