It is with some effort that I decided not to call this post “The Picturesque Procession of Palm Sunday — or, a meditation on the concept of alliteration” — largely because it’s not really about alliteration but rather the procession, and being part of it.
A few years ago my sister and I walked the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. My sister was (and remains) a lot fitter than I, and one particular day it became extremely evident that this was the case. I think it was the same day I gave up and sat down in the middle of a vineyard; although that might have been another occasion. We were aiming at a small town where there were supposed to be three pilgrim hostels, along with quite a few other people.
Of course, what none of us realised was that two of the hostels were closed for renovations, and the third had been full for hours by the time we got there. My sister, showing little sign of the fact that we’d just walked 30 kilometres (what is my maximum for a day, at least on that trip), suggested we walk another few kilometres to the next hostel. I refused point blank and paid for a hotel, and a reasonable supper; and was that ever a good idea. We did laundry, we had long luxuriant showers, we slept in, and the next morning felt significantly better.
But what was even more marvellous was that that afternoon the village had a festival. I presume it was for the local saint’s day, though we didn’t find out who that was, or if it was actually for something else. While we were sitting in the plaza having supper, we saw a procession forming up, and then it got going with music and laughter and banners and giant mannequins on stilts.
That day (which even if it wasn’t the one where I sat down in the vineyard certainly brought me close to tears of exhaustion, pain, and sheer frustration) turned out to be one of the more memorable and delightful of the walk, in no small way because of the magic of that procession the figures on stilts swirling around the crowd, the music and the knowledge that we had a real bed, and showers, and sheets, awaiting us.
So when I realised that my church had a procession around the neighbourhood for Palm Sunday, complete with donkey, I decided that my embarrassment the first year and my slothfulness last year were no good excuses, and I should do my best to join in something in my community that would be — well, not so exciting, since even with the local Baptists and Roman Catholics joining us my church is fairly staid High Anglican — but at least, something out of the ordinary for a slightly dour Sunday morning in Halifax.
We sang hymns with reasonably lustiness. We waved our palms, and if the Baptists tended to be a little more enthusiastic about giving them out to passersby, certainly some others of my congregation were participating, too. We had some banners. The Roman Catholics had a guitar. The donkey, Tabitha, behaved herself, and was snazzily dressed in a plaid blanket. We passed the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, or at least the lieutenant governor’s car (I waved). It was actually quite a lot of fun, and, dare I say it, fairly picturesque. There were certainly people taking photographs. Alas, no one climbed any trees. But it did make me think of a wonderful poem by G.K. Chesterton:
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 On all four-footed things. The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will; Starve, courage, 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.