Our dear late friend Rosemary Nutt was privileged to be in the Holy Land during Palm Sunday one year and wrote fondly of her experience at this beautiful time. As we reflect and remember Rosemary we wanted to share this with you.
My joyous pilgrimage into the Old City of Jerusalem
Palm Sunday is one of the most joyous days in the city of Jerusalem. As we read in St Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples collected a donkey and her colt at Bethphage, very close to the village of Bethany where Jesus frequently stayed with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and Bethany is where Lazarus was raised from the dead.
Pilgrims have been coming to follow the Palm Sunday walk since the end of the 4th century, during the Byzantine period. Our walk from Bethphage over the Mount of Olives and into the city of Jerusalem took us through St Stephen’s gate to the Church of St Anne and the Pool of Bethesda, by tradition where Mary the mother of Jesus was born.
Jerusalem at the moment is bursting at the seams with pilgrims – as well as Christians there are also many Jews celebrating the festival of Passover.
Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and it is mentioned in the four canonical Gospels. In the Eastern tradition, the donkey is an animal of peace (rather than a horse which is perceived to be an animal of war) – so Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem symbolises that he is the Prince of Peace; it is also a fulfillment of prophecy (Zechariah 9:9).
Processions of the faithful carrying palms represent the palm branches and fronds that the crowds mentioned in the Gospels scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. In the Orthodox Church, Palm Sunday is one of the Twelve Great Festivals of the Holy Year. Palm Sunday prefigures the much greater shock and surprise of Easter Day.
Many of us were carrying palm fronds and olive branches that we were given earlier at our own churches. We congregated at the Franciscan church built in 1883 over both Byzantine and Crusader ruins. One quickly learns that most holy places in the Holy Land were marked earlier by both the Byzantines (sometimes by Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine) as well as the later Crusaders, and destroyed in between.
In the church there are frescoes of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey as well as the Raising of Lazarus from the dead in the nearby village of Bethany. We walked in the footsteps of Jesus with the Catholics from the College of the Freres in Jerusalem (my friend Ibrahim was educated by the Brothers there) and we were fairly near the front of the procession. As we walked over the peak of the Mount of Olives past Pater Noster Church, where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, people all around me were singing accompanied by tambourines in the shape of a fish, drums and guitars.
Some of the songs are familiar although with lyrics in Arabic – Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, Ya rabb as-saleem, Lord of Peace grant us peace and the Lord’s Prayer, which I recognise from singing it at St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, and some are completely new – but I was able to pick up the tunes, if not the words. However, none of this mattered as the atmosphere was so jubilant, joyful, fabulous – there are not enough adjectives to express it.
As we walked over the top of the Mount of Olives, we enjoyed the amazing views over the city of Jerusalem and we remembered how Jesus would have seen the most view from the top of the mountain – the Jewish Temple, the walls of the city, the houses – the city of his people, said so many times to be the city of peace. As we started to descend the Mount of Olives, we passed Dominus Flevit Church, which commemorates Jesus weeping over his city as he foretold the destruction of the city and its temple. Once again built over Byzantine and Crusader remains, the modern chapel built in the 1950s has a roof in the shape of a teardrop to symbolise Jesus weeping.
We walked past the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane (again built over ruins of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches) and then started to walk up to St Stephen’s Gate which commemorates the stoning of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to actually enter the city of Jerusalem. I have to say at this stage the atmosphere got rather more frenetic – continuous singing, people getting excited, agitated, dancing. We were approaching the entry into the Old City of Jerusalem.
Hosannas were ringing out from all sides – in front, behind and where we are walking. We squeezed in to the Holy City through the gate and finished beside the healing pools of Bethesda and the Church of St Anne. Hosannah in the Highest – Blessed are we who come in the name of the Lord!
Should you wish to experience this same joy then do take a look at our 2024 ‘Palm Sunday in the Holy Land’ departure by clicking below.
Palm Sunday in The Holy Land – McCabe Pilgrimages (mccabe-travel.co.uk)