Palm Sunday marks, of course, the start of Holy Week with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. We are regularly reminded of this much mocked creature because there’s a donkey quite near us who sometimes indulges in melodious braying, almost reminiscent of the famous bars representing Bottom in Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture.
This is a poem I’ve written about Palm Sunday:
I was standing by the east gate
when I first saw him pass.
Could this man create so much hate
and yet unite all class?
Through the thick crowds I caught his face
and for one fleet instance
it seemed as if he could replace
death itself with his glance.
People had cut down palm boughs,
waving them before him
with hosannas and solemn vows
in one rapt festive whim.
Sat astride the colt of an ass,
he rode through the acclaiming mass
like a king returning.
How would this local triumph end?
No blood had yet been spilled.
Would it forevermore transcend
the man, the god they killed?
All we knew was that we seemed free –
our happy feast had come.
Yet wine and bread would never be
the same again for some.
And as the palm leaves’ cross-shaped folds
are given in this nave
will he say that our future holds
no terror in the grave?
(Icon of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem which is recorded in all the four gospels. The adults are greeting Jesus with green branches and the children are spreading garments on the ground.)
Last Sunday at the parish church of San Cassiano there was the traditional blessing of the palms (in this case including olive branches from the local fields) by Don Vitali and the procession into the church, which happily took place through the main entrance, until recently threatened by the collapse of a cross on the façade because of that terrible storm.
Don Vitali is a highly intelligent preacher who manages to get across quite complex messages to people who may not have had extensive education. I would like to write a good preacher’s guide to Lucca trip-advisor style (as indeed to London) for standards of delivery differ widely in quality. One doesn’t have to be particularly religious to appreciate a good preacher anyway, for the main message behind being a good Christian is also an important indication on how to conduct one’s life efficiently and with love.
I remain an agnostic in this respect and if there’s a book entitled “The God Delusion” by Dawkins, then there well may be another book called “The Dawkins Delusion” by God.
Here is a photograph of the great organist we are privileged to have home-grown in the parish, Maestro Enrico Barsanti, a truly fine exponent of a vast repertoire ranging from the renaissance to contemporary organ music (apart from being a sought-after organ restorer, especially in the Pistoia region so well described by organist and composer Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini as “a magical deposit of the rarest instruments in Italy and maybe in Europe”). Also in the photograph is my wife and her youthfully spirited mother who will be 94 years old this year.
Truly, it was a memorable start to Holy Week which will also be full of the Passion re-enactments, the major ones of which are at Vagli di Sotto, which returns after an absence of almost ten years (see http://www.luccaindiretta.it/2011-08-07-02-56-16/item/42437-a-vagli-torna-dopo-anni-la-rappresentazione-della-passione-di-cristo.htm )
and Castiglione di Garfagnana (see my posts at
for descriptions and photos of that highly involving event.
Whether you are a Christian or not, these are compelling occasions to attend and if you happen to be in Florence there is an equally gripping one which takes place on that city’s outskirts at Grassina. (See http://www.comune.bagno-a-ripoli.fi.it/opencms/opencms/Contenuti/Categoria_Primaria/Comunicati/Evento_70448.html
) which we’ve also attended.
I remembered the words of Don Vitali in which he stated that Christians have never been so persecuted as now. We only need to hear the news to realise that terrible fact re-iterated in places whose names have now become notorious. It seems to me, therefore, that these passion re-enactments have even more relevance today, whether one is a believer or not, for they emphasise the appalling intolerance that is breeding at an ever-increasing rate in the world today and indicate a way through it, as exemplified in the figure and example of Jesus.