I always enjoy Palm Sunday, even now when I no longer attend church, and I think partly it’s because I grew up in California and palm trees have been ubiquitous and beloved for many years. When I was younger, Palm Sunday meant a day in church when children has a special job, taking all the palm leaves to the altar. Now, palm trees are mostly things I wonder at and walk or drive under — along Palm Drive at Stanford University, Palm Avenue in Cupertino, palm trees and their messy falling fronds in my own back yard.
I’m writing a poem today about palm trees, calling it “Palm Tree Sunday” but I wondered if there were poems about Palm Sunday — religious poetry that I could share here. And, of course, there are.
G. K. Chesterton wrote a beautiful poem about a mournful donkey, and only mentions Palm Sunday in passing, without naming the day. You have to be familiar with the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to catch the allusion. Chesterton was an English poet, art critic and Christian apologist. He converted to Roman Catholicism from the Church of England and spent much of his time and energy as a writer with spiritual work. The poem here, “The Donkey” is a delightful poem on so many levels, and no matter what you believe about Jesus, the donkey’s sad, disrespected voice is familiar to anyone who has ever felt less than loved.
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, scourge, 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.
The next poem I want to share is a contemporary verse about Palm Sunday written to delight children learning about the day in their church school. Andrew King has a wonderful blog full of his own poetry, much of it in response to the week’s lectionary. (Click through to his blog for an explanation.)
This poem, called “The Story of Palm Sunday (as told for the young)” is absolutely charming. What is not to love about a poem that rhymes “anointed” with “pointed” and remembers the glory of historical Jerusalem as “quite a blast” — I mean, this poet must have had a great time writing this. The rhythm is strong, the language alive. I love it. Here are several stanzas from the middle of the poem.
“He’s coming straight to Jerusalem’s gate,”
the folks were excitedly saying;
“Let’s get out there in the open air
and show the Romans for what we’ve been praying.”
They cut branches down and handed them round,
a symbol of joy and praising.
And they lined the way for Jesus that day,
palms and voices ready for raising.
Jesus, meantime, had his followers find
a young donkey on which he could ride.
He’d come to that place to show God’s saving grace,
that God’s on the sufferer’s side.
These photos are the closest I could find to what I remember.
So, Happy Palm Sunday. Be you a believer in Jesus or not, I hope that you can believe in poetry with me today.
The painting at the top of the post is Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti. Entering the city on a donkey symbolizes Jesus’ arrival in peace rather than as a war-waging king arriving on a horse.