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Vicar's Musings for Palm Sunday

29 March, 2015

One of the gems of early church history is the writing of a Spanish nun, Egeria, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land around 381-384 bce. In a long letter addressed to her women friends at home, she describes the liturgical observances she experienced over the course of a year or more in the Holy City. Her account of Palm Sunday in fourth-century Jerusalem gives us a window into the early church practices, from which our own liturgies derive, as pilgrims such as Egeria brought the ideas and practices back to their home church:

As the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner, making these responses, from the top of the mount to the city, and thence through the whole city ? going very slowly lest the people should be wearied; and thus they arrive at the [Church of the Holy Sepulcre] at a late hour. And on arriving, although it is late, lucernare [lighting of the lamps] takes place, with prayer at the Cross; after which the people are dismissed.

We have been busily preparing for Palm Sunday as a parish. Last weekend there was a working bee, with Warren and Margaret teaching us to make palm crosses. Adam and David, with their helpers, have been gathering palm fronds and olive branches from as far afield as Point Lonsdale. Carol has been co-ordinating a special morning tea, to mark Bp John Bayton's 85th birthday, which we are celebrating today. All these centuries later, the traditions that Egeria observed are alive and well. Benedicite Dominum ....

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster



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