A cloud of witnesses

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

(Matthew 21.8-9)

There’s nothing like a procession to bring out the crowds and as Jesus, on the donkey, surrounded by his disciples, come over the top of the Mount of Olives the excitement is palpable. The sight of the city never disappointed and everyone forgot the warnings that Jesus had given and got into party mood. Out from all the houses they passed people emerged and they created a carpet of their cloaks and of the branches they pulled from the trees. It was amazing.

Egeria was a Galician woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in about 381–384. Like all good pilgrims she kept a journal of what she saw and experienced and it makes fascinating reading. This is what she wrote about Palm Sunday in Jerusalem.

Egeria, a pilgrim just like us

Egeria, a pilgrim just like us

And 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,1 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 to the Anastasis, going very slowly lest the people should be wearied; and thus they arrive at the Anastasis at a late hour. And on arriving, although it is late, lucernare takes place, with prayer at the Cross; after which the people are dismissed.

The Anastasis means, literally, the resurrection. So the crowd of worshippers headed straight for the church of the resurrection, of the Holy Sepulchre as we know it. It’s just like our processions today. The Cathedral procession begins in the Borough Market and ends in the church, in the place where resurrection is always celebrated.

So as we walk today we walk not only with Jesus but with past generations of Christians, ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ to use a wonderful phrase from the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12.1).

True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.


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