St. Paul’s Cathedral is in the dense heart of the City of London, but since 2000 there has been a bracingly open way to approach it: along the Thames in one of the river buses, then, from the Globe Theatre on the south bank, across the Millennium Footbridge.
On Palm Sunday, which felt more like summer than spring, a great crowd waited for the procession, which included a pair of donkeys.
They commemorated the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem, crowds strewing palm fronds before him, at the beginning of the week that led to his crucifixion.
We followed the procession in.
I lost sight of the donkeys inside; I thought I heard them join in some of the louder hymns.
The service consisted largely of the narrative of the Passion from the gospel of Matthew, read out by voices representing the participants – Jesus, Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, Peter, servant girls who confronted Peter.
Indeed the account reads like a play, since much of it is conveyed in dialogue. I was struck by the novelistic skill of its writer. I won’t say more about that here, but if anybody is interested in my observations about the story as told by Matthew I will be glad to answer privately.
We were told that the event had a more constrained feeling than the previous year, because the crowd, before entering the cathedral, had first to get into a cordoned area, passing security checks; a consequence of the Westminster terrorist attack of March 22. Since we hadn’t seen last year’s event, we found this year’s fine.
Early in the time when I lived in Arab Jerusalem, we went walking on the road over the shoulder of the Mount of Olives, which leads down into the wilderness, and villagers rented to us a donkey, on which my wife Barbara rode. The village was al-‘Ayzariya, thought to be Bethany, where Lazarus was raised from the dead and where Jesus lodged when entering Jerusalem. We didn’t intend any blasphemy; it was a sensible way to get along the road. Since then the terrain has been laced with superhighways.