CS Lewis, the writer best-known for his Narnia series, used an expression which can be applied to Palm Sunday: “the highest does not stand without the lowest”. There are two points that can be made.
First, in many human situations, the highest and the lowest are joined together. The birth of a baby is greeted with joy but achieved through pain. The passing of a parent can be a blessed release from old age’s hardships but comes with heartbreak at the silence that descends. Similarly, we know that Palm Sunday represents a high point in the Holy Week that follows: in the Gospel narrative we have also heard of the coming passion and death of Jesus. What we need to do is draw strength from the high points in our experiences, in coping with the low, painful points. I remember over 30 years ago drawing comfort from the birth of my son, in dealing with my grandfather’s passing only a week later.
The second point which we can take from Lewis’ expression is that some human situations present us with a choice: to follow either a higher or a lower path. In our homes and in our work, we can choose to be controlling and negative, or humble and positive. We see on Palm Sunday that Jesus chose to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, a lowly animal, rather than an impressive horse. [SLIDE] By this he was indicating the kind of leader that he was. In his time, when a king wished to enter a city in peace and joy, he would ride on a donkey (if in war he would be on a horse). [OFF] Only this week, I had to take a complaint to a high government official, who could have reacted angrily and dismissively: instead, I took heart from being heard in a humble, open, understanding spirit.
Nearly 200 years ago, the English priest Henry Milman wrote the hymn “Ride on, ride on, in majesty”. The hymn captures the ambivalence of today’s feast of Palm Sunday: the combination of victory (the highest) and tragedy (the lowest) of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. Let us today draw strength from the highest.