There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet.

And when they drew nigh to Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto mount Olivet, then Jesus sent two disciples, Saying to them: Go ye into the village that is over against you, and immediately you shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them and bring them to me. And if any man shall say anything to you, say ye, that the Lord hath need of them: and forthwith he will let them go. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: Tell ye the daughter of Sion: Behold thy king cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of her that is used to the yoke. And the disciples going, did as Jesus commanded them. And they brought the ass and the colt, and laid their garments upon them, and made him sit thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way: and others cut boughs from the trees, and strewed them in the way: And the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying: Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest (Matthew 21:1-11)

Holy Week Prayer:  Let us pray. All-powerful, eternal God, you have chosen to give mankind a model of humility; our Savior took on our flesh, and subjected himself to the Cross. Grant us the grace to preserve faithfully the lessons he has given us in his Passion and to have a share in his resurrection. This we ask of you through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. Ora Pro Nobis

So do the Christians of Jerusalem take pleasure, and possibly a childish pleasure, in the gilding of a better palace, besides a nobler garden, ornamented with a somewhat worthier aim.

G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem, 1920

Today is Palm Sunday, so named for the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem and his acknowledgement as King is the last Sunday of Lent and the transition to Holy Week.  For in one week the same crowd who hailed him with palm leaves at his feet, became a mob at the end of the week on Good Friday, and called for his death on the Cross in fulfillment of scripture. It is a lesson for all of us about the costs of loyalty and constancy and resisting political fear for what is true.

In 1920, coming off the tail end of the Spanish Flu pandemic, Chesterton visited Jerusalem and wrote of his travels there. He saw a “new” Jerusalem, newly liberated from the Turks but not liberated from its past.

On the road to Cairo one may see twenty groups exactly like that of the Holy Family in the pictures of the Flight into Egypt; with only one difference. The man is riding on the ass.

G.K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem, 1920

Seven years later, Chesterton in his typical style of commemorating the most holy moments and holy archetypes in poem, chose to see the moment of Christ’s triumph from the most humble of perspectives – that of an ass’s colt upon which the Son of Man rode.

The Donkey 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.

image source: Semi-abstract composition with donkey balanced on hand, forest and fishes; illustration from C K Chesterton’s ‘The Donkey’. c.1930-7 Woodcut  © The Trustees of the British Museum

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