Palm Sunday: The Seething Holy City of the Heart

Looking ahead to Palm Sunday, a poem and a meditation by the English poet Malcolm Guite.

Palm Sunday  

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The Saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus, come
Break my resistance and make me your home. 

Holy Week is perhaps its own season, distinct from Lent, the week for which Lent is preparing us and towards which it is pointing. So we have come to the end and edge of our wilderness journey, out beyond Jordan and back again, and now we find ourselves standing with another crowd of pilgrims, all preparing, on Palm Sunday, to enter Jerusalem. Between now and Maundy Thursday I share a sequence of sonnets for Holy Week from my collection Sounding the Seasons. In composing these sonnets I had in mind that mysterious and beautiful phrase in the Psalms about the man ‘in whose heart are the highways to Zion’ (Psalm 84.5). I wanted to develop the hint offered in that phrase that there is an inner as well as an outer Jerusalem, and that therefore the events of Holy Week are both about Jesus’ outward, visible and historical entry into Jerusalem and what he did there and then, and also about his entry into the inner Jerusalem, the ‘seething holy city’ as I have called it, of our own hearts. I wanted to explore what it might mean to say that we have our own gates, walls and watch-towers, that somewhere within us there is both a temple and a seat of Judgement, and both might need to be challenged and cleansed. And I wanted to imagine that within us there is a ‘house at Bethany’, space for a more intimate encounter with Jesus, for healing, anointing and blessing. 

Malcolm Guite

So in today’s poem I let the outer story of Palm Sunday pose some questions for my inner life. What would it really mean to welcome Jesus as King into the Zion of one’s own heart? How is the city already occupied and governed? Who is in charge now and how is power divided? Is there an uneasy compromise in my own inner Jerusalem, such as there was in the outer Jerusalem of Jesus’ time? Is there a grand-looking temple where lots of time- worn rituals can be repeated as long as it makes no trouble for the secular administration? And that secular administration – the bit of me that makes the day-to-day financial decisions, about who should have my time, for how long and for how much, the administration that decides what to buy and what to sell, what to acquire and what to lose – for whom is it really working? Am I in charge there? Or is my governing ego, like Pontius Pilate, really and fearfully beholden to another power structure? Are the big corporations and their advertisers actually running the show, manipulating my sense of what I need? Perhaps the Pilate of our little ego is in fact working for their empire. And what about the general population of my heart? The crowds of feelings and memories and thoughts, caught between the temple and the court, swaying this way and that, are not sure who to follow, or where their true loyalty lies. Can I invite Jesus into all of that? And if I do, what will happen? 

~from The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter, by Malcolm Guite, pp 153-4. 

Next Post:  Merry Easter?

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