One of my abiding memories of our visit to Malta on what was to prove our final holiday together, is of the cathedral in Valletta and of the exhibition of tapestries we saw there. The one which most caught my imagination was of Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, riding upon a donkey, something we recalled on Palm Sunday.
The designer had showed great insight, filling the huge work of art with so much that was thought-provoking. All aspects of humanity were portrayed. To the right of the design were two eager young boys; one had climbed a tree and was harvesting palm branches, while the other was standing below him, branches laid on his shoulder. There was a touch of humour in the elderly couple standing near to them; the man had shrugged off his tunic and was attempting to throw it on the ground, while his wife was pulling at his arm, obviously saying to him; ‘Put it back on you old fool! You’ll catch your death!’
The left side of the tapestry was filled with the enthusiastic crowd, casting down their garments and palm branches. And in the centre Jesus was depicted, sitting on the donkey – but his face was of a man much older than his years. It was tired and weary, as though he carried the cares of the world on his shoulders – as, in fact, he did.
Meanwhile, close behind his right shoulder, that place of privilege, stood Judas – for clearly it was he – his face a picture of evil, head to head with a prosperous-looking man, obviously in a position of authority – a Pharisee perhaps? – who carried on his belt two bulging purses. The plot to betray Jesus was being hatched.
The creator of the tapestry was clearly anticipating the tragedy of Good Friday in the apparent triumph of Palm Sunday, something we also do in our church liturgy as the account of the Passion is read in place of the Gospel reading at this service.
Today we move into Holy Week and day by day we recall Jesus’ final days in the city of Jerusalem, the stronghold of his enemies. To the designer of the Palm Sunday tapestry the inevitability of his death was made plain in his apparent triumph, and so day by day this week Christians move ever closer to the cross until that fateful day when what might have been termed ‘black Friday’ instead is given the name ‘Good’.