Coronation Day 1953…

My most enduring memory of that day is of Queen Salote of Tonga in her open horse – drawn carriage. It rained heavily that day but she had insisted on keeping her carriage open where every other carriage had been closed. The procession stopped for a few minutes near to my Trafalgar Square kerbside position. There she was, just a few metres away, smiling, waving, excited and no doubt very wet. Although the rest of the procession has gone from my memory I can still see her clearly in my mind. That open carriage made her famous in London, it spoke for her.

A car expresses quite a lot about its owner

When we were in Nigeria the man who had ‘made it’ inevitably bought a Mercedes and was never again seen in anything else. Pope Francis’ vehicles convey a very different message. I imagine that price and comfort are not the only considerations when choosing a car for a Prime Minister. For a Kiwi PM it must be a bit grand but not too flashy. I find it an interesting exercise to fit vehicles to people, especially famous ones. A posse of gold plated Mercedes for the King of Saudi Arabia, of course, but what for Presidents Trump and Putin ? – what for Prince Charles or Jesus?

What does a donkey express?

These reflections are of course engendered by the approach of Palm Sunday. This is the only time that Jesus is recorded as riding an animal. We presume he rode pre-natally to Bethlehem and somewhat later to Egypt, but his mode of transport on these occasions is not recorded for us. This makes his careful decision to ride a donkey into Jerusalem especially meaningful.

The day stirred up powerful emotions in the crowd, palm branches had been cut to welcome Judas Maccabeus and his army into Jerusalem after his great victory nearly 200 years previously. Instead, the donkey represented a King coming to a town in peace, so palm and donkey evoked opposing memories and a clash of ideas. Pontius Pilate had just ridden into Jerusalem on a horse, an animal closer to the symbolic association of palm branches.

This carefully documented ride is unique in the Gospels yet we call it Palm Sunday which recalls belligerence, rather than calling it Donkey Sunday, which recalls peace.

Donkey Power 

The name and custom of waving palm branches goes back to the 8th century so it would take many synods to officially change the name now. But a pity the church of the time leaned more towards horse than donkey power. Would the second century church have named the day differently?

One of the functions of our little Society is to encourage people to put peace first and remember previous battles last. So would naming the Sunday before Easter, Donkey Sunday, be a tiny step in the right direction?

What do you think?


 Contributed by APF Member, Jonathan Hartfield – Grew up in Hastings UK. Trained at St.Georges Hospital where I met Meg. Had an exciting and turbulent time in Nigeria in 60s. Moved to NZ 1971. Worked as specialist Obst &Gyn, later palliative care in a Hospice. Retired from medicine 2013. Ordained priest 1986. We have 4 children 9 grand children. Enthusiastic gardener and choir singer.

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