Tuesday 7 April 2020

The second best coat… a story for Palm Sunday

We’ll call him Fred, because he wore such nice threads…

Fred lived in times when all garments had to be made individually from material woven by hand. There were no power looms or production lines in those days, so fine clothes were very expensive! Business was good so Fred was comfortably off. As a result, besides his workaday cloak, and his previous best robe he’d been married in some years ago, Fred had been able to splash out on a truly splendid robe for special occasions. He was keeping it for major family events and the holy feasts of Succoth and Passover. Better look after it Fred! It’s Passover any day now - you’ll want to look your best!

And now he’d heard that the King was coming to town! “What can I do to honour the King?” thought Fred. “I’m certainly going to put my best robe on! Maybe he’ll notice me among all the crowds.” So he fetched the robe from its moth proof chest and set off up the Mount of Olives, which seemed the likely route the King would arrive by.

Fred’s puffing a bit now. The Mount of Olives is very steep and very high – high enough to block off the morning sun with its heavy brow. As he gets higher, Fred sees a strange golden haze over the summit, almost as if heaven was leaning close, haloing the hilltop. “They do say this King has strange powers,” muses Fred. “I wonder what he’ll do? I do hope he sees me.” And his excitement grows…

Then he starts to hear strange sounds. Is it thunder rumbling? A stampede? Cheering, singing, shouting, clapping? And suddenly Fred is high enough for the sun to stare over the hill, dazzling him – but he’s just able to make out a vast horde of swirling figures, the source of course of all the noise, everyone yelling at once. And all the romping and dancing and running is stirring up a huge cloud of dust, glittering with the gold of the sun. So that was the halo.

And there in the middle of everything, a smiling point of peace among the frantic eddying of the people, perched incongruously on a donkey – surely that can only be the King himself? He’s the one they’re shouting for. And they’re not just cheering, they’re doing something too… putting branches in front of the donkey?

Not just branches! With a stab of alarm, Fred realises that they are taking off their cloaks and laying them down for the King to ride over. “Surely not! Surely the King can’t want people to ruin their robes like this? I mean the dust! The trampling! What if the donkey leaves a mess? Not that anyone here’s got a robe half as good as mine, but if the King knew about it he wouldn’t ask me to do it – would he? It would be irresponsible!”

And at that moment, Fred comes to a decision. He runs home to fetch his second best robe. “It’s still pretty decent, years of life left in it. The King’s bound to be happy with that!”

But by the time Fred gets back in his second best robe, the crowd has gone, the King has passed on. Fred has missed the moment when he weeps over Jerusalem, when the crowd surges into the Temple, when they all disperse, looking for the next excitement.

And a few days later, when Fred learns that the King has been rejected and condemned and executed, does he think, “What a sensible thing that I went back for my second best robe! Saved me from being taken in by that rabble – look at the trouble they are in now?”

Or later still, when he hears the extraordinary rumours that the King has trounced death and come back, does he stop to imagine what might have been? What if he had laid down his very best for the King?