Rolling up our sleeves

A reflection for Palm Sunday 2020

Possibly the most important thing I have done in my life, I did on a Palm Sunday. I was on my way to church, particularly looking forward to receiving a fresh green palm branch, sprinkled with the water of Baptism. As I cycled the short distance from home to church, I passed a friend, also member of our congregation, who was talking to a young woman.

Alternatives to palm branches for Palm Sunday

Something made me turn around, and ask if they were ok. The young woman had fallen of her bike and my friend, who was training as a medic at the time as well as being church warden, said it would be better for her to be checked out at the hospital. I offered to pick up my car and drive her, and that is what happened. She wasn’t badly injured, and it took a little persuasion to tell her not to go home. After having dropped her of at A&E, I went back to church, just in time for the last hymn – and the coffee!

I probably would have forgotten all of this, if not a few days later I received a bouquet of flowers with a little card saying ‘life-saver’. A mutual acquaintance of the young woman and myself told me that after the accident, her spleen had burst and she needed emergency surgery. I suddenly realised that I had helped saving a life.

I’m not telling this story in the hope that you may think that I am like one of the people who are currently saving lives every day in hospitals around the world. These are the real heroes, as they knowingly put their own life at risk to save others, and we should be immensely grateful to them.

Almost exactly the opposite. It is a story that hopefully shows that each of us can be a life-saver by paying attention and looking out for each other, and maybe a little bit of self-sacrifice. Reflecting on that morning, if I hadn’t been paying attention to the people around me, I would not have noticed something out of the ordinary on my way to church.

My resolve for this Holy Week is to pay attention. To pay attention to others and the world around me. To be a little less pre-occupied with my own thoughts and worries, but instead to think a little more about the people around me. Of course, at the moment we cannot go and see someone, but we can still pray for them, pick up the phone and ask if they are ok.

That Palm Sunday morning for me turned into a significant and happy memory, of which I am reminded every year when I see the green Palm branches. I’d like to leave you with the poem ‘Afterwards’ by U A Fanthorpe. It reminds us who our real ‘heroes’ are. Our doctors and nurses, those who work in supermarkets and delivery services, those who collect our rubbish and clean. And indeed, those of us – each of us – who roll up our sleeves and, each in our own way, try to make a little difference.

Afterwards, by U A Fanthorpe

The principalities, the powers, the politicians,
The ones who pose in the spotlight
Centre-stage, and magnetise us as they stalk
Towards bankruptcy, murder, betrayal, suicide,
And other traditional exits

The audience leaves, discussing nuances.
A scatter of sweet-papers, ash,
Smells hanging around behind. The audience leaves.

And in they come, rolling up their sleeves,
With hoovers and mops, buckets and brushes and Brasso,
Making it ready for the next time, nobody watching,
With small uncompetitive jokes, with backchat
About coach-trips, soaps, old men,
And a great sloshing of water.

This is where we ought to be. Not
Up on the stage with the rich and the Richards,
Rehearsing already their entrance for the next house,
The precise strut that registers power,

But down on our hands and knees,
Laughing, and mopping up.

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