Palm Sunday, Then And Now

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2015

FARMVILLE — There wasn’t a cloud in the clear blue sky Palm Sunday morning in Farmville.

The church service at Riverside Park was still more than an hour away and beneath that azure heaven Moffatt Evans, of Farmville, was turning tree limbs into crutches, carefully shaping wood not far from the banks of the Appomattox River, his breath rising like a spirit in the cold air.

Life beneath that celestial ceiling had been a living hell for those whom he and other re-enactors were bringing back to life.

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Wisps of smoke also ascended in spiraling fashion from a small, nearly flameless, fire that nevertheless provided welcome heat on a day that felt freezing to the skin and frozen in time to the eye.

Evans, see photo to the right, worked the wood. Sitting in the cold. Determined. He had no choice. They’d asked him to and he knew the request was wrapped in dire desperation, not whim. The need for his craftsmanship spoke silent, yet deafening, volumes about the toll the battles had been taking on the men fighting them.

So many soldiers had lost a leg or suffered other grievous wounds during the past few days, the sands of the Civil War slipping through the hourglass into whatever would come next.

Peace, perhaps.

Or something called peace.

General Robert E. Lee rode up on his mount, Traveler, later in the day, asking news of Sailor’s Creek. Someone told him many were killed. The general replied that he feared such a fate.

The war will end.

But those crutches will remain.

Palm Sunday and two opposing armies passed through Farmville.

Both on their way to Appomattox.

Two generals.

Lee and Grant.

Blue and Gray.

Blue and gray, the colors of a different sky—one with many storm clouds.

Just as two opposing forces had entered Jerusalem from opposite ends and through opposite gates on the same day 2,000 years ago, two processions as Passover began that year.

“We remember the time when Pilate rode into Jerusalem on one side of the city, full of military might,” Rev. Tom Robinson, pastor of Farmville Presbyterian Church, told those attending the Palm Sunday service while Evans fashioned crutches born of war. “And our Lord came into Jerusalem from the other side of the city, on a donkey, in peace.”

An Imperial army of terror and oppression upon the backs of majestic steeds. Swords and shields and spears.

Not a plowshare among them.

At the opposite gate, a man riding a donkey’s foal, leading a group of believers, disciples.

Not a weapon in sight.

Simply palms.

No din of doom from hoof-beats clapping thunder on the ground.

Only voices raised in glad ‘Hosannas.’

Hosannas for a carpenter’s son. A man who shaped wood and then had begun shaping and reshaping human hearts. A man who told others to drop their crutches and accept the healing that he offered them.

Jesus at the head of his “army.”

Pilate leading his own.

“May we let this be a lesson to us, to join with one who is the Prince of Peace and to seek his reign, in our lives, in our communities and in this world,” Rev. Robinson said during the Palm Sunday service by a river named for the place that will forever be remembered as the patch of rolling earth where the seeds of peace were sown 150 years ago in a land too saturated in blood for any more bleeding.

Jerusalem and Farmville.

Two opposing forces passed through each.

Nor were they alone in the long arc of human history that connects us to them both:

The “opposing forces” of our own human hearts and natures, entering at opposite ends, contend with us to see which we will allow to be the occupying force.

The swords or the plowshares.

In the distance, someone approaches on the foal of a donkey.

The McLean House is within our reach.