John Arnold: Easter a time of hope as we rise from a year of Covid

John Arnold: Easter a time of hope as we rise from a year of Covid

Crosses from Palm Sunday. John Arnold recalls them being placed in rafters on his farm, where some still remain years later

LAST Sunday morning, I plucked three sprigs of palm from the remains of the hedge at the front of the house.

I remember 50 years ago there was a strong box-palm hedge there under the tall trees. Maybe it hadn’t enough light or simply perhaps due to old age much of the palm has gone. Yet two bushes remain and about three years ago I took a chance and pruned them back severely — they’ll go one way or another, I thought, and thankfully they took off and increased and multiplied.

On Palm Sunday, as long as I can recall we always took palm from this hedge to Mass on that special day. It would be blessed by the priest and, just like the St Bridget’s Crosses from February, the palm was endowed with special powers.

Up in the rafters in the old cow stall and on wall plates in the hen house and piggeries, a piece of palm was always put. Many are still there, withered and mouldering but still doing their blessed tasks.

Normally, around 9am on Palm Sunday, we’d be getting ready for the ‘Long’ Mass at 9.30 in our local church. Covid has changed all that so on Sunday morn’ last I presented the three little green sprays of foliage to my three granddaughters next door. Two kinda understand from school a bit about Palm Sunday.

I told them how a man was hailed and praised and treated like a superstar on this Sunday with Palm branches — the ancient version of flags and buntings — and five days later he was executed. I didn’t need to go into the gory details of Calvary and all that.

I was lucky last Sunday as our Parish Priest wanted a ‘narrator’ to read the passion of Christ at second Mass in Rathcormac at 11am and I was asked. My first time since Christmas actually being at Mass — the ‘online version’ has to suffice nowadays, but nothing beats actually being there.

Palm Sunday last year and we were just a few weeks into the first Covid lockdown, and while it wasn’t what you’d term a ‘novelty’ it was a journey into the unknown. The weather was brilliant and we all thought a few weeks, well, a few months, at the very most, and the Covid pandemic would be a fading memory.

It hasn’t turned out that way at all, and do you know what, driving home from Mass last Sunday afternoon I reflected on a full year of a life less ordinary and times so strange.

You know we’ve travelled all around the Sun

You know it’s taken us one whole year

Well done everyone, Well Done

Yeah, the words of John Spillane came to me. Today is Holy Thursday, the first day of April, Fool’s Day, so the Dance of The Cherry Blossom is very apt.

Every April in our town

They put on the most outrageous clothes

And they sing and they dance around

God knows we could all do with a few songs, and a dance wouldn’t go astray either! It’s been a strange year, the best of times and for so many bereaved families the worst of times.

As John wrote all those years ago, Hardly anybody sings or dances Hardly anybody dances or sings, and yet we need ‘divarsion’ now more than ever.

That’s why this week brings great hope to me personally. It’s not just from a religious perspective, but for Christians worldwide, Easter does bring hope.

Whether faith is strong or weak, we can take comfort emerging from Lent. We’ve spent not ‘40 days in the desert’ but a full year in an oasis of desolation and not knowing when and if things would get better.

Today, tomorrow, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are solemn days but the reward is great. Easter brings a sense of newness. The time has changed, March came in like a lion and is going out like a lamb. Easter and April showers and the vaccination roll-out are all causes for celebration and joy.

Years back around Easter time, I used always be mad jealous of people in 9 to 5, five day a week jobs and the way they could ‘go away’ for Easter. By taking two days holidays, the Thursday and next Tuesday, couples could head off from Cork Airport on the Wednesday evening and come home on Tuesday afternoon. Imagine in late March or early April a long weekend away in Rome or Spain or some other hot-spot in Europe. Oh, the thought of it after a tough spring season!

I would have loved to go, but cows and calves and lack of funds deemed otherwise.

We won’t be going anywhere this Easter but hope springs eternal and before we know it Bantry and Beara will be on our mental satnav once again.

The solemnity of Good Friday always impressed me, especially ‘doing’ the Stations of the Cross at three o’clock. Anytime I’m in Lourdes and following the route of the High Stations, Good Friday comes to my mind. On that high hill up, up above the town of Lourdes, there’s a poignant depiction of Jesus being taken, lifeless and limp, into the tomb. It’s a huge cavern hewn out of the natural rock of the mountainside. The Master is dead, the end of the story, or so it seemed.

In Lourdes then, you travel on down the ascent and you come again to an exact replica of the tomb on the other side of the hill, but the story is different, the massive rounded wheel-like boulder is rolled back revealing an empty tomb and so the story goes on — the oldest yet newest story.

Easter is great in so far as after a dark winter, we need hope and inspiration and something to look forward to, and this week and weekend in particular brings all that and more

Many years ago, Hank Williams and Connie Francis recorded a classic version of Please Help Me I’m Falling. Well, over these past forty days I’ve ‘oft thought to myself ‘Close the door to temptation, don’t let me pass through’ — the door I meant of course was the white kitchen cupboard where amongst all the other grudles and combustibles the coffee is kept.

Readers will know of my passionate, steamy love affair with coffee —any coffee from anywhere. For nigh on a decade now, I’ve given up coffee for Lent and, to be truthful, I found it more difficult than ever this year.

Normally, a week or so after Ash Wednesday, the longing would subside but this year the craving never left me. Maybe ’cause I was at home all the time and there’s nothing better at mid-morning of a wet, cold February or March day, than a mug of my favourite brew.

So far so good, so I’ll try and hold out ’til after midnight on Saturday. Deprivation can be good for body and soul.

One consolation, if that’s the correct word, is that though meatless and coffee less, this Good Friday promises to have a big reward for me.

As an Easter treat, especially for me my buddy John Spillane has held off launching his new song collection 100 Snow White Horses until this most solemn day. I love history and mythology, yarns, stories, battles, bandits and belligerent beasts as well as tall tales, small sails and mystery. Spillane has it all — a mystery wrapped up in a modernish ancient poet, a bit like Easter really.

Happy Easter to everyone and here’s to brighter days and weeks and months and years ahead.

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