Is it possible to include a “green perspective” when preaching about about Palm Sunday or the Passion narrative? Nature is certainly present within the text. In the Palm Gospel the donkey has a significant role in signposting the nature of Jesus' vocation. GK Chesterton’s poem*, might be pressed into use, to show Jesus including and giving dignity to those things that others disregard, ridicule, take for granted or abuse.
Those who are not squeamish about conflating the gospels might comment on the way that the palms are used to welcome the Jesus as Messiah. Although Luke makes no mention of palms or tree branches, only cloaks which are laid in Jesus’ path, in his gospel.
I am tempted to make more of Jesus’ declaration that should the multitude of disciples stop praising, then “the stones would shout out”. A figure of speech perhaps, but one which suggests that nature has a capacity to recognise who Jesus is. Those whose voices were raised to acclaim Jesus upon his triumphal entry deserted him, but nature like the faithful women, remains a witness to the end; grieving at the cross; the sun’s light failing, as Jesus’s life ebbs from him.
Within the passion narrative, mention could be made of the bread and wine of the passover, as symbols of co-operation between nature and humanity. An emphasis usefully underscored in this prayer of preparation at the Eucharist.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to set before you, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life. Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, though your goodness we have this wine to set before you, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become for us the cup of salvation.
Preachers might prefer to save reflection on this this until Maundy Thursday or Corpus Christi.
Nature is present as Jesus continues on towards the cross. The crowing cock exposes Peter’s denial and Jesus uses metaphors from the natural world to encourage the daughters of Jerusalem to lament for themselves, rather than him. Jesus prays his prayer of agony outside, in the Mount of Olives, and the ground receives the sweat of his brow, as it later receives his body in the rock hewn tomb.
The image of Jesus being received by the earth has long inspired reflection on nature, including the idea of Jesus being buried like a seed to emerge renewed at the resurrection, and there is a well-established tradition that the earth is hallowed by the presence of Jesus' body within it. In the Seventeenth century, Gerrald Winstanley wrote
“The body of Christ is where the Father is, in the earth, purifying the earth; and his Spirit is entered into the whole creation which is the heavenly glory where the Father dwells.” **
There is also a sense in which the earth, through the tomb, ministers to and protects the body of Jesus, providing safe haven, after the violence of the cross.
Nature is not the primary focus on the passiontide narrative. The focus must surely remain Jesus and his suffering. Notwithsanding this I would suggest it is possible to view nature is a participant in the passion, who affects and is affected, and stands as a faithful, sorrowful and compassionate witness alongside those women who stood at a distance, sorrowfully watching.
**G.H Sabine, ed. The Collected Works of Gerrard Winstanley (Cornell University Press. 1941) P117 quoted in I Bradley, God is Green (Dartman, Longman and Todd, London 1990) p80