I’m writing this article on the evening of Palm Sunday. What a different day this has been from all other Palm Sunday’s in my life and I imagine in yours as well as we are all “sheltering in place” instead of gathering together to worship.
As pastor, I’ve always approached this special day in the Christian year as a bridge between the joyful celebration of Christs ministry and his passion. I say his passion, meaning the events that led to his crucifixion. In the congregations I led, we began our Palm Sunday service with happy, praiseful singing, with waving palm branches and parading around in the sanctuary. It was a light-hearted, almost giddy celebration. The children loved it, and most adults did too.
But we were never far from remembering the fact that we were about to enter the most somber week of the Church – the week we call Holy Week.
So, what is Palm Sunday, anyway? The bible tells us that Jesus rode into the holy city of Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. That alone is a significant visual. Jesus – the Messiah, the Son of God – made his entrance into the city, with people praising him and waving palm branches, laying their garments in his pathway as if he were a king, is riding in – not on a steed, a horse representing power and royalty, but on a lowly donkey. A colt of a donkey, in fact. Can you see that picture? A grown man, riding a colt of a donkey?
We used to have a donkey when I was growing up. Freddy the Freeloader was a full-grown donkey, stubborn as they come and determined to have his way. He wasn’t really a big animal but he had a big will of his own. I was riding him once when he took off and headed to this muddy creek that we called quick sand. I had no control of Freddy. He did what he wanted and took me right into the middle of the quick sand and then stopped and that’s where he stayed until I finally got off, lost a shoe, waded slowly back to the shore, spitting fire at him. Eventually, he walked himself out of the muck.
So, I don’t hold donkeys in high regard. He wasn’t big, although he acted like he was. But the colt? A donkey’s colt would be pretty small. Jesus’ feet must almost have been dragging on the ground as he rode in!
But let’s just stay with this donkey theme another minute. When Jesus was in his mother, Mary’s womb, she rode a donkey a long distance, with Joseph leading the way as they made the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus, the baby, the Son of God was born.
When I was being installed as pastor at the last church I served, a clergy colleague gave the charge to the pastor – me. He said to me “Remember, you are the donkey.”
At first, I thought “What? He’s calling me a donkey?”
But he went on to remind all of us that it was a donkey – a lowly donkey – who ushered Jesus in to the people. A donkey ushered him into Bethlehem where Jesus would be born. The donkey was on site that night. A witness to the birth of Christ the Savior.
And it was the donkey – a colt of a donkey – who ushered the Messiah into the holy city, Jerusalem, as people proclaimed “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They greeted him as royalty – riding on a donkey, of all things!
It’s interesting that the word “Hosanna” means “Save us!” and the name “Jesus” means, “One who saves!” Finally, the two come together.
Yes, the people were excited. They had seen, or they had heard, of Jesus’ miracles, the last one being the raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead. They were so hopeful by now that he really was the long-awaited Messiah.
And all the religious leaders were observing how the people were getting so worked up. They knew they had to do something quickly or they would lose all their authority.
As Jesus made his entrance into Jerusalem, he knew what this week would bring. It would be the hardest week of his life on earth. But he was determined to go into it for the sake of a world that was hurting, dark and lost. He knew it would end in great pain and death, but he entered it with passion, love and commitment.
From birth to death, Jesus was a King, but he was never the kind of king the world expected. Everything about him showed his humility, his sacrifice and his servanthood. He was born in a stable; he had no real home after he began his ministry; he walked or rode the lowliest of animals and he died a horrific criminal’s death. But he truly was, and is, the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God who came and lived and died, and rose triumphantly because “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish (from sin) but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Next Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord! But we have holy week to go through first. Will you join me each day this week – Monday through Friday – as we consider the events of Jesus’ life during this somber week? I’ll be posting a YouTube video devotional each day as we reflect on that week so long ago, and on how our own lives relate, as well.
The YouTube link is: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0lniC3rlpLHlgk-v86Ws0A
“Remember you are the donkey.” Actually, it’s not just pastors – but all of us, who are followers of Christ, are called to be the donkey for Jesus. God uses us to usher Jesus, the Christ into a world that is afraid and hurting. There is no better time than this for us to be the donkey and offer Jesus to the world.
Peace and Grace,