April 9, 2017
Here we are. We started this Lenten journey several weeks ago. We have gone through the Dark Wood and tried to keep our eyes on Jesus as we traveled. Some of us gave up something for Lent. Some of us took something on. Some of us made a commitment and promptly forgot all about it. Some of us followed the Practicing Lent booklet. Some of us just want it to all be over. Let’s have Easter already and be done with this gloom and doom season. Others of us are not ready for the joy and celebration of Easter. Today is a crossroads. It is a strange mix – a parade, albeit an unusual one, and a protest.
It had the typical parade elements – a crowd pushing for a better view, shouting, waving things, and all eyes on the one making his way on the path. But the person in the center is riding a donkey and a colt, not some majestic animal. The people are shouting “save us” not hallelujah. They are throwing their clothes in the dusty path. There is more confusion than excitement. The people are cheering less for Jesus and more for what they hope he will do for them…overthrow the Romans.
One of the exercises often done in Bible Studies is imagining ourselves in the story. We can visualize ourselves as the crowd. What are we feeling and thinking as Jesus comes riding in on that colt and donkey? He’s awfully big for those vulnerable animals. What is he saying to us? What do we shout back to him? We tend to confuse the word Hosanna as some kind of joyful praise, when in fact the word means “save us.” As Jesus rode into town, a massive crowd gathered not to glorify Jesus, but to protest the Roman empire. This crowd was hoping that Jesus would overthrow the Romans and make their lives better. If we are the crowd, what do we hope Jesus will save us from? We may have hopes of being saved from political leaders. We may wish to be saved from an illness that plagues us. We might want to be saved from something that causes us stress – finances, addiction, or a difficult person. Imagine yourself in that crowd. What are you feeling as you stand there and watch Jesus ride by? What are you hoping?
What if you are one of the Roman leaders? You know Jesus is a threat to you. He doesn’t glorify your way of leading. He gets the crowds worked up and somehow together they could dismantle your power. This is not good news. What are you thinking as you witness his impact on these crowds? What are you hoping?
Then there is the donkey and colt. (The other gospels only mention a donkey. Matthew adds the colt.) Of course, we don’t think to identify with them. But Mary Oliver wrote a poem reflecting on the donkey. In it, she imagines the donkey doesn’t give much thought to this whole event, but he puts one foot in front of the other and does what he is born to do. Perhaps you can identify with simply being led to the next moment without much reflection. Notice the donkey plays a key role in this story. The donkey is center stage without choosing that and faithfully doing what is expected.
Last Sunday, I went to the dinner at Congregation Albert and heard the director of the ACLU speak about what is happening and how the ACLU is responding. He said more than once, “We were made for this. We are ready. This is what we do.” Rather than sounding overwhelmed or daunted by the many tasks at hand, he spoke confidently about simply doing what they are made to do. That is a great message for the church. Sometimes we make things too complicated. It is easy to be overwhelmed with all the tasks at hand, but if we can simply do what it is front of us to do, we are being faithful.
We can also identify with Jesus. I’m guessing we would prefer to not go there. “I couldn’t possibly be Jesus.” Give it a try. Imagine what it must have been for him. It is so complex. It is when we allow ourselves to step into his sandals that we may glimpse the complexity of this story. Because we hear this story each year, we may think it is somewhat straightforward. We know what comes next. But this story has many layers. Jesus stands here looking into his last days (not weeks, months, or years). He knows that this is the end. He chooses to participate in an event with the crowd gathered. It was customary for dignitaries to enter a city on a majestic horse. Jesus chooses a vulnerable animal and rides through the crowd. He makes no speech here. Rather than using words, Jesus speaks with his actions. He is making a powerful statement. Note how he spends his last days.
He rides a vulnerable animal into a crowd that is begging him to save them. He does save, but not in the way they imagine. He doesn’t overthrow a Roman government. In fact he shows up and allows himself to be killed. He saves by offering an alternative. He saves by calling people to God’s mercy. He saves by serving.
I know it is difficult to imagine yourself as Jesus, but this does make me wonder how I would spend the last days I have. Would I choose the path of service as he does? Would I listen to the people around me? Would I eat a meal with my closest friends (even the one who will betray me)? Would I pray all night? What is Jesus hoping for as he rides into town and hears the crowd shouting at him?
I encourage you to take advantage of the confusion of this day. Sit with the mixed messages of victory and death. Allow the story to invite you into these final days. This season is an opportunity to explore the depth of our faith and our humanity. This final week of Lent is that same opportunity we have had for this liturgical season concentrated into days rather than weeks. We can ponder what our humanity teaches us. We can allow Jesus to enter the fullness of our humanity just as he did his own. We can look to Jesus about how to focus in the coming days.
Today we heard some of Psalm 118. We will hear some of this same Psalm again next Sunday. Some of the words are often used to call churches to worship. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” What if we just took a piece of that as our guide this week – “This is the day”? This is the day that we have. What will we do with it? How will we spend it? This is the ONLY day we have.
This isn’t new. How many times have you heard “Live each day as if it were your last?” It sounds easy enough. But we spend so much of our psychic energy on what has already happened or what will happen. It is much harder to be present to the moment in front of us that one would think. Following Jesus means keeping our eyes on him. He got in trouble for doing things in the moment, which often meant he healed the person in front of him even when it was the Sabbath.
Let us do what we are born to do. We can plan which isn’t a bad thing. But we can also respond to the moment in front of us. This moment is ours. The coming week will bring many opportunities. In the coming days, Jesus will be anointed, he will wash his followers’ feet, he will eat dinner with his friends including the one who will betray him, he will stay up and pray, he will be the victim of a similar crowd calling for his death, and he will be killed. It is hard not to jump ahead because we know how the story goes. But let us practice living each day. Let us practice focusing our energy on Jesus. Let us practice doing what we were born to do.