This is one of the most poignant stories in all of scripture: Jesus climbing on the donkey and riding into Jerusalem, knowing full well that this is no joy ride. What some perceived as a coronation procession – “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – Jesus knows is really a descent to death. There will be no coronation without a cross. As they say, “Be careful what you ask for.”
Frankly, I have come to believe that Jesus was not sure that there would be any glory after the gore. He might have hoped and, in more confident days believed, that in three days he would rise again (he said this to his disciples on a couple of occasions) but we all know that days of confidence and optimism pass when you are faced with a reality, when it’s gut check time. And it is the faith in that which cannot be seen–as St. Paul reminds us – that has to somehow see you through the valley of the shadows.
That final verse: “then he entered into Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
“It was already late.”
It was already too late – too late for Jesus to escape what was coming. Too late for the temple – the institution wasn’t going to save anybody. It was too late for the city of Jerusalem –the Romans were about to impose their deadly will.
Carole King sang, “It’s too late, baby, now its too late, though we really did try to make it… but something inside has died and I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it.” Because sometimes it’s too late to heal a relationship.
Some might think it is too late for our nation’s debt, war, poverty; or that it’s too late for the church, for the environment, for racial reconciliation.
But sometimes, you have to get up on the donkey and go where you do not want to go – it may be late, but there is still time and it is what you do with the time given, that makes all the difference.
I don’t think Jesus wanted to go down that hill – he knew what awaited him – but like the power of the current that draws your kayak into the white water, so too the pull of the current of kairos – the time – pulls and there is no turning back.
There is no Easter without Jesus getting on that donkey and facing what he had to face – all the fear, the ridicule, the torture, the horror, the death. I don’t mean to get so down – but that is our story. There is no Easter without the cross, there is no cross with Jesus getting up on that donkey and riding down the hill.
This gospel story is remote. It happened a long time ago in a place far, far away and, thankfully, we DO know that Easter is coming. Spoiler alert! Except this time the spoiler is like the best ending EVER… and we take it for granted; accept it as part of the seasonal routine.
I am reminded of something that was shared last week in confirmation class – one of the confirmation partners reported that one of the children in the Pathways program described Holy Week as “Every year Jesus dies. And every year Jesus comes back!”
And in that sweet child’s wisdom, there is truth. Jesus comes back. The cross is not the end. The ride down the hill leads to glory.
But I say it wasn’t like that the first time. And really, it is not like that for any of us who have to (metaphorically speaking – because many of us can’t get on a bicycle anymore) climb up on a donkey and go where we do not want to go.
Some of you know this story about me already – but when I was 25 I went off to Scotland – ended up being there for five years. I met my wife, Deanne there. So it was all good, right? Who doesn’t want to live in Scotland for a time? Six months before I left – couldn’t wait to get there. But a week before my departure date, I would have done almost anything to stay home. My parents almost had to drag me onto that plane. I was a mess.
So I can only imagine – and it makes me embarrassed to think about Jesus facing death, or some of you facing what you face in your life, thinking about dear people in this congregation facing the end of their days –Kay says “I am ready for my next adventure!” Don wants to be anointed with oil. Bob says he will live every moment to the fullest. The Arch Bishop of New York City who, when he found out he had terminal brain cancer, wrote to his flock: “Well now I have to start living what I have been preaching about all these years.”
The faith, the tenacity, the power, the depth of these experiences – those are Jesus moments, get-up-on the donkey moment, holy moments …
Palm Sunday may seem remote, but really, Palm Sunday is today for a lot of people:
- Jesus climbing on a donkey
- Rosa Parks climbing on the bus
- Gandhi opening his arms to his murderer
- John Lewis walking across the Edmund Pettis Bridge with nothing to protect him from the Alabama state troopers except prayer
- A little boy leaving his classroom mid-year to go to another school
- A young woman on her wedding rehearsal day – finally admitting that her fiancé was abusive and a drunk and she wouldn’t go through with the wedding.
This is life.
Because truly, there is no gain, without pain – without sacrifice, without work, without moving down the hill into the unknown – even though you may have an inkling what you are moving towards, even if you only hope that it will be worth it.
The world in which we live in tries to dull us from facing truth – about getting up on that donkey. The world says: Drive the Lincoln. Stay young forever. Be anyone you want to be; lose 30 lbs. without exercise; or learn a foreign language in 15 minutes a day.
But Jesus gets up on that donkey and rides – and because of his ride, we ride.
Because of his witness, we witness.
Because of his death, we can die.
Because he served, we serve. We get up on our collective donkeys and ride down the hill to East Cleveland and serve dinners. We come here on Tuesdays to distribute food. We leave the coffee and newspaper and come and worship God in this place, and welcome new members and invite them to climb on aboard, to go places they might not be expecting to go, to be changed, challenged, empowered, liberated all in the name of the one who “got on up” on that donkey and led us to salvation!
Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Get on up and ride… and drag us with you. It may be getting late… but the day is far from over! There is still enough time to save the world!