A King, a Donkey and a Cheering Crowd: Thoughts on Palm Sunday

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Lent, Pastoral ministry

He was much stronger than most people seemed to think.  When Jesus wanted to get your attention and he put that hand on your shoulder, well, you noticed.

I still remember what happened that day. I was just walking and talking with the other disciples when he walked up beside me, put his arm around me and pulled me close.

“Are you up for a special mission today?” he asked, and when Jesus smiled at you everything in the world just seemed to be perfect.

“Sure,” I said, “What do you need me to do?”

He started to explain to me that there’s a village a few miles from where we were standing.  And there’s something special about this village.

“In the middle of that town,” he said, “You’re going to find a donkey.  And it’s a donkey that has never been ridden by anyone.  And I want you to untie that donkey and bring it back here to me.”

I must have had a puzzled look on my face.  Or, maybe he thought I was thinking Jesus is sending me to steal a donkey.

So, he smiled again and said, “If anyone in town says anything to you about taking the donkey, just tell them you’re borrowing it for your teacher and we’ll bring it back when we’re done.”

Jesus didn’t send me on this journey alone.  I went with another disciple and on the way there, I relayed the information about the donkey. (The other guy thought we were going to steal it too.)

When we got to the town, we found the donkey just where Jesus said we’d find it.  As we started to “borrow” it, some of the people who were nearby came over to stop us.

“Where do you think you’re going with that donkey,” they asked. “Who gave you permission?”

We explained that this was for our rabbi and that we’d bring it back when we were finished and that seemed to satisfy the crowd. They returned to doing what they were doing.

We made the journey back to Jesus with that stubborn donkey.  Really, have you ever tried to move a donkey? They absolutely have minds of their own!

When we got back to Jesus, we realized that he was going to ride on this donkey as we were heading in to Jerusalem and we started to think that it just wouldn’t do for Jesus to ride on the bare back of a donkey, so some of us took off our coats and let him sit on them.

Then we started to move toward Jerusalem and people lined up in front of us and behind us.  People were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessings on our king!”  They saw Jesus as the king who is descended from David.  It was a celebration!

I thought about it in the years that followed and I realized something had happened at that moment. God was giving us a clear message. God had not forgotten us – he never forgets his people and our rescuer, our redeemer, came riding into town on the back of a donkey.  Salvation is here!

But we really didn’t see what was coming.

Jesus had told us so many times along the way, “My time has not yet come.”  But it had.  He acted differently as we were approaching Jerusalem. He started to teach us with even more passion. He was preparing us for what would happen next.

And what we didn’t realize at the time was that ahead of us was a storm, a hurricane.  When Jesus sat atop that donkey and started to ride, he was heading directly into it.  He made the choice to face down everything that stood in the way and to see what was on the other side.

Another display of power had taken place at this time too.  It was a column of Roman soldiers dressed in full gear and marching in step into Jerusalem. They were arriving to secure the city for the Passover and they were the escort for Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect who represented Emperor Tiberius.  He so despised this annual trip to Jerusalem for the Passover and his only goal was to keep the peace.  By comparison, this parade was much larger and much more powerful.  With that parade came the storm of power and might.

And there was another crowd watching these events.  We had watched Jesus help so many people and teach so many about love, but there was a group that saw him as challenging everything they stood for.  Time and time again, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had tried to trap him with questions.  We loved Jesus because he always seemed to flip those question right back on them.  They squirmed and sulked and went away.

But now, they were here, slipping into the background and when they saw Jesus moving into the city with this group of followers, they realized that something had to happen.    It was another storm of discontent and pride.

That day, what you call Palm Sunday, brought that storm of power and strength, in contact with this storm of discontent and pride and then Jesus rode right into the center of it.

That day, our journey took us to the temple and we walked through it with Jesus.  The temple was such a large structure and filled with so many people.  As we stood there and looked around, all of us had a sense that this was going to be a Passover unlike any other.  Something was going to happen and Jesus seemed to know it too.

After the end of our tour, he said he was tired and needed some rest.  We made the two-mile trip back to Bethany and to the place we would be staying for the week.  The next day, we’d make that trip back into the city.

But the storm was already churning in the background.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but the events that would happen over the next few days would change the course of human history forever.  All we knew at the time was that this was tragic and painful.  But Jesus did it because he loved us.

Time, though, gives us a different perspective on the events of our life and, in time, I’ve had the chance to reflect upon the events of that day.  Here are some things that I’ve come to understand.

Jesus made the choice.  Jesus is the one who sends us to get the donkey.  He’s the one who chooses to get on the donkey and ride it into the city.

In just a few days, the crowd moved from cheering for Jesus to shouting for his death.  Oh, how fickle we can be in our faith!

This is just the beginning of our story and the Journey to the Cross is just beginning.

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