PALM / PASSION SUNDAY
Readings: Psalm 118:1-2,19-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Zechariah 9:8-12, Mark 11:1-11
Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD, March 29th 2015
Do the names Groucho, Chico and Harpo mean anything to you? Three crazy actors, collectively known as "The Marx Brothers", whose whacky films graced the Cinema back in the days when everything was black and white.
I used to own a book, that was a collection of their pictures and sayings that was called "Why a Duck?" The title was a quotation from a scene where Groucho points out to the Italian accented Chico a railway bridge over a river, which he explains is called a viaduct.
Chico responds "Why a Duck? Why a no a Chicken?"
"Not 'Why a Duck'? - VIADUCT!"
"Like I a say … Why a no a chicken, Why a Duck?"
This morning I don't want to ask, 'Why a no a chicken?' or even 'Why a no a duck?' but I do want to ask 'Why a Donkey?' Why did Jesus choose, on the first Palm Sunday, to come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey?
A good place to start is with the quotation from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah we heard in our Old Testament reading. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey”. When Matthew and John give us the account of Palm Sunday, they use this quote to point out that the events of Palm Sunday happen within a particular framework at a particular time for a particular purpose.
The Bible never talks about fate or chance. It speaks instead, of what some call, "Sacred Time". Scripture speaks of Christian life as being, not just a random collection of disconnected events, but life with purpose and meaning. Jesus rode a donkey into town, because there was a purpose and a meaning to the action. It was an event in sacred time.
Mark gives us a fuller account of Jesus telling the disciples to go and get the donkey. If I was one of the disciples I would have been sarcastically thinking, "Yeah right... this is going to work". A couple of them are sent to an unnamed village, where, hopefully they will discover that there just happens to be a donkey tethered there at the side of the street. This donkey is special, because no one has ever ridden it.
As they untie it there is a strong possibility that someone is going to come along and say, 'Excuse me sir, What are you doing with that donkey?' and they are to say to them, simply, 'The Lord has need of it'. No need to explain who this 'Lord' is, or even say why he needs it... because that is not something you know about in the first place!
Strange thing is, when the disciples do what Jesus asks, despite their questions and the fact that it all seems kind of vague, it turns out just like Jesus said. When God speaks, things happen.
I really can't explain 'Sacred Time’ but I do know that as I put my life in God's hands all kinds of connections, affecting what I thought were insignificant events, start to happen.
Think about it! For some reason or other we have all ended up here in church this morning together. Of course we have all come here for a different reason. Maybe we were dragged here! Maybe it's a good habit we have got into. Maybe we don't have a reason for it, just something we felt we should do.
I invite you to pay attention to what happens through the week. Some one will say something, or you'll meet some one or something will happen and there will be a connection to what we're doing here this morning. Ask yourself, 'Is that a coincidence, or is there something more going on here?'
Was it a coincidence that a person just happened to have tied a donkey that had, coincidentally, never been ridden upon, to the side of that street in that town, on that day, at that time, when those two disciples came walking along?
Was it a coincidence that people came along and asked questions that Jesus said they would, and that as the disciples gave the answer that Jesus said they should, the disciples discovered that they were able to take the donkey to Jesus, as He said they could?
Was it a coincidence that as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, crowds lined the streets shouting "Hosanna to the King of David" - in a fashion similar to Zechariah's prophecy of years before? Were the crowds aware of the connection? Not likely! Did they realize that just a week later they would be shouting, "Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” No way!
Did they for even one moment consider that a death on a cross would be transformed into a resurrection from a tomb; that on a Pentecost holiday the Holy Spirit of God would descend on those disciples who witnessed His resurrection and that the church would be born? Of course not!
Why a donkey? 'Why a no a horsee or a pony?' Because a connection was being made to what the prophet had said.
The donkey is a creature of peace. You would expect a King to arrive on a War Horse, or in a chariot pulled by a pony... not so Jesus. Just as His mother Mary is pictured by tradition as riding a donkey to Bethlehem, bearing the Christ Child in her womb, so in humility, Jesus enters Jerusalem, the City of God, riding upon a creature considered humble and gentle.
The donkey was not simply a method of transport for people. It was also a beast of burden. A donkey can carry a great deal on its back. It is sure-footed in rocky terrain. In many parts of the world it is still considered a working animal.
I remember Tom, a friend of my sisters from Greece, who visited with us when we lived in a seaside town in Mid Wales. On the beach were some donkeys that gave children rides up and down. Tom was astonished. 'Donkeys? Why you have donkeys here?' In his culture the donkey was a working animal ... not something you amused the kids with on a sunny day.
In our Lectionary Palm Sunday is linked to Passion Sunday. We remember that Jesus took the burden of our sins upon Himself when He died upon the cross. The one who took the weight of our transgressions, rode into town on a beast of burden.
Why a donkey? When you think about it, there can be all kinds of connections.
But the most important one we need to make in this Easter Season is between our lives and the Jesus who rode into Jerusalem to die upon a cross and was raised to bring Resurrection life to bear on our daily lives.
If we can get that connection right, then a whole lot of other things in our lives start to make sense as well. We may well discover that sacred time is breaking into our daily lives.
An old friend I used to visit in a previous church always used to talk about ‘synchronicity’ as the reason she couldn’t help but believe in God. When she trusted in God to guide her, random things all seemed to fall into place.
The reading in church, the song on the radio, the story in the paper, the conversation overheard in the Post Office, the book she was reading… it was as though they all were synchronized together in such a way as she became aware of something going on her life that was so much larger than herself.
Sacred Time. Synchronicity. You can call it whatever you like. It was there in the events surrounding Palm Sunday. There was a reason for the donkey. There was a purpose to the way Jesus rode into town.
Let us pray that we may have a faith in God that enables us to know His love as it is revealed in Jesus Christ as a reality guiding our own hearts and lives. As we remember this Easter Week the Christ who died upon the Cross for our sins, may we seek to live in a way that serves others and brings glory to God’s name. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.