March 28, 2010
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Isaiah 45:21-25, Ps. 72, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 19:29-40
Palm Sunday, Year C
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out in to the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight!
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark,
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty foot and stepped, as he had to,
The donkey—patient, trusting, not bold, not an eye-catcher like his relative the horse. What sort of heart does it take to follow not knowing exactly where you will be taken? Is it for good or for ill? What strength of soul does it take to have one’s ordinariness invited into the birth of the extraordinary?
As he steadily climbs the Mount of Olives he sees a view new to his eyes. All Jerusalem in her pain and splendor spread out before him, the temple shining gold in the spring light, a vision of joy and hope. It is worth it for this, he thinks.
These are cloaks, the donkey thinks. But why cloaks, when I usually carry olives or bottles of wine or bundles of grain? It is a rare day when my passenger is a person. Who is it, if not my owner?
And then a gentle hand touches him and a forehead leans against his own with a voice offering thanks for the donkey’s coming. The donkey looks into eyes that are fiery and passionate yet also kind and open. There is a tiredness behind them, not of the flesh but of the heart, when it knows the course is set and that the road ahead is arduous, but it is the only road to take. The donkey knows that road, and so he lifts his shoulders proudly and stands firm as this man seats himself upon his back. In all his donkey-ness he has been picked as he is to carry this man to something, something out of the ordinary… or maybe all too ordinary. In his heart the donkey knows this is no ordinary passenger, but someone of great hope, great love, great challenge. He has picked a donkey to ride into town, not a powerful horse bedecked in a saddle and bridle. He doesn’t play to the worlds ideas of power and importance, but yet the donkey knows, he has a power and importance that is worth far more for it is of a different order. He knows this from the way this Galilean sits upon him and the way he guides him.
As they move forward, the donkey hears the people shouting, but it is the palms and the cloaks that he speaks to. They too are thinking their thoughts: how they make the path smooth, how they keep the dust from flying into the donkey and his rider’s eyes, how they are able to do something other than their usual task.
But they all wonder, do the people see the new thing being done? Or is this merely a stepping stone towards a different version of the way things have always been done? Will the vision of God’s equitable justice, of universal care, of healing prevail? Are they waiting to exchange the donkey, the branches and the cloaks for stallions, canopies of brocade and silk, guards and well-dressed attendants? Is the Mount of Olives to be exchanged for a palace and scribes and orders? Can they see the transformation being made alive before their very eyes, the unmasking of society’s illusions? Or do they only look for reversal, for replacement?
The stones cry out, the palms rustle till their fronds fracture, the cloaks reweave their patterns, the donkey brays for them to notice, but is it all in vain?
For the donkey carries the Christ, the anointed one, not to political victory in terms of taking charge, of human-centered power, of killing and expelling the enemy, but to a victory that is to break that very cycle. The cycle is so strong; it is so a part of the life of civilization. Will his victory ever be embraced? For the donkey carries the Christ towards both his death and his life, toward good and ill, into the heart of paradox. He carries him into the cycle to go beyond it.
Caught up in their joy, the crowd is ready for a reversal of fortune. Use your power to bring the rich and powerful down and put us in their place! Let those who have been used and misused be vindicated and let those who used and misused experience our lot! But a reversal of fortune changes nothing; transforms nothing. And the Christ is serving the transformation where the user and used, the exploiter and the exploited, the wounder and the wounded, both find a new reality, a new kind of life that needs such ways no longer.
The man knows this, the donkey senses. And as nears the city the donkey hears his lament, the catch in his throat, and he feels the tears drop onto his dusty mane: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
It must be done! The moment the transformation is defined and revealed must pass. For if not, the hope of it will be lost. And some will see it; some will understand; some will embrace it. It will begin a new thing, again, in the world. The hope of God will penetrate and shine forth to those who can see, those who long to see. The celebration of the crowd can not last. It will turn against the Christ; we know that this is so, for it is still so, but the hope is still there too, being spoken of in the trees, being heard in the footsteps of the donkey and the beggar and the humble ones, being shouted by the mountains and the river rocks. The path is carved by Christ, but do we finally love the one that rides so lightly on our backs? And when we lift our dusty foot and step, which way do we go?
Will I lay my cloak before you,
when they arrest you on olive mountain,
or pull it tighter around me,
fading into the ranks of the deserters;
will I shout
‘Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord!
When they parade you
before the authorities,
or will I tell any one-and every one- around me
I never met you in my life;
will I lay my palm branches at your feet,
as they march you to Calvary,
or use them to put more stripes
on your bloody back;
will I run behind you
when they carry you to the tomb,
or turn away
as the ashes of my hopes
are rubbed into the
wounds in my heart?
And the donkey, well, he lifted one dusty foot and stepped, as he had to, forward.