You can listen to this sermon here.
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered 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.
I would like to begin this morning with a prayer that comes to us from the Iona Community. Please pray with me
you came into a holy place
and read the sacred word
about sight for blind folk and freedom for prisoners.
Come to this place now.
Read these words to us
till our own eyes are opened, our faith is unlocked,
and we can see the world as it is,
and as it could be;
till the yearnings of ordinary people are taken seriously,
and the visions of the young are valued,
and the potential of the old is released;
till your kingdom is celebrated everywhere,
and your church is good news to the poor.
Well. Welcome to Holy Week.
A couple of weeks ago, I said that we put a lot of pressure on the Bible.
I think we do the same with Holy Week.
Or at least I do. This expectation creeps up in me that I am supposed to feel something extraordinary and transformative this week. And then as one of your worship leaders I have this overzealous expectation that the same needs to happen for you. That we need to help make sense of this most sacred of weeks so that you will know all of the details of Jesus’ last week, you’ll understand theologically what each part means and why, and in the midst of all that heady stuff, you’ll feel something extraordinary and transformational at each service of this week too.
That your life will find purpose again on Maundy Thursday as Jesus commands us to love one another we have been loved. That your heart will shatter on Friday when God’s beloved is taken out, silenced, assassinated, pierced by the Empire’s bullets of power, control, and fear. And that your soul will burst back to life on Easter Vigil and Easter morning with resurrected trust in a God whose love for you and this world cannot be destroyed.
And then come Monday morning, you’ll think to yourself, “Wow. Holy Week at my church is awesome!” And then you’ll tell your co-workers about it and they’ll be so moved by it, that they’ll just have to join you at St. John’s Lutheran on April 8th, when worship times at 8:30am and 10:45am.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on one week.
But I have a different approach for myself this year. And maybe it can be for you too.
Perhaps we live out this week together not to make sense of and explain it all. But rather just simply to remember. To remember this central story of ours. To hear it again. And in remembering, begin to trust in the slow work of God that over time meaning for our daily lives out there will be found.
You see the act of remembering was so important in Jesus’ day. Not simply because they were an oral culture, receiving their stories and their news by word of mouth, but also because remembering their story and the people who have gone before plugged them back into the long-arched story of who they were as a people. And to what kind of God they belonged.
In fact, the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem on a donkey was all about remembering. It is the beginning of Passover, the Jewish festival which remembers the time when the Jewish people were freed from their slavery in Egypt. Do you remember the story of when Moses says to the Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”? They would remember that story – their freedom from slavery – in Jerusalem that week. It is one of the ways they kept the third commandment – to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. In Deuteronomy 5, part of keeping the Sabbath it says is to remember that you once were a slave in Egypt, and remember that God set you free from that empire. Which is to say, do not forget who you are and to whom you belong. You are a freed people who know the struggles of this world and you belong to God. Remember that.
That act of remembering matters. It re-members us. It draws us back to each other.
Families whose loved one has died know this well. When I meet with families that are grieving and, in the midst of that grief, are planning a funeral, we always take time to just start telling stories.
Tell me about your dad, I’ll say. Or What adjectives would you use to talk about your mom? Or what drove your crazy about your husband?
And what amazes me is that everyone in the room doesn’t have to remember everything. Every story. But rather each person offers up their own little contribution to the quilt that was this person’s life. And it is in the midst of remembering that meaning starts to take shape. When the detail or the story happened years ago, they couldn’t tell you what it meant. But now in remembering it, suddenly a deep cavern of meaning starts to open up from the tiny details of a human life.
Like the fact that Myron Solid would write upside down for the sake the student seated across from him. Or that Wes Pearson would walk home for lunch every day. Or that Thelma Nitz Lee saw just about everything as “perfectly good” and worth keeping.
And so during this Holy Week, I want to invite you into the spiritual practice of remembering. Find one thing during each of the services to remember from this sacred story of ours. Not to make perfect sense of it, but to carry with you. And trust that in time, meaning will arrive.
This morning, I am remembering that young donkey that has never been ridden. Did you catch that little detail? Jesus sends two of his disciples to be donkey-fetchers – not a highly sought after job, I suspect, for these hand-picked disciples. But Jesus says to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a donkey that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.”
Now this act of Jesus riding on a donkey – that would have triggered a memory for everyone there. They would immediately remember what the story – their story – from long ago when the prophet Zechariah said, Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations.
And in remembering that story, the meaning of this moment for them would become clear.
This moment, during this time of Passover, when on the opposite side of the city, the Roman brigade is entering the city on war horses, with shields and spears, you know to keep control of this little freedom party these Jewish people are having…it is in the midst of that that Jesus arrives into Jerusalem as a king long awaited. Your king. And he comes to you. But he is a different kind of king than the world has ever known. He comes triumphantly and victoriously without a chariot or war horse. Without a battle bow, without a weapon. Without a military parade to show off our killing power. No, he comes triumphantly on a donkey in peace.
And the painful truth of this scene that we already know is that this prophetic, protesting march, is a really funeral procession. A funeral procession for the King willing to die for this peace and for the people he loves.
And all I can think about, all I can remember is that young donkey, that has never been ridden, whom Jesus chooses as his vehicle of choice.
Maybe I cannot stop thinking about that donkey because I am having a hard time avoiding the connection between what is happening in our churches today and what happened in our country yesterday. Today we gather in our churches for a march lead by Jesus, during Passover, which reminded the people of their pain and suffering and slavery in the past. And the people shouted, and we shouted, “Hosanna!”, meaning Lord, save us.
And then yesterday, the young ones among us gathered people all over the country. They gathered in the streets and at our capitals (our Jerusalems) and they marched against the pain and suffering that is in our all-too recent past. That of gun violence in our country and in our schools.
And the shouts and chants at this parade sounded a lot like Hosannas….Lord, save us. And do you know what people were carrying on big signs? Pictures and names of those who have died by gun violence.
So that we will remember.
So that we do forget who they are. So that we do not forget who we are and what has been done to us. And, truthfully, what we have done to ourselves.
The timing couldn’t be more profound for those of us who remember and begin Holy Week.
And so maybe that’s why I can’t stop thinking about the donkey that has never been ridden. Because sometimes Jesus calls on the young, and the vulnerable one. Sometimes Jesus calls on the one who has never been called on. Sometimes Jesus calls on the inexperienced ones who were never trained for this work and asks them to carry him into the center of our lives.
I heard a poem by Mary Oliver this week.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their 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, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
Today, I’ll be remembering that donkey. And all the young and untrained ones through whom God is at work in our world. For yesterday, Jesus entered our national story carried on the backs of our students. It’s a burden they do not deserve to share alone.
May we all have the ears to hear Jesus call out our names. And may we have the sturdy legs and the strong back to carry Christ to the center of the city and all the places we go.
May God bless you and encourage you in our re-membering this week.