“The Lowly Donkey and the Wooden Cross”

Sermon – 03-28-21 – Palm Sunday – Cycle B
Scriptures: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11
Sermon Title: “The Lowly Donkey and the Wooden Cross”

He is coming! He is coming! “Who is coming?” she asked. He answered, “The new King is coming, that is who is coming.” “A new king?” she wondered. “Israel has not had a king for a while. We are governed by the Herods under the Ceasars from Rome. This Jesus on a donkey could never overcome the Herods and Ceasars! No! Forget “king!” “And what is a Messiah?” she asked him.

“A Messiah,” he answered, “is one who saves.” “Our parents and grandparents waited for the Messiah for ages. The word ‘Messiah’ is mentioned frequently in the Hebrew scriptures. But, here he is. This man who heals the blind, the sick, the crippled, and the tormented. This man who talks about treating each other as we like to be treated. This man who eats with sinners. Oh, he has made enemies of the religious leaders alright! He has turned their silly rules and tables upside down. They are just itching to get rid of him but they say they are not allowed to kill. Well if anger can kill by just being in the air, this man on the donkey is going to be dead. The leaders will figure it out! But, let’s not think about next week. Let us just enjoy this glorious day. They call this man Jesus when he is not being called Messiah or traitor or worse.”

He continues, “See the people are breaking branches off the palm trees and waving them as Jesus approaches. Look the people are even taking off their cloaks, their outer garments, and laying them on the road in honor and respect for Jesus and the donkey.”

She says, ‘Why isn’t Jesus riding on a white stallion like kings do?” He replies, “This Jesus does not want to be like a king. He is humble, not proud. The people want Jesus to be their king to overcome the conquerors from Rome. Jesus is not here to be our earthly king. He is here to turn the other cheek. He is here to save the sinners. Do you know that includes us? We are all sinners!”

“Oh my,” she says. How am I a sinner?” He says, “No one is perfect. We hurt people with our words. We neglect to help people who need help.” No one is perfect!” “Oh my,” she says again. “Can we stay and see what happens?” “If you want, we can stay around until we get too tired and too frightened,” he said. Let’s wave some palm branches but keep your cloak. You may need it.”

I picture this “he” and this “she” as teenagers, maybe brother and sister. I wonder how long they lasted hanging around Jerusalem in that tumultuous week. What a week!

Jesus started the week with this exaggerated sense of humility. Riding on a donkey. Small and not impressive. In fact, in this Mark version of the story, it is a colt, a young donkey. Surely the feet of Jesus were dragging on the ground. In the Bible, especially with Jesus, things are exaggerated. The word is “hyperbole.” Exaggeration to make a point. A grown man, sitting on a colt. Don’t you pity the colt?

Most of our four gospels have Jesus entering the temple during this week and displaying rare anger. The temple people were cheating the people who had come to make sacrifice with animals. They could bring their own animals, but if they were not “perfect” they could not be used and the people had to buy “perfect” animals at a high cost. There were “moneychangers.” People came from far and wide, from places where different currency was used. No good. They had to exchange their money for local money, often being cheated in the process. In walks Jesus and frees the “perfect” animals, upsets the tables with money, and makes a strange statement about the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

Well at the end of this week, the temple that is the body of Jesus, is destroyed. Our Philippians passage is profound. “Being found in human form, Jesus humbles himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. First, riding on a donkey with feet dragging, now hanging on a cross for everyone to see – practically naked. No mention of cold – just thirst and pain and a body poked through with large nails. This body, the temple, torn down. THE END

This past week in our Bible Study session we examined the Palm Sunday experience as it is written in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As is our custom, we each pray a prayer at the end focusing on a theme related to the lesson. As I prepared a suggested theme for our prayers, I had no idea of the depth of our experience when we actually prayed. The theme was to think that we were actually at the scene when the life and light of Jesus seemed to end into nothingness. How are we feeling while we are there or later in the day? Maybe we ran away before Jesus totally died. Maybe we stayed. How may we have internalized what we witnessed?

The prayers at the end of each Bible Study session are always spiritually rich. God is in them. They lift me and carry me through the day and longer. But this week the prayers evolved into tears. Thinking about being present when life left Jesus was too much for words. Tears flowed and hearts were wrenched. “I’m sorry,” I said. But this was God working in that moment – the moment when I typed these suggestions, the moment when we prayed from our little rectangular Zoom boxes, God was present. It was like our knees were bent touching the ground, maybe our foreheads touching the ground, with our tears confessing our sadness, our inexpressible sorrow.

This was not just any death. That would be sad enough in itself. But our perspective of 2000 plus years later has us bearing the belief that Jesus died on the cross for us – for us. So our compassion for the death scene and the Savior on the cross is part of God the Father’s plan.
Our compassion does not leave when the rejoicing starts. It is a bundle. The compassion effects the rejoicing. They are relative to each other.

Recalling the idea that sacrificial animals had to be perfect, look carefully at the picture on the cover of our bulletin. Is this not a perfect person? A perfect sacrifice? But, left alone, it would be like the grain of wheat which just laid on the floor and eventually became nothing. The perfect sacrifice died and broke open so that soul upon soul could be saved to form the kingdom of God on earth and then the heavenly kingdom of God! Hosanna in the highest heaven! Amen

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