Skipping sleep on the way to palm sunday...

For reasons beyond my knowledge, I couldn't sleep last night. Lord knows I tried, but at 3 AM, then 4:30 AM and finally 5:45 AM I was groggy but awake. I got a lot of reading and thinking done, but I would have preferred rest. 

This day was given to writing - some for Palm Sunday - and a lot for Holy Week. I don't know how clergy do it leaving their reflections for Saturday night. I guess some people thrive - or are addicted - to stress, but it just makes me crazy. I need to work my way through study and prayer in a deliberate way early in the week so that I can walk around with my message well in advance of Sunday. Here's my brief reflection for this Sunday to be shared before our long multi-person rendering of the Passion Narrative. Thanks be to God for both Walter Wangerin and Ayanna John Watkins. We will use Wangerin's "Way of the Cross" reader's theater to proclaim the Passion Narrative. And I found the article by Ms. Watkins in the current Christian Century profound and insightful. Both servants guided my prayers and thoughts about Palm Sunday with their deep wisdom and faith.
The whole movement of this day in worship, Palm Sunday 2015, urges us to recall how easily our expectations are disappointed – and how such disappointments can become deadly.  We like to believe that we are in control.  We often act as if we know what is needed – or what will help – when life goes south and we’re hurting or afraid.  We go through life certain that we truly know what kind of change would really make a difference in our finances, our health, our politics and just about everything else.  In a word, most of the time most of us are so full of ourselves that there isn’t room for God’s still, small voice to be heard in our hearts.

+ So Jesus comes to us today on a donkey – not a stallion, not a Humvee, not a Mercedes or a private jet – a donkey. 

+ Like the disciples, we have orchestrated a parade for our man – a public display of affection and commitment – because we LOVE parades. In our community we have a parade for everything:  Halloween, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. I’ve never lived in a place that loves a parade as much as our town. All of our political leaders – and many of our economic and civic institutions – come out for these parades.  Intuitively we know that these are times for celebration, times to show what binds us together, times to honor our past even as we march into the future.  
Parades also point to a culture’s expectations – they paint a picture of what we honor and value – they offer a very clear public portrayal of those things we hold near and dear to our hearts. They speak volumes about how we understand the world to work - and Jesus shows up on a donkey. In fact, Jesus chose a donkey – a young, inexperienced one at that according to the Scriptures – so at the start of Holy Week I need to tell you that the donkey matters more than the parade in this story.

The Hebrew prophets often used symbols to speak God’s truth in ways that cut deeper than words:  the prophet Ezra once tore his outer garments and pulled out some of his hair and beard to express God’s sadness over the destructive habits of the people; King David wore ashes and sackcloth as he mourned the loss of Abner, commander of King Saul’s army; and John the Baptist’s chose to wear a shirt of camel hair tied with a leather belt to remind Israel of Elijah, God’s prophet who came to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.  So let’s be clear that when Jesus chose to ride the donkey into this parade, he was acting with prophetic symbolism.

Specifically he was telling this disciples and the whole of Jerusalem that he – and God – would NOT “ride above their sins and suffering.”  God is with you in all your fear and sadness – in all your trials and pain – and if you have any doubt look at this donkey! (Ayanna Johnson Watkins, Christian Century, March 18, 2015)

+ It is the beast of peace – not war or power – it is a beast of burden not ceremony or parades. And I am riding it. I am not towering above you, I am not putting on airs, I am here on your level looking into your eyes with love.

+ Remember what the prophets called Jesus before he was born? Emmanuel – God is with you – not above you or beyond you – but the God who is with you. That’s what the donkey is all about:  God is with you.

Now in the moment – in the midst of the parade – almost nobody grasped the meaning of this
prophet symbol. They wanted a STRONG, powerful Messiah who would not only physically vanquish the Roman occupation troops, but restore Israel to a place of power and prestige. And Jesus showed up on a donkey: no wonder after first shouting, “Hosanna” the crowd quickly takes up the chant: "Crucify, crucify, crucify that man!"

+ Their expectations were not only disappointed by that damn donkey, they were shattered.  But that’s the way God works. God doesn't give in to our expectations nor does God feed them; most of the time, God turns our desires and wants upside down and tells us:  this is where I am – in your sorrow, in your confusion, in your disappointment – on a donkey.

+ Like you and me, the disciples missed all of this on Palm Sunday – and quite frankly throughout the rest of what we now know as Holy Week, too – they let their expectations blind them. But, in time they got it. And in that there is hope and grace for each and all of us.

So today we open the door to a week of walking in the way of that donkey – Holy Week invites us to let go of our expectations about God’s power in order that we might experience the presence of God’s love in our ordinary lives.  In that spirit, I invite you to come to the Lord’s Table, to share your gifts for ministry and open your hearts to meet the Lord as we break ordinary bread with one another…



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