Sunday, April 5
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Matthew 21: 1 – 11
Gospel: (at the Procession with the Palms)
When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply,
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them,
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while others cut branches from the trees
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied,
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
I chose to look at the Gospel that is used at The Procession with Palms.
In my prayer I wondered what does this Gospel have to say to us in this time of a
global pandemic, in this time when all places of worship are closed, when
“social distancing,” “sheltering at home,” and “Be safe!” are new and common phrases in our everyday vocabulary?
In times such as these we hear lots of apocalyptic language. “God is trying to tell us something”. “God is giving us a wake-up call.” “God is telling us to come back to him.” They are all true BUT the bigger truth is that God is always trying to tell us something; God is always drawing us to him in good times and in difficult times. God did not cause the crisis that is shaking the world. A loving God does not do that to his beloved children. In times such as these we cling to God’s promise, “I will never leave you,” God will walk with us and give us the wisdom and courage to work through this crisis together. When we do that we relearn wonderful faith-filled things.
If all of our places of worship are closed does this mean for Christian religions that there is no Palm Sunday? Does this mean we do not enter into this most solemn week of the year, the one we call Holy? Certainly not! The church building is closed but not the church community. WE ARE THE LIVING CHURCH. Wherever we dwell is a “house Church,” and through God’s limitless power, we are united to each other. We profess our interconnection with each other when we claim the Communion of Saints. Our prayer is not limited by space or time. The power of our prayer, through God’s power, transcends human boundaries and unites us as one community.
As I sat and prayed with the scripture reading for today, the word most associated with Palm Sunday jumped right out at me. It is “Hosanna!” Hosanna is related to an Aramaic word that means “help or save us!” That is a perfect cry for today as the Coronavirus continues to race across the world. Yet, that seemed too obvious. Is there anything else this Gospel has for us? Several things made me wonder: Why Bethphage? He spent the night in Bethany, why didn’t he get the colt there? A colt? Really?!!? He wants a colt? Jesus, our Messiah, is going to enter Jerusalem on the back of a baby donkey? How weird is that! Do you know anything about a donkey colt? What words do people often associate with a donkey? Stubborn! Dumb! Beast of Burden –are some that I heard when I asked my friends. There has to be more and it has to be significant that Jesus chose a baby donkey. I have prayed a lot about that colt and donkey. I even did a little research.
Jesus chose a colt, not a powerful stallion, like the Roman authorities would have used to show their authority. He didn’t choose a war horse to show his power and military might and being ready for the victory of battle. He chose a simple donkey, the ride of a poor man, the same animal used to carry him in his mother’s womb as she and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem. Donkeys and colts are very calm, loyal and affectionate. They can bear heavy loads that are not their own.
Donkeys show excellent memory and intelligence, and a great ability to learn. Negative and painful experiences affect the donkey’s behavior for years. When they detect something dangerous or scary they will generally move away from it, to observe what the threat is before moving toward it. Then they will move with fearlessness and great determination. They are territorial and will stand their ground always in an apparently calm manner. If you ride through horse country and pass a field, it would not be unusual to see a donkey with the horses. They use a donkey as a companion animal, especially for pregnant horses to keep them calm and safe. On my community’s farm in Kentucky we use a donkey to protect our herd.
This donkey colt in our Gospel will carry Jesus … the one who carries many burdens for us, the one who protects us, the one who offers calmness and peace will be carried by this donkey colt. At our Taizé prayer service we always sing, “Come bring your burdens to God, come bring your burdens to God. Come bring your burdens to God for Jesus will never say no.” In the midst of this world crisis we certainly cry out “Hosanna! Hosanna!” “Save us, O Lord!” In the midst of this world crisis we bring our burdens to God.
Then I began to wonder who are the people carrying heavy burdens during the Coronavirus crisis? I think immediately of health care professionals and first responders. I think of the political leaders across the country trying to work with the scientists and medical people to make plans to best protect their people and try to control the spread of the virus. I recall the leaders of different religious traditions who are trying to offer spiritual comfort to their people. There are educators on every level who are trying to reach out to students and parents. Parents are trying to protect their children from the virus and from fear. The list went on and on for me.
If you had the opportunity to pray with Pope Francis on March 23rd you heard him pray: This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.”
These are the people who have many similarities to real colts and donkeys and who carry heavy burdens for others. This Palm Sunday we remember them. Jesus chose to enter Jerusalem on the back of a baby donkey. How weird is that? Actually, it doesn’t seem weird at all. Jesus chose a donkey colt. The people may have wanted him to ride in on an animal of power. We might want him to ride in on a white stallion, wearing a medical coat and waving the cure for the Coronavirus. He is not going to do that. He is still riding a colt and he is arriving in the person of ordinary people, like you and like me, who are being called to do extraordinary things for each other and for the common good. “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! in the highest.”
-Sister Teresa Tuite, OP