What a strange beginning to Holy Week this is. Usually we would be at Mass with our congregations, blessing our Palms and joining in the procession. But this year, at home, we have to carry the people of our parish community with us. And in doing so, we have something in common with an essential character in the Palm Sunday story – the donkey.
Carrying the Lord Jesus on his back, perhaps the donkey thought the cheery hosannas were really for him. Just imagine his pride. All these people had come just to see him. All these branches and cloaks on the floor, just for him to walk across. May be we’re more like that donkey than we might think.
When our projects go well, we’re only too happy to acknowledge the part we played, what we achieved. When it all goes wrong, God’s will has become mysterious. Whatever the disaster, it’s got nothing to do with us.
Today, the curtains open on a drama of glory and humility, qualities we can so easily misinterpret, but which the Lord Jesus fulfils perfectly.
A king on a donkey seems as ridiculous as a beggar in the Coronation carriage, but Christ’s kingship cannot be anything other than paradoxical: ‘His state was divine, but he was humble, accepting death on a cross.’ The donkey ride to Bethlehem, when the Lord Jesus was in Mary’s womb, finally arrives in Jerusalem.
We mimic the jubilant crowds – maybe in more ways than we care to realise. They welcomed Jesus, but on their own terms. He was to be their earthly liberation – from Roman government, from foreign gods, and from oppressive politics. But when the Jesus they wanted assumed the condition of a slave, their hosannas turns sour. I fit into those crowds when the Saviour I would like is not the Saviour God has given.
Ordinarily the liturgy today reminds us: ‘for five weeks of Lent we have been preparing by works of charity and self-sacrifice.’ Charity and self-sacrifice may not principally be how we would describe our own Lenten journey. But from today a new dynamic begins, one that drives us forward. Whatever ‘scanty triumphs grace has won,’ only these do we need take forward into this holiest of weeks.
G. K. Chesterton’s poem The Donkey recalls how even the clumsiest beast had its moment of glory:
For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
Today, we begin to approach in earnest the commemoration of Christ’s hour – His appointed time of glory – reached through humility and love. His hour is our promise. His hour is our redemption. His hour is our hope. His hour is our joy.
In this Great Week the Lord Jesus invites us to savour each hour as the time of salvation draws close.