'..at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father'. ( Phil 2:10,11)
I sometimes like to think about things in reverse, starting from another vantage point-so to speak. Often it brings me into a very different picture of things, because the route is unfamiliar. So with scripture, looking at it backwards gives me images or words I could have missed, that also takes on a significance they may not have had-with a text that is so familiar! The Gospel of Palm Sunday, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, gets swallowed up in this familiar pattern. In our liturgy we concentrate on his triumphant entry on a donkey, with the crowds shouting 'hosanna' and waving palm fronds.
This for some reason immediately gets pushed into an-almost-rehearsal for Good Friday, the readings pushing and pulling us to his passion and death. This year I made a strong resolution not to get caught up in this, not to get too swallowed up in the 'sacrifice' of Christ, so I've read the narrative backwards, starting from where we are, with the 'Risen, Ascended Glorified Lord', transformed, I hope, by the vagaries and bluster of the `Holy Spirit in our lives. This has been a useful and chastening approach, it has taken me away from the normal pieties of Lent and now Holy Week, into the world of those who, having been with Jesus, lost him, only to find him again in a different sense of presence, in the breaking of the bread, in the sudden appearances in the Upper Room and at the sea-side breakfasts of the resurrection witnesses!
Does this do anything? Yes it does, it pushes me into proper discipleship, it holds me to my baptismal promise from the Lord, that in Christ I am made new. That in his death and resurrection, salvation has come, but I in my turn, must take on that mantle of a child of God and be brother to others. I haven't done very well, that I'll agree, but this Lent, this Holy Week, I am seeing things differently. I sense that sadness does not last always, that grief can be turned into constructive loving, that hate is not the way to go. More than that, I see and believe more than ever now, that the Lord Jesus -in giving his life for me, also gives it with and through me- he has done this not only for humanity but for ALL creatures.
So on this Palm Sunday my eyes are focused on the voice of the Donkey, a gentle creature so cruelly treated all throughout history, a beast of burden used, abused, neglected, and yet perhaps as much as dog and cat, one of our most loyal companions.
The Son of God rode on a donkey in triumph, he no doubt fled as a baby in his mother's arms on its brother or sister to exile and then back again. I am sure that the Palm Sunday donkey in its stable saw the risen Lord who came to thank it for bearing him to destiny and salvation! Animals also bear the cross with us, maybe, just maybe, musing on the donkey of the Lord we should rouse our consciences and help those animals hurt and neglected by us, bear their burdens-for the sake of the One who also loved and died for them-and to the green pastures and flowing waters of glory, will bring us all home!
"The Son and Word of the Father, like Him without beginning and eternal, has come today to the city of Jerusalem, seated on a dumb beast, on a foal. From fear the cherubim dare not gaze upon Him; yet the children honour Him with palms and branches, and mystically they sing a hymn of praise: 'Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to the Son of David, who has come to save from error all mankind.'" (A hymn of the Light.)
The Song of the Donkey
Is it because one of us had the human God upon our back,
That we have been so badly treated all our days,
Is it that? Can it be we have to give such sacrifice,
Because so many cannot follow in his ways?
I don't know, all I understand is that the Son of God
Rode on a donkey's back, and crowds then trod
Not in his footsteps-but in those we made.
Humble he, who made the moon and stars and sky,
Whose love was painful in its poured out care,
Who loved the mother-hen and watched the sparrow fly-
A king, but one who had no gold to wear!
There's something in that which our kin know,
Power and glory, fame, celebrity; they shall go!
Only His love remains, His love sustains!
You see us beasts of burden, what a joke!
None of you have borne God on your back,
None of you saw how the earthquake shook-
On that his final entry and when death him took.
But a greater seismic shift had shaken space,
Sin and Death were vanquished, in their place-
Life forever with that gentle King.
All beasts have known him, and they see him still,
Un-blinded by your choice of sin and shame,
Christ's gentle care can reach out to us still,
You can end our burden and our pain.
You, whose flesh he took, ransomed lives he gained,
Receive him still, with loud Hosannas reclaim-
-Your forgiving, compassionate, and humble lord.
He passed through earthly gates, and then beyond-
Cross nailed into the very depths of hell,
And from that place he broke the very bond
Of death, and made her friend as well!
We in Heavens great fields shall ever be-
By running streams and pastures green shall we
Remain with you, not enemies but friends.
April 13th 2019
Robin Gibbons - April 13th 2019
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
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