Monday, April 6, 2009

A Story about a Donkey and Other Musings as We enter into Holy Week.

I found this story on Father John's blog, and then did a little investigation so that I can give credit for it to Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks by Wayne Rice.

The donkey awakened, his mind still savoring the afterglow of the most exciting day of his life. Never before had he felt such a rush of pleasure and pride. He walked into town and found a group of people by the well. "I'll show myself to them," he thought.

But they didn't notice him. They went on drawing their water and paid him no mind.

"Throw your garments down," he said crossly. "Don't you know who I am?" They just looked at him in amazement. Someone slapped him across the tail and ordered him to move. "Miserable heathens!" he muttered to himself. "I'll just go to the market where the good people are. They will remember me."

But the same thing happened. No one paid any attention to the donkey as he strutted down the main street in front of the marketplace.

"The palm branches! Where are the palm branches?" he shouted. "Yesterday, you threw palm branches!"

Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to his mother. Foolish child," she said gently, "Don't you realize that without Jesus you are just an ordinary donkey?"

Cute story and good reminder that we don't get so caught up with all the doings of the week that we forget Who this is really about!.

I don't know this for a fact but I've heard that Palm Sunday was changed to Sunday of the Passion because so few people attended Maundy Thursday Good Friday services that they were skipping merrily from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. This does give you a rather warped sense of what Christianity is all about.

My friend John is not happy with this development. He thinks we should not enable folks this way and says "It really pisses Jesus off. He needs the week to get himself together. People who want to yank him off his pony and tack him on the cross must be stopped" He cracks me up.

I don't know. He has a point but I've come to love the Sunday of the Passion. Our service on that day is just the Passion of our Lord (beginning with the entry procession of palms" right out of whatever Gospel the Lectionary year is, broken up with hymns like "Go to Dark Gethsemane" "Oh Sacred Head" and "In the Hour of Trial" Since we always read John's passion account on Good Friday, this is a good way for people to hear the story from the other Gospel writers. It's a very moving service. I get people to read the various parts just right from the pew. (Which I'm sure annoys the guy who videotapes the services since they don't use a mike) and the congregation reads parts like "and they all deserted him" and "crucify him".

I've been told it's hurtful for abused and oppressed people to have to read "Crucify him" because oppressed and abused people aren't responsible for Jesus being crucified. I certainly don't want to be hurtful. But I believe Christ died for everybody's sins. Even those who are abused and oppressed. You don't get a pass for being abused and oppressed. Abused and oppressed people need forgiveness just like everyone else, not excuses, explanations and passes. Life and sin is messy and complicated. We are all victims of our circumstances and our sinfulness. My job is to tell guilty people that they are forgiven, period, not give them excuses and explanations as to why they sinned. Because I don't think most people believe their own excuses or the ones others give them. It's a Law/Gospel thing. I think we all know deep down that we are sinners. We don't need to be beat over the head with it. But it does need to be acknowledged. I think we need to see ourselves in that crowd that shouted for Jesus' crucifixion. Ted Peters in "Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society" defines sin as that tendency to draw a line between good and evil and pretend we are with God on the good side. The fact is, sin and evil is all mixed up with the good stuff on earth and when God became flesh and entered this world, he crossed over all those boundaries humans want to put up to separate the wheat and the chaff. Abused or abuser, we are all on the same side. And we are all in that crowd shouting "Crucify him!"

But I do need to thank Sophia from the RevGalBlog Pals for making me think about this. I totally disagree with her but I had taken the congregation shouting "Crucify him" for granted and appreciated her making me think more deeply about it to defend the practice.

Last night I went to "Awaken", a mime production. It was very moving. I even cried when Jesus died. It's not like I didn't know it was coming. Just that afternoon I had watched PBS show "Religion and Ethics" and they had a segment about the Hispanic Holy Week events and how moving their Passion play was and how the priest who had seen it for 20 years still cries. We Lutherans tend to frown on too much emotionalism but I think what we object to is emotional manipulation. When it's the story itself that makes you cry – that's a good thing I think.

I wish they had left it there. Instead this guy had to get up and give us a sermon. Just in case we didn't "get it" from the story alone. It nearly ruined it for me. Another reminder to us preachers that sometimes we just need to shut up and let the story do what it is supposed to do.

Anyway…Great start to the week. I'm ready for Holy Week. Are you?,


  1. Thanks for dropping by and for the kind words, Joelle. It is good to hear more about your theology and philosophy of Holy Week worship.

    You might consider phrasing the "assignment" in the bulletin as an invitation, i.e. "the congregation is invited to take the part of the crowd" or "if you are comfortable doing so, please take the part of the crowd" (along the lines of "if you are able, please stand"). This would keep the practice in place and most people would take part but provide a welcome escape route for those who find it spiritually violating and harmful to their concrete experience of God's love in Christ.

    My church did the usual thing and I just remained silent this year....One thing I loved that they did was a having an African American laywoman serve as Jesus and the clergy as readers/crowd--usually the clergy at least in Episcopal and Catholic places insist on playing Jesus and not shouting those uncomfortable crowd part themselves!

  2. Yes it's always good to remind people that they can participate or not in any part of the service as far as they feel comfortable.

    I wish they'd do that in places where they insist you jump up and down and hug everybody - which are practices I am not comfortable with.

  3. I'm not ready for Holy Week yet. I'm coming to your church, I like jumping up and down and hugging people. Especially if they're jumping too :-) (Sometimes even if they're not)

  4. No jumping around at my church. They do get a little huggy at the passing of the peace.

  5. Hee hee...can't imagine requiring anyone to jump up and down. Allowing it, depending on what is happening? Yep. Requiring it--or hugs? YOW!

  6. Hugging at my Episcopal place, but no jumping up and down. And our passion reading Jesus (and narrator) may be of any color or gender but is never a clergyperson!

    Now, back to the matter at hand. Thanks for your reflections on this--and Sophia's too--because I also have been pondering it all week.

  7. I never read Jesus' part! I usually do the narrator and I always join in "Crucify him"