Monday, 14 April 2014

Donkey Riding

On the day before Palm Sunday, I sat with four other church women, drinking coffee and checking in with each other before we began our bible discussion - sounds prissy and boring, but it wasn’t. Somebody mentioned Holy Week and Denise, who’s enduring a huge computer mess at work, disgustedly spat out the words, “Holy Week!” like a curse. We all laughed because we knew exactly what she meant. We felt her frustration at the discrepancy between everyday reality and formal church traditions like Easter. 

No matter how sincerely we want to follow Christ’s way of life, sometimes Christian festivals seem like a farce and we feel tired just thinking about them. On Palm Sunday, there's the story about Jesus the Messiah riding a donkey through cheering crowds – we shout “Hosanna” in our pews and wave tropical palm leaves. By Maundy Thursday, the plot comes to Jesus' weeping with dread in Gesthemane’s garden - we kneel in grief as our church sanctuaries go dark and silent. At the Good Friday service, commemorating Christ’s crucifixion, we cringe at the thought of nails splitting human flesh and consider our own guilty role in power grabs. Two days later, “Alleluia, Jesus is risen!” Joyfully, we begin Easter Sunday's celebration, our churches filled with colourful spring flowers and glorious music.
Whew, what a ride.

What do Easter traditions like Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc. have to do with actually following Jesus in the way we work, parent, vote or spend  money? Does this festival reflect the rickety jostle of being an intentional Christian or is Holy Week a distraction from reality?

I wondered if it would help to think of Holy Week as a donkey ride, bumpy and risky.
Do you know the old campfire song called “Donkey Riding”? You can find it here with the lyrics, sung by Great Big Sea. I was surprised to read the last verse - it sounds a bit like Palm Sunday! In fact this may be my personal hymn of faith from now on.

Just like the disciples in the bible story, we have high expectations of Jesus. We’d rather our Christianity were practiced and under control, like an expert ride on a thoroughbred horse that clears every jump and wins every race. Why would we follow a Saviour who rides a donkey right onto death row? His contemporary followers were shocked and completely confused. They’d had such high hopes for a rescuing hero. Even when they were amazed by his new life after death their ride was far from smooth. Sound familiar?

Instead, Jesus invited them to hop on with a God who is unpredictable; a Mystery who chose to show up as a Jewish carpenter advocating humble service instead of triumphant success. Christ calls us to mercy instead of retribution. In God’s kingdom we chant “Justice and compassion!” instead of “We’re number one!” For Easter week and for whatever comes next, may we trust God’s love and hang on for the ride. “Way hey and away we go, donkey riding, donkey riding”