Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV)
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
One of the most exciting and moving moments in The Lord of the Rings films comes at the end of the second film, The Two Towers. (It may be beautiful in the books to but I wouldn't know because I haven't read them. Don't @ me.)
Allow me to remind you of the story. King Théoden of Rohan begins the film under the influence of the evil Saruman. As a result, he has banished his kingdom's army, the Rohirrim led by his nephew Éomer, and allowed the evil Uruk-hai to grow in strength and travel through Rohan unchecked.
When Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli arrive in Rohan's capital, Edoras, Gandalf releases Théoden from Saruman's influence and the king leads his people to Helm's Deep to make a stand against the Uruk-hai who seek to destroy Rohan.
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli follow Théoden to Helm's Deep while Gandalf goes to seek help from the Rohirrim. Before he leaves, Gandalf tells them:
"Look to my coming at first light on the 5th day.
At dawn, look to the East."
Sure enough, the Uruk-hai follow our heroes to Helm's Deep and wave after wave of enemies crash against the sanctuary, eventually breaching the walls on the 5th day. As they do, our heroes remember Gandalf's words, mount their horses and make their final and seemingly foolhardy charge.
Just as they do, the sun breaks over the hill and, from around the bend, comes their deliverer, Gandalf, riding on a borrowed donkey.
But the emotional tension that we felt as viewers is not that different from the desperate longing for a rescuer the people of Israel would have felt in the first century. Dominated by an all-powerful Caesar and ruled by a cruel king from among their own people, they longed for dawn to break and for their sword-drawn hero to be silhouetted against it.
At Palm Sunday, we celebrate the arrival of a hero that the people neither wanted nor believed they needed.
They wanted a warhorse, not a donkey.
One who would bring punishment to their enemies not forgiveness to the oppressor and the oppressed alike.
Who would cut off heads, not put back ears.
Who would judge kings, not stand silently to be judged before them.
The people knew the prophecies. They knew that their Messiah would come. The problem was that they believed he would come as a military leader who would liberate them from oppression rather than as the sacrificial Messiah who would liberate the world from its slavery to destruction, violence and domination.
Sadly, this old story plays itself out again and again and again in our world. Whether it's the leaders we choose or the God we worship, we too often imagine them in the light of what we desire rather than what he does. Jesus did not choose a donkey out of necessity. It is purposeful. It is intentional. It is what he desires because of what it reveals about who he is and the Kingdom that he is ushering in. It is not glorious. It is not terrifying. By the world's terms, it is neither wondrous nor worthy of worship. But as we watch the world be manipulated, corrupted and controlled by the violence of the unscrupulous, a second look at Jesus riding on a donkey shows us the heart-achingly beautiful goodness of the God who has come to bring about the redemption and restoration of all things.
Palm Sunday is the day we remember that the Jesus way is the way of the donkey, not the way of the warhorse. The way of the lamb rather than the way of the lion.
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.