We had a wonderful service of praise on Palm Sunday. People from the nations processed around the church as they waved palm branches, singing and dancing with joy. It was a celebration fit for a king.
Yet I’ve never seen palms used for a festive occasion in this country. It makes me wonder how citizens would view using them to fete the arrival of someone important.
I have no doubt though what they would think about an acclaimed leader coming in on a donkey. They would see it as a dishonorable, even shameful act because a donkey is considered dirty and unclean. Used as a beast of burden, frequently overloaded and sometimes whipped, a donkey would not be worthy to carry such a person.
So it makes you wonder what Jesus had in mind when He rode into Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week on a young donkey. Was He making a pointed commentary about pomp and power? Because there is something inherently ironic about a grown man riding a small donkey.
If you couldn’t afford a horse, you would at least get your friends to carry you above the crowd on a ceremonial chair.
Yet riding the donkey turns out to be the highlight of the week for Jesus. It goes from bad to worse, with betrayal and arrest, trial and beating. Soon He is walking to his death, dragging the cross behind him. He has become the beast of burden.
He dies a criminal’s death.
And then at last comes the moment of triumph. The biggest enemy of all, death, is vanquished and defeated. Jesus rises from the dead.
In any standard hero story–take The Lord of the Rings for example–the conquering king always returns in a proud parade accompanied by his trusty companions. As he rides through the city, he is greeted by cheering citizens paying tribute to his bravery and valor.
So you would think that even if Jesus bypassed pomp on Palm Sunday, at this point, having risen triumphantly from the dead, He would be ready to return in glory.
But Jesus does not follow the usual storyline. Even at the climax, He chooses the quiet way. He slips back without any fanfare, walking alongside His friends on the road to Emmaus.
There are no crowds. There are no trumpets.There is still no earthly crown for the King of Kings.
Everything is finished, but here in this world the journey remains.
Jesus returns as a wise, listening Friend, coming alongside of us as we plod on.
The pace stays slow and steady, the speed of love.