Palm Sunday
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Matthew 21:1-11

May my words be your Word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Reproducing Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is really pretty easy. You’ll need a bunch of palms, a Jesus stand-in, a crowd of rowdy people wearing some loose garments they’re willing to sacrifice to a little dirt by putting them on the ground, and oh yes,..a donkey.

So what’s a donkey doing in the Gospel of Mathew this morning? Most of us are used to hearing about a donkey at Christmas. And yet, here comes a second one, and maybe a baby third in the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. That third donkey, the colt, as our reading today translates it, is probably a young donkey, old enough to walk, but perhaps not old enough to walk by itself without a mama or papa donkey to lead the way. That’s likely because the writer of Matthew’s Gospel was more concerned with being true to scripture than worrying about how Jesus was going to ride two animals at one time.

So what about this donkey? Why a donkey? In thinking about the purpose of this donkey that usually appears before Christmas, I looked at paintings and artwork of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. I found several and there are probably many more. I think most of us imagine – if we think about it at all – a donkey placidly walking along with Jesus holding the reigns and looking kingly. This isn’t so if you look closely at paintings of Jesus entering Jerusalem. There are varied images for this walk into Jerusalem.

One is a traditional fresco in the Church of Saint Germain, painted by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin in 1842. It’s traditional in the sense that the donkey is calm and obedient looking, Christ looks kingly, and all the lines in the painting emphasize the vertical. The vertical choice may have been the artist’s way of showing Jesus’ eventual journey to heaven.

The second painting is by the contemporary Chinese artist He Qui (Pronounced: Huh Chee). It shows an extremely colourful Christ looking determined and poised on the back of an animal that looks more like a bull than a donkey.

The third painting, done in 1889 by artist James Ensor, is titled Christ’s Entry into Brussels and portrays Christ as if he is in the middle of a carnival scene. The painting is so bright and contains so many people that the donkey is well hidden. I had to hunt for the donkey in the crowd.

The fourth painting is in the Armenian Museum in Isfahan, Iran. Jesus and the crowd are smiling and laughing. The donkey is portrayed as either willful or playful, or both. All four of the donkey’s legs are curved in a leap. None of the donkey’s legs touch the ground. The donkey has no reins for Jesus to hold.

I’ve often wondered about these donkeys. Let’s call it two donkeys to keep it simple.

The first donkey carried a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem where scripture tells us our savior was born. Without that donkey God would not be human flesh born like us. This is The Donkey of the Incarnation.

The second donkey carried our savior on his short-lived journey of triumph. Without that donkey Jesus would experience death as we do and we would not have his resurrection. This is The Donkey of the Resurrection.

It may be God used donkeys for Jesus reminds us that becoming human flesh and then experiencing death and resurrection calls to mind for us just how like donkeys human beings can be. We are stubborn, willful, playful, loving, bright, and colourful. We have all the traits donkeys do and more.

Perhaps God has a sense of humour. After all, God made us. And, God made donkeys. Perhaps God wants us to take our stubborn willful, playful, loving, bright, and colourful imaginations with us into Holy Week. To encounter how God speaks in Holy Week’s great drama. And how God then crowns the drama with the empty tomb on Easter morn, AMEN.

The Very Rev Nicolette Papanek