Was it a morning like this one, when birdsong was as sweet as can be after days spent longing for light?
Was it a morning when everything seemed new and the disciples, rousing themselves, stretched their arms wide and welcomed it? Was it a morning like this one when Jesus looked down from the Mount of Olives, out over the road to Jerusalem?
He’d been readying himself for this day and readying us. Now he takes a deep breath because this is the day. Morning has broken and he will ride down this hill from which tradition has it, Messiah is to come. He’ll ride down it in a carefully prepared ritual, a gathering up of the prophecy in Zechariah, and the words of Psalm 118, mingling triumph and humility, the coming of glory on a colt.
The colt, he tells those he sent to fetch it, will never have been ridden and whether that means it’s stubborn and cantankerous or new and tender we don’t know. But Jesus will be first on its back, just as he is to be the first seated in our hearts, whether they are stubborn and cantankerous or newborn and tender.
It’s a small thing perhaps but as with all rituals, the tiny mediates the unspeakably vast, the thing we cannot take in except in small sips — bread and cup and sprinkled water and now the fetching of a colt.
Twice the two colt-fetchers are asked, why are you walking off with this colt,
Twice they answer, “the Lord needs it”. That’s all and who knows whether the message got through. Who knows whether the owners’ innards suddenly churned or a calm possessed them through which they knew the hidden power of this moment. Who knows whether poised to grumble or to let loose with a string of curses their fingers as though unbidden by their minds let go of the rope and they watched silently as the colt was led away.
We don’t know, how the night before the procession was spent, by the One who knew where he was going, and by his friends who didn’t quite.
And that morning; was it a morning just like this, full of birdsong?
We don’t know whether Jesus’ muscles clenched as he sat the broad-backed colt, whether he had slept. We don’t know how deep and lonely his longing was, for us to recognize him.
But we can imagine it, enter it, by knowing our own hurt when we are not recognized, not seen for who we are, not appreciated for all we have been.
We can recognize his longing, not only for himself but for us. We can take our own longing and our imagination of his and turn it into compassion for all who long:
For the asylum seeker who gives birth on the border and now nurses her child in captivity.
For the one whose life has been devastated by natural disaster and intensified by climate change and then sees the world heedless of that change
For the indigenous father who daily turns on a tap from which no water has flowed for weeks who knows he is forgotten as we turn on our taps each day
For the student, the worshipper, the concert goer who has been unseen, devalued twice, first by those who shot at her and second by those who uphold laws that make the hate and shooting easier
We can take those times when we have been unrecognized or felt excluded and turn them, not into despair or bitterness, but to an inkling of the longing of God, Living Presence, and the longing of those whom God loves.
We can be those who recognize longing and respond in love.
In the morning, Jesus rides down the hill on this colt, its bony back cushioned by the rough cloaks of his followers, its steps muffled by the cloaks of those who come out to meet him. I imagine birds sang as they trailed down the hill to the edge of the city.
I imagine they were as impossibly strong and fragile and beautiful as what this One was about to do.
On the other side of Jerusalem Pilate rides high on his stallion. Sometimes we forget him, his polished saddle, his guard with their gleaming spears, his power and privilege, the fear he commands. We see perhaps the ride of Putin through the lives, and deaths of the Ukrainians. Raised high, distant, out of touch.
Sometimes we forget that the might of Rome has commanded its finest to put down this rag tag procession: its peoples’ shouting and waving, and crying to heaven.
Sometimes we forget that it’s not only Jesus who rides through Jerusalem that day but something rich and ruthless and relentless. The power of the imperial rides to meet the power of Love. We might recognize this power in our own lives, whether as unchecked big business, the commodification of creation, the power of social media to make or to break. We might see it in the way organizations, not least of them churches, define and defend themselves through what works rather than who is silenced.
In Luke the procession hardly reaches the city before the disciples start hollering, “Blessed is the King” and, “Peace in heaven”. But the peace of heaven sits on an earthy colt, unsatisfied until his own life permeating ours grows peace on earth.
This peace cannot be just pushed off into the future but must be lived each day, schooled in us through the choices of each moment:
to blame or to bless,
to withdraw or to welcome,
to be resigned or renewed,
to be attentive or indifferent,
to hope or to despair.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem, as he rides into our hearts, which themselves are under threat of colonization by the powers of social pressure and our own particular emotional narratives.
Jesus, Christ is longing, to be known, to be welcomed not for his deeds of power but for his power of love. The seated Word is longing. Touched our spirits become free and fragile as birds. Here in this place where morning has broken again and birdsong is sweet after long cold days our hearts are the palms and the cloaks we spread.
We too, this morning have a ritual and we can hope that it will shift our attention once again to the reality of God’s triumphant procession in the face of the powers of all oppressors. We hope for the triumph of tenderness, of humility, of peace, the triumph that grows hiddenly and touches infinitely.
Father Thomas Keating writes, “God seems to have a preference for concealment. [. . .] The hidden life is primarily a disposition. It is aimed directly at human pride, especially those religious pretensions that tempt us to make a splash in some pond or other”.
The church has in the days of its power sometimes elevated this morning’s procession to one of pomp and circumstance but really it was a humble procession of ordinary people, some loud, some misguided, some filled with hope. It is as though we spilled out onto Route 955 and walked from here to the rec centre. Some who saw us would be curious, some scornful, some angry
The oppressive powers that rode out to stop us wouldn’t be government in this place (Though that isn’t the case for many) but the fears of our own hearts.
Was it a morning like this one, when birdsong was as sweet as can be after days spent longing for light? Was it a morning when everything seemed new when that steadfast man on a colt, rode into a city and wept for love of the world?