In every single moment of our lives, God is creating something new. There is new energy, a new breath, new interactions with friends, new news to receive. There is new light to notice and new sounds to hear. New things to be touched and comforted by. If you think of the vast amount of newness each one of us is experiencing each moment and then multiply that times 7 billion, that’s a whole lot of creativity going on.
Today is known throughout the Christian world as Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus began making his way to Jerusalem for the final time, a journey referred to as the Triumphal Entry. This day marks the beginning of Holy Week, inviting us to reflect on and personally connect to many important moments in the last days of Jesus’ life: Receiving a kingly welcome from the people in the streets of Bethany, sharing a meal with his closest friends in the upper room, going out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray in his last few hours of freedom, and ending, of course, with his arrest, travesty of a trial, and his crucifixion.
I love the color and energy of this story of the Triumphal Entry. Year after year, I’m drawn back to it. It is so easy to imagine the scene: a brilliant blue sky, bright sun on the sand and streets, a great crowd of happy people in colorful fabrics, waving palm fronds and filling the air with shouts and cheers and chants, greeting and celebrating this one who was passing among them.
I wonder what was Jesus thinking and feeling as he rode that donkey that day through those packed streets. Was his heart glad? Was it heavy? What emotions were stirring inside him? Did he understand that he was nearing the end of his journey, that the important work he’d come to do was almost done? I wonder what God was creating in him in that moment. Perhaps a feeling of arrival. Maybe a glimpse of the magnitude of what he’d come to do—hearts stirred, power structures challenged, love, light, and truth shared.
I wonder how Jesus felt physically in those moments. As he rides the donkey (or the donkey *and* her colt, as the account in Matthew says), it must have been hard to sit serenely as the animals pitched and swayed with every step. The gospel accounts do say that the disciples spread their cloaks on the backs of the animals, so we can imagine that they were trying to care for his physical comfort, as best they could. One commentary mentioned that the disciples weren’t quite sure what Jesus was going to do, and that’s why they put their cloaks over both animals. I imagine that feeling of uncertainty must have been a normal part of the disciples’ day. They probably never knew what Jesus was going to do next.
What a creative moment that was on the roadway there. God was weaving together so many different realities. Jesus was having his experience—divinely spiritual and materially human, riding on the donkey and encountering the chanting crowds; The disciples were having theirs, leading the way, perhaps feeling hopeful and proud, and encouraging the peoples’ enthusiasm. And of course, each of the disciples would have been responding to the moment in different ways. Bashful Andrew might have been lagging behind, feeling crowd-resistant; Peter, proudly leading the pack. Matthew is probably searching the faces in the crowd for possible new disciples, and John—John, the disciple who was said to love Jesus best—simply watching and loving his brother and Lord.
Then there was the experience of the people as they crowded in to get a better look, curious and eager to get a glimpse of this celebrity, this healer, this promised one. What might he bring them personally? They might have hoped for relief from whatever oppressed them. Or a healing for themselves or their family member. Maybe just someone who cared they were going through difficult times. In that one high moment, there was a whole world-full of creation going on inside, outside, and among all those there that day.
And of course I always go back to the donkey. The fact that Jesus chose a donkey was telling. He was actually fulfilling a prophecy that first occurs in Isaiah, but his choice of a donkey over a horse has another meaning as well. The donkey was considered an animal of peace, while a horse was considered an animal of war. So the townspeople would see this special teacher not as a great king with military might but as a humble man who offered a different kind of saving power.
You may remember this poem from last year—I always include it in my message on this day—because it says something to me about the sacred, creative moments we are each experiencing and holding in our hearts, no matter what’s appearing on the surface of our lives.
By G. K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
And what about the people waving those palm fronds? What were they expecting on that day? They were used to hierarchies in their faith tradition. The teachings they heard would have been about how to follow the law and live within social norms. It must have been strange for them to hear messages about love and trust and service—about immediate connection with and relationship to God. They were accustomed to a kind of legalism; obeying the laws was the priority. There would have been a focus on power—who had it and who didn’t—but not a lot about peace. They probably heard all their lives about the law of God, but not much about the Love of God, until they heard Jesus speak and felt the peace of his presence.
I wonder how their faces looked as they excitedly watched for Jesus. Were they simply curious and following along with the joyful crowd, singing out because others were doing the same? Sometimes we see this at public events—it’s a kind of “group think”—one person begins a chant and others catch on and loudly join in.
But I think there was probably something else—something bigger and infinitely more creative—going on. The scripture says that when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem, it threw the whole city into turmoil. Some translations say “all the city was moved.” And there were a fair number who didn’t know who Jesus was or what the excitement was all about. Some asked “Who is this?” and others in the crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
When we go back to the Greek to look at the word that means “in turmoil” or “moved,” we discover that it’s derived from the word seismos, the same root we use when we talk about the seismic activity measured in an earthquake. The Cambridge commentary says, “the word in the original is forcible, ‘convulsed’ or ‘stirred’ as by an earthquake or a violent wind.” That implies that the excitement in the city was not simply a happy contagion of “group think” but perhaps a supernatural stirring of spirit, an awakening, maybe even a cracking open of traditions and philosophies, making the way for something entirely new, a fresh and violent wind, the radiating and unstoppable light of truth and Love, freely available to all.
We can see how God was stirring something in everyone involved on the path toward Jerusalem that day. And the amazing thing is that the story didn’t stop back there in time, when the dust settled. God is still stirring our hearts with it today. We are a part of that colorful crown. What emotions do we feel anticipating the arrival of the Son of God on this first day of Holy Week? Is it joy? Are we excited to be in the presence of this divine teacher and healer, this anointed one who brought such love to life? Do we feel anxiety about how much he is disrupting the social order? Do we wonder whether his message of Love can possibly work in our judging, moralistic, and polarized world?
In each new creative moment, God continues to invite us to watch for and witness the arrival of love, to let our old cocoons of safety and tradition be cracked open, to allow the seismic activity of Light to remake us and renew our world. May it be so.
- OT Psalm 118: 19026
- NT Luke 19: 29-40