Sermon Palm/Passion Sunday Yr B
April 3, 2009 4 Comments
Palm/Passion Sunday Yr B, 5/04/2009
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“The donkey owner’s story-a narrative sermon”
Hello everyone, or as we say in the Promised Land, shalom! I want you to put your imagination to work today. Imagine that you have travelled in a time machine back to the first Palm Sunday. My name is Eli ben Judah. The Gospels do not mention me by name. I’m the owner of that donkey colt Jesus road into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’ll be your host and tour guide. Here is my story.
I remember it well, the day I met Jesus. What a day that was! He came to my stable at Bethphage, near Jerusalem, several weeks before Palm Sunday. The day started out with its usual routines, as any other day. You know: get up at four, dress, pray the morning prayer thanking God for another day, the gift of life, and every other blessing, start the fire, fry some fish, warm up the bread, give thanks to the LORD for our food, eat breakfast, go out into the stable to feed and water the donkeys, and open the stable doors for business—hoping and praying for customers to rent my donkeys.
A few minutes after I opened the stable doors, along came Jesus. I still remember seeing him walking towards me. I’ve never met a person like him before. He walked with dignity and confidence. His body and face were so radiant that I was almost blinded by such an intense light. His light poured into me, as if it were healing and cleansing me completely. The light seemed to be burning away all that was hurtful and destructive in me. His eyes were so loving and penetrating—I felt he could see right into my whole being and that he knew everything about me. He knew all of the details of my life, from birth right up to the present. I thought of our ancestor Moses, before the burning bush, and Elijah, when God spoke to him with the sound of sheer silence. The holiness of Jesus’ presence before me was so intense that I fell to my knees and lowered my face to the dust. Who was I, a humble, ordinary donkey owner to be worthy enough to be in the presence of Jesus?
Even though I had never met him before, I knew, as he came closer, that he was the most perfect, holy person that I’d ever encountered in my life. Like Moses after the burning bush, and Elijah after hearing God’s still small voice, I was never the same again. The day I met Jesus, my whole life has changed. Before that time, I went to synagogue on the festival days, and prayed the daily prayers without expecting much from the LORD. Life was pretty humdrum, and I liked it that way. After that day everything changed. Since then, I have found a new purpose for living. Now I want to tell everyone about Jesus and follow his way and his teachings.
Back to that day, when I was down on my knees, face to the earth, Jesus spoke. He called me by my name, and said: “Shalom, Eli ben Judah, donkey owner. Please rise, I have something to ask of you.”
So, I jumped up on my feet and was full of curiosity, wondering what he wanted from me. Before I was able to speak he addressed me again, saying: “I am going to need your help in a few weeks’ time. I’ll be entering Jerusalem then, and I need one of your colt donkeys—they have to be strong enough for me to sit on and ride into the city. I shall do this in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Listen up now Eli, here’s what will happen. Two of my disciples, James and John, will come here and untie the colt standing by your door. You and a few of your neighbours will see them, and will ask the following question: “What are you doing, untying the colt?” James and John will provide you with this password answer: ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ Do you think you can remember all of that?”
I was, at first breathless, so surprised, I didn’t know what to say. The prophecy from Zechariah finally sunk in, I realised it was referring to the Messiah. Could this Jesus be our Messiah? After a few moments of silence to collect my thoughts, I blurted out: “You mean to say that you’re, um, the Messiah?!” I asked with excitement and expectation.
Jesus answered with certainty in his voice, “I am he.” Then he commanded me to keep it a secret, saying: “Don’t you dare tell a soul till after my crucifixion and resurrection—then you can go out and tell the whole world.”
Rather confused I asked him: “What do you mean crucifixion and resurrection? You aren’t going to die like a criminal and then rise from death. I mean, if you’re the Messiah and all, aren’t you supposed to deliver us Jews from the tyranny of the Roman occupation and govern our nation with perfect peace and justice?”
Jesus answered me, “No Eli, that’s not my destiny. I’m the Messiah not only of the Jewish people, but of all nations and peoples. My destiny, in fulfillment of our scriptures, is to suffer and die on the cross to atone, once and for all, for the sins of humankind. Three days later God our heavenly Father shall raise me from the dead. Do you believe me?”
I struggled to understand these hard and sorrowful words, and then replied, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Please stay with me for lunch, you can tell me more.”
However, Jesus told me, “No, Eli, I must keep going to the next village, and the next, and the next after that. I’ve got plenty of work to do before I enter Jerusalem in a few weeks. Remember; keep this conversation a secret until after my crucifixion and resurrection. Don’t forget what I told you about James and John. Shalom Eli, see you in a few weeks.”
What a day! me, Eli ben Judah of all people, a humble donkey owner, meeting the Messiah! I believed Jesus, and yet, I struggled with what I had been taught by the rabbis. How could Jesus be the Messiah riding on a donkey? How could he be a suffering Messiah? Would God our Father really raise him from the dead three days after his crucifixion? Would his death on a cross truly atone for my sins and your sins, and everyone else’s sins, once and for all time? Questions, questions, questions. Yet, Jesus’ presence was so holy, so pure, so enlightening. How could I keep such an encounter with the Messiah to myself? I had to tell everyone, I couldn’t help it! So, that’s what I did. I told every single person in our village: “I’ve met the Messiah, his name is Jesus!” Most of them didn’t believe me, they thought I ate too many nuts and became one. J
The days and weeks passed. Finally the day came. True to Jesus’ words, James and John showed up when I was speaking with a few neighbours outside the house. They untied the colt. Folks asked them what they were doing and they provided the password answer—exactly as Jesus had planned it all. The neighbours who were with me then realised that I had been telling the truth. So, all of us followed along with James and John, because we love parades and this one was very special. Jesus our Messiah entered triumphantly, riding on a colt donkey with the crowd cheering him on, crying, “Hosanna!” which means “save us, save us soon.” Hosanna is a shout of praise, as well as a plea for help. We praised our Messiah Jesus, shared fully in the joy, waving our palm branches as he rode that little donkey, the animal symbolizing humility and peace—and that day shall come when he rules us all in perfect peace.
Well, that’s my story folks. You can time travel back now to Grace Lutheran Church in Medicine Hat. Go in Christ’s peace. And, like me, tell everyone you meet the Good News of Jesus our Messiah. Shalom! Amen.