God in an Apron
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said, and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
God in an Apron
“The highest goodness is like water. Water benefits all things and does not compete with them. It dwells in the lowly places that others despise. Therefore it is near the eternal.” – Lao Tzu
When I was young, I used to love looking at old photos and hearing the stories my mother, and aunts, and cousins would tell about Carnival. Carnival is the wild and unpredictable festival period that leads directly up to Lent. For centuries, in the Caribbean and many other parts of the world, it has been as much a part of the holy season of Lent as ashes and fasting. Historically Carnival is a time when those on the bottom of society festively unmask and challenge the dominant social order. While those on the top of society shed their privilege and become nothing more than anonymous faces among the masses in the masquerade. Dressed in the elaborate and disorienting costumes of the festival, a beggar could spend all night reveling and feasting with an heiress. A king, dressed as a common old woman, might move through the city streets unnoticed, with no fanfare, and no acclaim. There is something highly theatrical and deeply subversive about the Carnival season, when rich and poor, prominent and powerless, reverse their social roles and customs, willingly turn their worlds upside down.
Throughout the season of Lent, we’ve spent time with the Beatitudes, understanding these teachings of Christ as a roadmap for our Christian journey. We’ve borne witness to the fact that living these teachings reorients us, turns our lives upside down.
I imagine that might have been a little bit of what the disciples were feeling that day as they made plans with Jesus to travel to Jerusalem.
For years, Jesus had been gathering a steady crowd of eager followers and gaining his share of bitter enemies. With his radical message of God’s love for all people, welcoming strangers, saying things like “Blessed are the poor, the meek, and the persecuted”. Restoring outcasts to community by healing their afflictions, and forgiving their sins. Finally, he and his followers were ready to take their message to the center of power, returning to the Roman stronghold of Jerusalem. The Chosen People of God had been waiting so long for their hero, their Messiah to come. Maybe the disciples had begun to feel like the entourage of a megastar on the night of the big premiere.
Then he says to them, “I want you to go, and find me. a donkey.”
Jesus wants to ride into Jerusalem, the revolutionary Messiah of God’s Chosen people, on a donkey? Really…?
I can just hear them saying to each other as they walked to the village, “Well, ok… So, we’re going with a donkey. Well… maybe we can fancy the donkey up a little! We can throw our cloaks over the donkey, and then I mean, he’ll be riding in on a donkey, but it will be a fancy donkey. Yes. good idea, good idea.
They didn’t get it. He was GOD. He was the Holy One. He was the Messiah.
This was not the kind of triumphal entrance that they had expected.
But Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that what he was asking the disciples to do was ridiculous and that it would make him appear ridiculous too.
It wasn’t an accident.
In taking on the trappings of Kingship, yet with a decidedly low-budget, satirical twist, Jesus was drawing a sharp distinction between the “Rulers of this World” and the “Rule of God.” You see, the donkey was a symbol, just like the cloaks, and palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna!” they all meant something. To the people of that time and place, these were powerful props in the drama of Empire. This scene would have been very familiar to the residents of Roman-occupied Jerusalem, as it would have been to residents of Rome all over the conquered world. Except in the Roman version, the triumphant warrior-king would ride into the city on a stallion, signifying their might, and their majesty. The only time anyone would stoop to the level of a donkey is when they were surrendering. It was a clear sign of one’s utter humiliation – that you came in peace, and that you clearly meant no harm.
“I come in peace.”
“I mean no harm.”
This apparently harmless festival procession unmasked the great secret weakness of Roman power – of all power that relies on human might and ego. The message these symbols conveyed was striking, subversive, even treasonous. For in entering the city in this way, it’s as if Jesus was saying to anyone in Rome who might be listening, “You believe you have ultimate power. Force and violence uphold your power.
Here I sit, on a donkey, with a dusty, ragged crowd of worshippers, whom I have neither bribed, nor threatened, neither imprisoned nor conquered. Yet they give me honors that should rightfully be yours. They call me “King,” instead of you.
What does that say about your power?
Yes, it seemed ridiculous that Messiah of God’s people would choose to use a symbol of surrender and humiliation as he made his triumphant return to the Holy City.
Yes, it was counter to everything that the people of this time and place would have understood about greatness and power, and what a Messiah should be.
That was exactly the point. Jesus disorients us on purpose.
Imagine how easy it would have been for Christ, God incarnates, to enter Jerusalem not just on a majestic stallion, but descending from the heavens on a flaming chariot, proclaiming, “The Reign of God is here! Worship me, mortals for I have come to bring you salvation”.
It certainly would have been more along the lines of what they were expecting.
But that is not what God did because that is not what God does. The message of Palm Sunday is clear: Individual greatness is not enough. To be great, you must surrender. You must forget about yourself and become the servant of all.
This is what Christ is calling each one of us to do.
When we live our lives consciously following the example of Christ, we risk everything. We risk having to let go of our own sense of how important we are.
If we are going to live like Jesus, we must realize that we are going to risk humiliation. Jesus reminds us that our own humiliation is nothing, for we are part of a bigger story.
At a reception honoring renowned English music patron Sir Robert Mayer on his 100th birthday, elderly British socialite Lady Diana Cooper fell into conversation with a friendly woman who seemed to know her well. Lady Diana’s failing eyesight prevented her from recognizing her fellow guest until she peered more closely at her magnificent diamonds and realized she had been talking to Queen Elizabeth II. Overcome with embarrassment, Lady Diana curtsied and stammered, “Ma’am, oh ma’am, I’m so sorry ma’am. I didn’t recognize you without your crown”. Queen Elizabeth smiled and said,
“It was Sir Roberts evening. I decided to leave my crown at home”.
God chose to let go of the power of the Universe, to enter creation as a poor, insignificant baby. This baby grew into a revolutionary man, who rode into Jerusalem on the Sabbath as a king. Yet, this king was like no other the earth had known. He was called to be the servant of humankind – to set the world right again by modeling humility – humbling the exalted and lifting up the oppressed. He surrendered his own power, his own desire, his own sense of individual importance to become part of a far bigger story:
“Not my will but thine be done.”
Macrina Wiederkehr, in her poem God in an Apron, imagines a night, just a few nights after Jesus’s ride into Jerusalem. She writes:
the One we loved startled us all
He got up from the table
and put on an apron.
Can you imagine how we felt?
God in an apron!
Tenderness encircled us
as he bowed before us.
He knelt and said,
“I choose to wash your feet
because I love you.”
God in an apron, kneeling
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I was embarrassed
until his eyes met mine
and I sensed my value.
I can still feel the water
I can still feel the touch of his hands.
I can still see the look in his eyes.
Then he handed me the towel and said,
“As I have done so you must do.”
Learn to bow, Learn to kneel.