Listening to the Pray-As-You-Go podcast this Palm Sunday morning in the midst of demands for strawberries and Cheerios, Wild Kratts, and fights over the trains, I picked up the words of St. Ignatius on consolation and desolation.
“I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all. It is likewise consolation when one sheds tears that move to the love of God, whether it be sorrow for sins, or because of the sufferings of Christ our Lord, or for any other reason that is immediately directed to the praise and service of God. Finally, I call consolation every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one’s soul by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord. I call desolation what is entirely the opposite of (consolation), as darkness of soul, torment of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord.”
It connects to the reflections I spoke of on This Everyday Holy: I’m reading the Palm Sunday passage of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – found in Mark and Matthew. It’s the words the people were shouting: “Hosanna” and what they literally mean: We beseech you to deliver us. Simply: Save us.
John Helmiere, pastor of Valley and Mountain, a new worshipping United Methodist community in Seattle, came to speak to our Bloomington churches about the way they do church, and one of their rituals called Table Turning Monday as a way to embody Jesus’ turning those tables over in the temple. And then he reminded us that after this ruckus and vandalism, he made his “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem.
What the Bible doesn’t tell us is the parade that is happening at the main gate of Jerusalem, and that this march of protestors and demonstrators following Jesus came through the back gates. While Jesus is parading in on a donkey or in some translations both donkey and colt through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle hardened Roman soldiers. One blogger writes that such a demonstration would have been especially pertinent at Passover since Passover was explicitly a celebration of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. In a way, Jesus’ subversive donkey ride reminded all those waving Palm branches that Rome was the new Egypt, and the Emperor was the new Pharaoh.
Another theologian observes the significance in the Matthew passage where Jesus wants two animals, a donkey with her little colt beside her, and that Jesus rides “them” in the sense of having them both as part of his demonstration’s highly visible symbolism. In other words, Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.
Writes David Wells, professor of theology: “Where is the horse, the steed that bears the triumphant general, the untamable champion loyal only to the skilled commander, so beloved of great leaders from Alexander to Napoleon? It’s not here. In its place is a young colt — hardly the symbol of leadership. Jesus seems to have no understanding of rank. After all the fuss about procuring, even sequesterng, the right animal, just the kind of action worthy of a king, he gets the wrong animal. He chooses an agricultural tool, not a weapon of war; a tractor, not a tank.”
It’s these bizarre – can I say, queer – images of peace of that compel me. Jesus a revolutionary and leading a demonstration in the back alleys of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus riding in on the backs of the most vulnerable – a female donkey nursing her young. Jesus responding to cries of help and deliverance. All my notions of accomplishment and exceptionalism, triumph and success, all of it goes by the wayside once more.
“Learning to walk in the dark is a spiritual skill some of us could use right now. If you are in the middle of your life, maybe some of your dreams of God have died hard under the weight of your experience. You have knocked on doors that have not opened. You have asked for bread and been given a stone. The job that once defined you has lost its meaning; the relationships that once sustained you have changed or come to their natural ends. It is time to reinvent everything from your work life to your love life to your life with God – only how are you supposed to do that exactly, and where will the wisdom come from? Not from a weekend workshop. It may be time for a walk in the dark. The night sky will heal me – not by reassuring me that I will be just fine, but by reminding me of my place in the universe.
Because…to be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
If there’s anything that can reorient us this Lent it is the reminder of our humanity – the inevitability of light and darkness, and the reminder that we need someone to deliver us, to rescue us, to save us. Save us from the systems and principalities of the world. Save us from churches who have tunnel or myopic vision. Save us from our need for achievement and triumph. Save us from ourselves.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”