A Dove and a Donkey Frame Palm Sunday | April 2, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
Last night I lay asleeping There came a dream so fair I stood in old Jerusalem Beside the temple there I heard the children singing And ever as they sang Methought the voice of Angels From Heaven in answer rang
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Lift up you gates and sing Hosanna in the highest Hosanna to your King!"
And then methought my dream was chang'd The streets no longer rang Hush'd were the glad Hosannas The little children sang The sun grew dark with mystery The morn was cold and chill As the shadow of a cross arose Upon a lonely hill
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Hark! How the Angels sing Hosanna in the highest Hosanna to your King!"
And once again the scene was chang'd New earth there seem'd to be I saw the Holy City Beside the tideless sea The light of god was on its streets The gates were open wide And all who would might enter And no one was denied No need of moon or stars by night Or sun to shine by day It was the new Jerusalem That would not pass away
"Jerusalem! Jerusalem Sing for the night is o'er Hosanna in the highest Hosanna for evermore
The song you just heard, The Holy City, hints at events that happened in the last week of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The Holy City is Jerusalem, the seat of political and religious authority as well as commercial exploitation. This is Palm Sunday which celebrates what is often called the Triumphant Entry. Usually, there are palms strewn on the floor of the sanctuary as part of a highly ritualized worship experience.
It was a triumphal entry for Jesus not because of any formal declaration from the state, the nation, but because the people, those on the edges of existence, declared it so. The ones whose lives he had touched and resurrected. It was not a holiday declared by the government to pacify those crushed by life circumstances. No, the people asserted their right to determine who they would honor. Why not call him King for he had proclaimed a new kingdom, an alternative to the present order that was in their midst. He had brought energy respecting their royalhood, and stretching them into their potential.
Gathered along the path of the faithful donkey were those who had personally benefitted from the energy of this young audacious prophet who had indeed brought good news to the poor and openly talked about unlocking prison doors opening and liberating those under brutal exploitation. He even had the nerve to assert that the control over their lives by the dominant order was ending. He had subverted mainstream society informing all who would hear that the first would be last, that the meek would inherit the earth, that the peacemakers not the war mongers would be blessed and ushered into the glories of a new era.
The movement was good for Jesus who had sacrificed and struggles in so many ways against authorities and among those he was sent to help for too often they seemed not to understand his radical call to do something new with themselves and live into a new order that they with the guidance and resources of the All-Pervading Presence would create.
I think it all began with a dove.
Jerusalem was in Jesus at the Jordan. I don’t mean his life was predestined. The final outcome and place of his life was Jerusalem for his thoughts and actions would inevitably lead to execution. You don’t threaten the Empire without suffering its final penalty, death.
The four gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John are of one accord that after the baptism of Jesus by John the Spirit of God alighted upon Jesus like a dove. Interesting is the idea of the dove as the spirit of God.
Now when Jesus had been baptized, the moment he rose out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove upon him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, in him is my delight."
Matthew 3:16-17 Moffatt Translation
The love the idea of delight rather than the in whom I am well pleased. I smile when someone or thing has delighted. My body becomes alive.
What is the meaning of the dove in this context? We know that Noah sent doves to survey the world/land after the flooding to see if it was safe to send his family forth to re-create civilization. I am merely speculating here but I think the Spirit as God in the image of a dove is an affirmation of his birth, rebirth, and destiny.
The Gospel of Luke records the following.
When the days for their purification in terms of the Mosaic law had elapsed, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord: every male that opens the womb must be considered consecrated to the Lord) 24 and also to offer the sacrifice prescribed in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. 25
Dr. Howard Thurman quotes the regulation in Leviticus as: “And when the days of her purification are fulfilled, . . .she shall bring a lamb of the first tear for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, a turtledove, for a sin offering. . . . And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons . . .”
Thurman posits that offering a turtledove is an indication that Joseph and Mary were among the poor as were the masses of people. He was not born of royalty or with any status. He was disinherited.
And there is more to this story.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Symeon, an upright and devout man, who was on the outlook for the Consolation of Israel. The holy Spirit was upon him; 26 indeed it had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he was not to see death before he had seen the Lord messiah. 27 By an inspiration of the Spirit he came to the temple, and when the parents of the child Jesus carried him in to perform the customary regulations of the law for him, 28 then Symeon took him in his arms, blessed God, and said, 29 "Now, Master, thou canst let thy servant go, and go in peace, as thou didst promise; 30 for mine eyes have seen thy saving power 31 which thou hast prepared before the face of all the peoples, 32 to be a light of revelation for the Gentiles and a glory to thy people Israel." 3
The sacrificed doves are resurrected in the Spirit of God affirming anew the journey and destiny of the recently baptized servant. It is a reclamation of the idea that Jesus will have to sacrifice and that Jesus is sacrifice. That is why he was driven to the wilderness. He had to test his authenticity and resolve. For the temptations of an easier life would be great and there would be great suffering along the landscape. He went to the wastelands which turned out not to be a wasteland at all but the place that he needed to deal with the ifs, buts, and maybes of his own personal aspirations and doubts, his weaknesses and developing strengths to absorb and reflect “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that would come his way. What was clear was that he could not be neutral, or indifferent in life.
Unlike the birds of the air, he would have no designated place to lay his head.
Let’s look at the donkey, this specific donkey. As instructed by Jesus, two of the disciples went into a village and found the animal upon which no one had ever sat and untied it. When questioned why they were untying it, they replied “the Lord has need of it.”
So, it had been reserved for Jesus. What an honor! What an animal, pure. While visiting Morocco twenty-three years ago, I observed donkeys. Faithful they were and accustomed to bearing burdens, the burdens of others.
I wonder about the donkey’s thought as it moved with deliberation and compassion among the crowd with such a precious being trusting it with this profound and provocative journey. It was part of a lineage.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
Triumphant and victorious is he,
Humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.
I sense that it was aware of the weariness that was part of Jesus’ life and was honored to provide some comfort. The faithful donkey now has eternal life for whenever and wherever the last days of Jesus’ life are told, his will be told also.
As Jesus moved further into Jerusalem, he wept over the city. Such huge disappointment there was. The city still had not approached its potential, the shining, just city it could have been. The light to all nations it could have been! The impoverished were still impoverished, the exploited still exploited, disinherited still disinherited.
I weep also for the occupation of Palestinians in present day Jerusalem. I weep over the continued abusive policies toward immigrants, the racism, sexism, that attempt to eradicate transpeople, the shameful number of people without housing, health, meaningful work, the murder of children. I read words from Zachariah that speak of a time in Jerusalem when the elderly will be cherished and valued for their wisdom and old age and child can play in the streets without worrying about being mowed down by gunfire or rocket fire.
Walter Brueggemann says that Jesus called all moral distinction into question and evoked radical energy to bringing about alternative consciousness, new alternative communities, and a new human beginning to be made. “The teachings, like the actions, are shattering, opening, and inviting. They conjure futures that had been closed off, and they indicate possibilities that had been denied as impossibilities.”
Thank the God of Life for alighting on young Jesus of Nazareth re-consecrating and heartening him for the future he would create.
On Palm Sunday Jesus received praise and acclamation he so richly deserved for he erased the grip of scarcity with abundance in living, transformed fear into courage, nurtured hypocrisy into integrity. The people whom he touched gathered to say thank you, hallelujah, to the one they claimed as son of David, Son of God. Surely the spirit of God descended again like a dove upon him as he rode his faithful companion to his destiny, a destiny that was his at the time of baptism when the Spirit of God descended on him silently cooing it affirming that God was not only pleased with his servant but delighted.
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”