“Excess is the real foundation and form of salvation history, which in the last analysis is nothing other than the truly breathtaking fact that God, in an incredible outpouring of himself, expends not only a universe but his own self in order to lead man, a speck of dust, to salvation.” - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pg. 262
This Sunday - and Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday night - we’re going to hear an awful lot of preaching about Jesus' sacrifice. We’re going to hear about the Eucharist, the priesthood, the Cross, maybe a little something about Mary’s own suffering, and an awful lot about Hope, that marvelous gift that our post-modern peers silently yearn for with every fiber in their being.
So I’m going to talk about the donkey.
Jesus sets out for Jerusalem. Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus has been implicitly and explicitly claiming that He is the long-awaited King, the rightful heir of David, and that God’s reign is beginning now. The people have heard of his claim, of his power, of his teaching…the long-awaited King is finally marching into his city to be enthroned! The reign of Death has come to an end!
And he rides in on an ass.
Jesus’ chosen vehicle is the perfect embodiment of His Incarnation. The agnostic/deist laughs at the thought of this scene; the Christian shudders. God, the cosmic deity, is revealed here as profoundly personal — and He desires to be eye-level with His people. The Jews were expecting a King, and they have one. But He does not ride in on a mighty steed with sword in hand, so the people may look up to him in awe-struck terror. Rather, he trots in humbly, lowly. He desires to be eye-level with His people.
In Jesus Christ the cosmic Maker whom all science and mathematics perceives traces of is revealed simultaneously as the personal Lover whom every human heart yearns for. The excessively massive and expanding universe is thus revealed to be an act of sheer self-gift, foreshadowing and preceding the ultimate act of excessive and self-less love that can only be properly defined as divine: Calvary.
Between the Cosmos and the Cross lies the ass. This God who has given and continues to give of Himself in Creation and is about to give of Himself in Redemption desires one last glance into His Beloved’s eyes. How many returned this Lover’s glance, I wonder? How many were busy shouting “Hosanna!” without understanding? How many were simply bowing down in fear? How many had heard rumors of His own predictions of His pending death and provided Him the gaze of love which He Himself ached for?
Which would I be doing?
The ass which Jesus rode in upon is blessed, for it permitted Christ this one final, loving gaze. It’s also the vehicle that brought Jesus to the place of His death.
In many ways, we're the ass: our selfishness, pride, cowardice, and lust brought Jesus to His death. But we're also His beloved. Holy Week is an invitation for us to joyfully give Him all of our love which He so desperately desires, with all of the eros and agape that Love demands.
The King has arrived. Hosanna in the highest.
By Greg Hurst. @gchurst