Sunday, 28 March 2010

Palm Sunday

Upon the Asse that bore our Saviour.

Hath onely Anger an Omnipotence
In Eloquence?

Within the lips of Love and Joy doth Dwell
No miracle?
Why else had Baalams Asse a tongue to chide
His Masters pride?
And thou (Heaven-burthen'd Beast) hast ne're a word
To praise thy Lord?
That he should find a Tongue and vocall Thunder,
Was a great wonder.
But O me thinkes 'tis a farre greater one
That thou find'st none

Richard Crawshaw

Crawshaw here reflects upon the irony that Balaam’s ass is given the power of speech, but the beast that carried Christ on Palm Sunday is silent. Crawshaw describes the donkey as a “Heaven-burthened Beast”, and we might remember that a donkey carries Christ both towards his birth in fear and weariness and towards his death in adulation and transient glory.
To Crawshaw the fact that the donkey is silent is “a far greater wonder” than that Baalam's ass is granted the power of speech. His poem challenges us to think about its meaning. Is the donkey’s silence a “wonder” because, as we are told in Luke, “the very stones would cry out” in the absence of other celebration? Is Crawshaw simply chiding the donkey, or is he seeing in the silent, burdened beast a symbol for all those who are Christ-like victims; oppressed, voiceless – but obedient to God’s will and honourable in his sight? Is he exploring the Christian paradox that it is in poverty and obscurity - in silence - that God brings about redemption?
The sermon today focused on the probability that Christ's triumphal entry might have been a fairly low key event, certainly not sufficiently triumphal to concern the Roman authorities. It might have looked a fairly ridiculous and shoddy affair, a self proclaimed King with only a young (borrowed ) foal to ride and followers from the poorer ranks of society reduced to cutting down branches from the trees and laying down their own cloaks.
In Christ's journey towards his death we find the same themes as in his birth. God is at work among the poor and the unimportant, he does not use the human structures of power and authority, he does not announce his presence with "vocal thunder". It is the silence and vulnerabilty of the divine that is a "farre greater" wonder.


  1. Great poem and insightful comments. Thanks, Sue.

    Funnily enough we did have a 'speaking' donkey at our service this morning. It was a soft toy I'd bought at a charity shop a few weeks ago thinking it might come in handy as a visual aid for Palm Sunday. It was quite appealing, showing large teeth as it opened its mouth to bray.
    I used it at the beginning of my sermon ('what do Christmas and Palm Sunday have in common?') before going on to talk about Jesus refusal to use power for his own ends, but only to serve and save us.
    After I'd made my initial point with the donkey, I asked if any child would like to keep it company during the rest of the service. The little girl who came forward was a stranger to me, as was her mother. But the girl clutched the donkey tightly through the whole service, even bringing it up to the altar rail with her.
    Afterwards she and her mum came to speak to me. The little girl had been hearing about Easter all week in school, and had been eager to come to church. And then she'd been given the donkey, so it was a very special day for her.
    Well, I couldn't separate her from the donkey after that, could I? God does move in mysterious ways.
    Iffy Vicar

  2. What a cute donkey story.