Just Another Morning?

It’s known as Palm Sunday now.

And yet on a particular Sunday two thousand years ago, wasn’t it just another mundane day?

The Jewish Sabbath had ended after Saturday’s light faded into darkness across first-century Palestine. Was that Sunday a morning where coolness lingered, providing a brief respite from the day’s inevitable heat? Or—as women hurried to make the first trip to lift cooking water from the wells or men trudged toward a field to capture wandering sheep—did sweat already slick cheeks before the new day’s mean-spirited sun cleared the horizon?

*          *          *

Just another morning?

A Roman Centurion gazed at the empty desert sky, wondering what Rome really looked like. He’d never been there.

The blacksmith stoked his fire. An order for nails today. Thick ones. Long ones. Damn Romans and their damn demands.

While his youngest daughter trimmed his beard, a Jerusalem shopkeeper debated about raising his prices. After all, the demands would increase as the crowds multiplied around Passover.

Across town, having just comforted his crying child while his wife breast-fed their newest, a carpenter knew he’d have to leave soon. He’d ordered extra supplies to build more festival booths. Did he really have enough wood? Or too much?

Pilate awoke from another restless night. Barely shifting, for he didn’t want to disturb his wife, he glanced at her. Were her eyelids fluttering? More dreams? She was plagued by them, invariably sharing the fractured details of her nocturnal distress with him. Pilate’s throat felt parched. Too much wine last night? Or not enough? How he hated this forgotten dung heap of the Empire.

The high priest, lust like a sword pricking his heart, paused in the courtyard’s gray shadows. His eager eyes tracked two women carrying caged birds for a temple sacrifice. Yesterday the younger one, now near enough to hear the rustle of her garments as they strolled by, had gazed at him longer than was acceptable. He should’ve chastised her. But he hadn’t. Couldn’t. Like then, he kept watching. The priest grimaced while he adjusted the phylactery he’d tied too tightly on his arm. He licked his lips. It wasn’t a sin to look, was it?

A mother kneaded bread in the darkness of a back room. Extra loaves were required today. Because of Passover, more family would crowd into her cramped space. She didn’t know if the bloated, noisy festival pleased God, but it brought her children home. That pleased her.

As flat morning light filtered through a shuttered window, a whore finally claimed her bed for herself.

Children scampered in the streets, dirt-streaked before their first meal.

A dog, thin ribs exposed like a fence, gnawed at a discarded bone.

*          *          *

Just another morning?

(Mark 11:1) When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives . . .

 . . . the Nazarene slowed his ground-consuming gait. Then he abruptly stopped. I expected he’d say something to Simon Peter or John, who’d matched him stride for stride.

But the teacher gazed at me.

And the disciple beside me.

“Go into the village ahead. Immediately as you enter it, you’ll find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it. Bring it.”

All of us disciples had witnessed his unsettling demands or reactions. Many had first felt wrong and yet were revealed to be so right. A few loaves of bread and fishes had fed the grumbling crowd. An impure woman (and a hundred like her) that demanded to be healed, was healed. The children welcomed on his lap. The soldiers standing near lepers, married women rubbing shoulders with tax collectors, all rapt as they listened to his stories. So many peculiar moments; so many simple truths spoken plainly. And sometimes, such odd requests.

Without questioning, we trotted towards the village.

The Nazarene’s voice stopped us. “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”

We moved swiftly, puffs of dust rising as our sandals slapped the path. I wiped sweat from my brow, silent like my companion.

Moments later, we arrived at the outskirts of the village. And there the colt was, a rope harness encircling its neck. Flies buzzed around its nostrils. Anxious brown eyes followed our movement as we approached. Breathing heavily, I tugged at the harness. The colt resisted, pupils widening. I scratched both cheeks, whispered in its ears. If the teacher had mentioned we’d be hunting down his ride for the final miles to Jerusalem, I would’ve saved a breakfast apricot for this beast.

A man with a ragged red scar from cheek to jowl blocked our way.

“What are you doing, untying the colt?”

We told him the Nazarene’s words.

A shrug. “Take it.”

We thanked him.

“But I can get you a real horse for next to nothing,” Scar Face said. “And with a few extra measly coins, what about a saddle?” Scar Face paused. “A centurion traded it for some favors of the flesh.” He leered like a fox waking in a chicken coop.

“The colt’s fine,” I replied.

Scar Face snorted. “For a woman or child maybe.”

We led the beast back to the Nazarene. He mounted and we continued on for the City of David. I settled in behind Simon Peter, close enough to overhear any conversation between him and the teacher, close enough to offer more assistance.

The sun rose, fading the bright blue of the cloudless sky. Already I sensed Jerusalem, with her fragrance of baked goods and stench of garbage. What would this day reveal? Who would open their homes to us? Where would we eat? Would more join us, or would we face hostility? Since the Nazarene first asked me to follow him, each day held portions of joy and sorrow, acceptance and fear.

But today felt different.

The city’s walls came into view, obscuring the sky . . .

*          *          *

Just another morning?

It’s known as Palm Sunday now.

In Mark, Matthew and Luke, two never-named disciples were asked to secure a colt. Apparently, their odd, but simple task was easily accomplished. But was it that easy? Wasn’t it part of other strange and strangely blessed moments where the ones who followed were being shown how to lead as humble servants? How they might soon transform their encounters and experiences into stories? How they must practice risky acts of compassion or foolish gestures of hope so that their—and our—faith thrives as a living faith?

Then or now, a new day dawns. The sky lightens. Sweat slicks the brow. A blacksmith or baker works. We make love. We cheat at a test. We forgive; or don’t. We try to forget; or can’t. A sleeping woman dreams, troubled by tomorrow’s emptiness. A waking man frets about yesterday’s sin. Children scamper in the streets. A dog howls.

“What are you doing, untying the colt?”

We tell them what Jesus said, with his call to love the neighbor and our daily answer with our actions . . . and the journey continues.

Isn’t every week, every morning, holy?


Palm Sunday image is from Kenyan artist Evans Yegon (or Yegonizer)

And note – this article was revised from one I wrote for Palm Sunday in 2012.

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  1. Still worth pondering your words 6 years later. And… I really like this Kenyan artist, Evans Yegon. Thank you.

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