Ever felt an ass or been called one? No offence to this distinguished readership, but I think we share some of that animal’s reputed stubbornness. We sometimes need a little coaxing, are occasionally lumbered with the donkey work or, dare I say it, notoriously act like a silly ass!
Mark of the cross
Yet there’s one more characteristic that is far more significant. Nearly all donkeys bear the mark of a cross on their backs, and Christians are similarly signed with the cross on their forehead at baptism, thus marking the beginning of a journey in faith.
In the Holiest of Weeks, it is an ass that takes centre stage as Christ rides into town on a humble donkey and leads a procession of wraggle-taggle fishermen and loose women in a peasant parade along the route Pontius Pilate might have taken in a display of might.
Jesus rode into town in a brilliant send-up of Roman rulers trotting on chargers in gleaming armour, leading victorious armies followed by humiliated captives, their spoils of war. However, following Jesus were hundreds who hankered for better times and hopeful futures.
Donkeys are reminders of discipleship and the way we ourselves carry Jesus invisibly. On the days when we feel we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, we would do well to remember that we are also bearing Christ to meet the world’s pain and to give people life.
Being a Christian means being outspoken for God – and that task is not always easy or pleasant. Sometimes we find ourselves challenging important people or vested interests. And that is hard. Just like crucifixion.
Going with Christ means there are no necessarily easy rides. But there is a promise that God will accompany us: through hardship, trial, agony and death. We know this from personal experience and from the pain of the world as people starve, exploit and kill each other. Most significantly, we know it now in the death toll the coronavirus leaves in its wake.
Following Jesus means going to some very dark places. The road to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday led to Golgotha on Good Friday.
Light in the darkness
Heralding the birth of Jesus, with lights twinkling all over the city, I wrote “the light shines in the darkness”, and now at Easter I remind us again that “the darkness has not overcome it”.
Calvary and COVID-19 are what the light is for. Pandemic pain and the praetorium are exactly where the light has to shine. The crowd’s cry of “Crucify!” is terrifying as is the silence of isolation. It is when we enter that place, rather than deny it’s there, that there’s an opening for the light of Christ to transform it.
Easter broadcasts the resurrection and the death-defying death of Jesus. God is not defeated. In church, the Paschal candle will proclaim the magnitude of the moment – not just on Easter Sunday but for the whole 50 days to Pentecost.
Our inspirational leader
Jesus said: “YOU are the light of the world … let YOUR light shine so that people may give glory to your father in heaven” (Matthew 5, 14-16). And for this reason, every baptism candidate is given a lighted candle as those words are said.
My baptismal identity means I follow someone who didn’t mind dirtying his hands in deep engagement with the world he loved so much that he came to save it. His words and actions were sometimes playful, sometimes painful, but always transformative.
I guess you could rightly call me a silly ass! Maybe you are one too??!!