We have a very familiar story today in the Gospel of Mark. It is the story of Jesus riding victoriously into Jerusalem; people spread their cloaks on the street, they lay palm branches on the ground, and wave them over their heads. They cry out: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”
Their chant is a direct quote from Psalm 118. And the visual of the Messiah, riding on a colt, references the Old Testament, from the time of prophet Zachariah. For the Israelites standing there, all the pieces seem to be coming together, like an intricate quilt, creating the picture they anticipated… a victorious leader, riding into Jerusalem to claim it as the capital of the world, and the people of God, that is the Israelites as the regents of rule in the reign of God.
The story is familiar to us just as it was for the Israelites, but for different reasons. We mark it as the beginning of Holy Week where Jesus meets the hard hearts and small minds of the leaders in Jerusalem, and ends up on the cross.
And while this story of Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem is familiar, if we stop and think about it, it is also rather odd, maybe even random. Jesus is there in Bethany, presumably staying at the home of Lazarus and Mary and Martha. He is well known in the region, no doubt; after all, not many days prior he had raised Lazarus from the dead in full sight of throngs from Jerusalem. He could’ve easily asked any number of people in Bethany for a horse, not least of all Martha who, no doubt, had many horses in her stable.
Instead, he asked his disciples to go to a seemingly random location, where they would find a colt tied to a hitch. They were to take it, and if anyone asked why, they were to say: “The Lord needs it.” Make no mistake about it, even back then, horse stealing was a super serious crime.
No, Jesus wasn’t trying to get these fellas out of town so, he could decorate for a surprise birthday party. While Jesus was that considerate, that wasn’t the motivation in this case. That said, it also important to remember that Jesus was not idiosyncratic or haphazard. When he did something, he did it with full intent, with an expected outcome toward a particular end. After three years of traveling with Jesus, the disciples knew this.
Jesus, by his actions, over time, had created an extremely high level of trust between himself and his disciples. Trust translates to faith. They had faith in Jesus. Trust translates to faith. They had faith in Jesus.
And so, they left Bethany and hoofed it down past the garden of Gethsemane, through the Kidron valley, up the hill, through the Lions gate. They turned left and headed toward the old part of the city; even in Jesus’s day there was an old part of the city, it was the section of town where the Essenes lived. It was there they would find a colt tied to a hitch. And so, with confidence and faith in Jesus, they took a walk to find a colt in the section of the city unfamiliar to them.
To help all of this make sense, let me tell you a story. I’ve been telling Aunt Maria stories lately, and this is a bit of a spin off; sort of a Laverne and Shirley to Happy Days.
Anyway, Aunt Maria was my Mom’s oldest sister, 15 years her senior. She got married when my mom was just six, and moved onto a farm just 1 mile down the road from the farm where my mom grew up. So, Aunt Maria was always around, and indeed acted as a parent figure in my mom’s life.
One of the things that Aunt Maria helped teach my mom was how to sew. My mom was part of 4-H and Aunt Maria was her troop leader, and it was there that my mom became an excellent seamstress. When we were children, particularly in my sister’s case, my mom made her clothes. It’s just what she did.
I remember as a kid I would go into my mom’s workroom, if you will, where she had a desk to do the bills, and a sewing machine, and an ironing board, and her cookbooks, and I’d watch her sew. I was probably about seven or eight when she first gave me two pieces of cloth and a threaded needle and taught to me how to sew. I made snakes out of old socks, and teddy bears out of t-shirts, and as I got older, I’d hem my own pants and mend my own tears and patch my own holes.
The lesson I learned from my mom through sewing is one that I think applies to what Jesus was doing that day in Bethany when he sent his disciples all the way from Bethany to the Essene region of Jerusalem to get a colt: Jesus was taking two pieces of cloth and sewing them together. Let me explain.
The Jewish community in the days of Jesus was a highly fractured. It was partisan, and tribal, and deeply at odds with itself; not unlike the political division we see in America today, though maybe even worse. Jesus, by his very nature, always tracked towards unity. I suppose that’s what you do if you are the second person of the Trinity. We see Jesus, throughout his ministry, doing things to bring about unity: within a person through healing; and between communities, including between Jews and Gentiles.
While the disciples lacked a great deal of understanding of all of this, they trusted Jesus. And so, they acted in good faith as they untied that colt there in the Essene region of the old city of Jerusalem. And they said, “The Lord needs it,” when asked what the heck they were doing. The response was, “Well, take it then.” Clearly, the people who owned that colt were familiar with “the Lord.” Certainly, “the Lord” was Jesus, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon (Matt 13:55). They were Essenes after all and so, they would be known to this community. This community the Essene community, was a piece of cloth.
The community centered up in Bethany, of which Lazarus and Mary and Martha were part; they were from the Pharisaical tradition. The Pharisees were another piece of cloth.
These groups, the Essenes and the Pharisees, represented two big factions within the very divided Jewish community. And so, my interpretation of all of this is that Jesus was using that colt as the needle upon which he would ride to stitch together two divided, diverse Jewish communities, in a way that allowed them to experience the unity God so hoped for them.
And here’s why it worked: faith. Both communities had great trust, great faith in Jesus. We see this again, at the foot of the cross in the Gospel of John, where Jesus says to the Beloved Disciple this is your mother, and to Mary, this is your son (Jn 19:26) Mary the Essene, the Beloved Disciple the Pharisee, drawn together in unity, in relationship by Jesus, even at the foot of the cross… Faith in Jesus is the thread.
Over the years, here at Epiphany, from time to time, there’s been a tradition where students, who graduate from high school, are presented with a quilt. The idea is to give them something to wrap around their shoulders when they need to think of home, and when they need to remember the people who love them, and prayed for them every day; to remind them that there’s a church that will always be here for them, because you have designed it that way.
About 12 months prior to graduation, we would ask parents to collect up an assortment of scraps of cloth from the lives of their child. We get old T-shirts, and pieces of gym bag, and sweatshirts, and what not; and we stitch it all together into a quilt of love, one piece of community attached to another piece of community, attached to another piece of community.
The needle is Epiphany, the thread is faith, and the scraps of fabric pieces from a young person’s life. But here is the takeaway, brothers and sisters and siblings, the colt as needle can be any number of things, it can be a note that says I’m sorry. It can be a meal shared, cookies baked, or money given.
In each of our lives there is a colt that God has given us to untether, and get up on, and ride, darning as we go with the string of faith woven for us by Jesus to stitch together something which has come apart.
As we go into the Holy Week, shouting hosanna in the highest, look for the colt, untether it, climb upon it, and start stitching…it is what “the Lord” needs from you. Sew something beautiful back together. It is what the world needs from you.