Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage (Mark 11:1-19) transports me to horse country, Louisville, KY, where I lived for a few years while in seminary. We went to Churchhill Downs a couple of times, but I preferred going to Louisville Downs where the harness racing took place. You could get right down at the track there, and literally feel the horsepower as they galloped by, pulling their carts and drivers. At the end of each race the winner got to take a triumphal lap around the track, and the owner and family would proceed out to the finish line for the presentation and photo shoot. On one such occasion, Kim and I and a couple of friends blended in with a large family who had imbibed a few too many mint juleps, and we processed out to the finish line and posed for the victory photo, hands on the horse’s mane and smiling to beat the band.
Jesus didn’t make his victory lap, or his Triumphal Entry, as it is generally called, on the back of a thoroughbred. He didn’t come riding a chariot, Ben Hur style. He came in on a confiscated ass, and made quite a show of it. It was subversive street theatre at its best. During the Passover time, the Roman Empire flexed its muscle in Jerusalem and had the local governor, Pilate, make a grand entry into the city to remind pilgrims who was in charge. In fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy that the Messiah would come riding a donkey, Jesus did a powerful parody of Pilate, through his anti-imperial counter-parade. Many of the blessings that were poured out on Jesus by the people were no doubt cloaked cursings of the Roman rule.
Back in horse country, one of my favorite people was my friend Kevin Rainwater. We were in a peacemaker group together, and Kevin had a great greeting that he would bestow during the passing of the peace. He would come up and give me a hug and say, “Peace on you and the horse you rode in on.” I wonder if the Passover masses were shouting their hosannas with that kind of cowboy spirit, rather than the anthem versions we usually sing in church. There was definitely a mixture of blessing and cursing in the air; the mixture was in Jesus, for sure, who probably still had the hosannas of the crowd ringing in his ears when he got hungry the next day and cursed the barren fig tree. Then he worked his way among the crowd of pilgrims into what you might call the finish line of the Passover pilgrimage, the Temple court. And he found folks there who, if not drunk on mint juleps, were intoxicated by the wine of the world and had turned the house of prayer into a robber’s den. He sent them packing with his cowboy-spirited version of “the horse you rode in on,” complete with a whip in hand. In the face of the highly ordered temple, he came ready to grow something wild and unruly. And the pilgrims were amazed.
This is the provocative peace that Prince Jesus came to fulfill. He was not passive in the face of raw power. He took in-your-face initiatives designed to confront injustice and transform relationships among people and communities and societies. Those of us pilgrims eager to see this wild reign of peace break into our world can do our own version of hosanna in our anticipation of the coming reign of God: Cowboy take me away, fly me as high as you can into the wild blue, set me free oh I pray, closer to heaven above and closer to you closer to you.
It sounds good to me.