“The donkey serves Christ faithfully and nobly” Palm Sunday 2024

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24. March 2024


John 12:12-16

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is Lord have and earth. He calls everyone and everything into His service. He calls the just and sinners. He wants children to be brought to Him and gives them to speak and sing His praise. He calls fools to come and learn wisdom. And today, we heard Him bring a donkey into service to carry Him into the Holy City. He even took up the tree of the cross, carried it to Golgotha, and on it accomplished the salvation of mankind.

If you want to enter into heavenly Jerusalem with Christ, you have to come with Him in confession and service. Perhaps you cannot walk beside Jesus, put your garments under Him, praise Him with joyful songs with the children, or cast your garments and palms before His road. But you are at least His donkey and serve Him in faithful confession and love for your neighbor. Your life takes the shape of the cross as you reach out in love to those to your left and right.

This is His call when He says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mt 11:29). And, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Or the Apostle Paul, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor 6:20) And St. Peter, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). 

God puts you in vocations under what we call the three hierarchies: the government and state, the home and economic interactions, and the congregation and faith. In shorthand, the three estates are state, family, and church. No one operates exclusively in one but simultaneously lives in all three. For example, I am a citizen, pastor, husband, and father. This is the subject of the Table of Duties, the last section of the Small Catechism. They’re comprehensive and worth your study to clarify who God has given you to be. 

Jesus gives us to bear our crosses in these callings, with Scriptural direction for your interactions in all three estates. In other words, you are called to be Christ to your neighbor, wherever He puts you, from the greatest to the least, even if God gives you to be a poor donkey. I don’t think any of us have been put in high civil office to preside over others with words and works. This congregation has one in the pastoral office who is given to preach and teach God’s Word. The Church has others in helping offices, as teachers, deaconesses, overseers, and musicians. Many spend hours in prayer for others and meditation on God’s Word. Some Christians sacrifice time and goods for the needs of the poor, weak, infirm, and aged. 

Nevertheless, you can stand as Christ’s donkey and serve Him by bearing Him in your body and soul. As St. Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). I commend to your study the entirety of Romans 12, which like the Table of Duties, will give you vocational clarity, teaching you how God would have you bear your cross in whatever He has called you. Even if you cannot govern, teach, instruct, distribute alms, praise God with joyful song, at least be Christ’s donkey, carry Him for His glory, receive with patience His yoke, His cross, and whatever He sends you, bearing it with thanksgiving. 

Both Jews and pagans used to mock Christians in the early church as “donkeys” and often treated them no better than beasts of burden. Tertullian tells us that they blasphemed Christ in the same way, drawing images of Christ on the cross with donkey ears, showing how Christians worship a beast and not God. But let’s embrace this truth. While to be Jesus’s donkey is difficult, it is also secure and comforting. 

The donkey serves Christ faithfully and nobly in surrendering its body to Christ’s service. He doesn’t look to Himself but looks to His master. The donkey that bears Christ walks safely under Christ without fear and anxiety. He does not fall victim to pride, failure, or error. Christ leads and guides Him by the bridle so He does not go astray. Christ curbs him so He does not run off into his conceit and presumption. If he falls, Christ lifts him back up. Christ corrects him with the rod if he is reluctant, idle, or lazy. He remains ever near Christ. And whatever honor is given to Christ is enjoyed by the donkey. Whatever good is done to Christ, the donkey also enjoys, whether it is garments, palm branches, singing, or praises.

Some are given to untie the donkey and lead him to Christ. Some are given to dress the donkey with their garments and put Christ on it. Some are given to strew their garments on the road and distribute their goods to be enjoyed by the donkey. The onlookers sing and praise Christ; the poor donkey hears these for him, and he draws comfort and patience from them. Even this least of Christ’s brethren receives everything given to Christ (Matthew 25:40).

Christ may be riding you like a donkey today, whether it be with tribulation, adversity, persecution, sorrow, poverty, or sickness. Or maybe He has given you to be the one to care for the poor, afflicted, persecuted, sick donkey Christian. Whatever is done for the donkey is done for Christ Himself, who sits on Him. But Jesus says the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. And it’s made lighter as the poor donkey learns that Christ will not leave Him but will govern, feed, defend, and keep Him. And indeed, will lead him at last into the heavenly Jerusalem, even the everlasting Jerusalem. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin

Adapted from the postil of Johann Spangenberg.