The following sermon was preached on Sunday April 2, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here Photo by Ansgar Scheffold on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

A few years ago I went to San Francisco to attend a conference and to spend some time at a church that is very important to me, St Gregory of Nyssa.

At St. Gregory’s when they prepare to read the gospel, the Bible is carried from one side of the room to the other, but not in the reader’s hands, they rest it on their right shoulder instead. It’s sort of like giving the Bible a piggy back ride… but holy.


Roman emperors used to be carried on people’s shoulders. Early Christians chose to carry the Bible on their shoulder in worship as a way of saying, “Christ is the only king we serve.”

Which is pretty amazing symbolism, if you ask me, but as we generally don’t carry our political leaders around on people’s shoulders anymore, it’s also a symbol that is completely divorced of any cultural significance and it only makes sense if someone helps you decode it.

The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a story that is filled with symbolism. It’s theatrical not just in its scale, but in the attention to detail, details that given how different our culture is from the one in these stories, may also need to be decoded. Things that would have been very clear to the people experiencing this event first hand no longer make sense to us.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem he is following a pilgrimage path that many others had already followed and would continue to follow. By the Middle Ages, people making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem were referred to as “palmers” because they often carried a palm branch home as a symbol of their pilgrimage.

Holy Week is a pilgrimage, a sacred path that we travel together as we re-tell ancient stories.

Usually we wave palm branches and take home palm crosses to tuck in a safe place throughout the year, only to return them to the church next year to be burnt and turned into ashes to be used on Ash Wednesday so that this whole process of remembering can begin again.

This year, however, you’ll notice we don’t have a lot of palms. Turns out that there was a frost at the palm farm and so they weren’t available this year. We were fortunate that Sharon was able to find some pre-made crosses so everyone can take one home.

Holy Week is a time rich with symbolism and tradition, and as such it can be deeply meaningful or dry and lifeless. I know people who struggle to find meaning in this season and others who really look forward to Holy Week because it is “their favourite time of year.”

Where do you fit on that spectrum? Are you more “what’s the point?” or “it’s the most wonderful time of the year?”

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, we are told he is riding on a “colt that has never been ridden.” (22:30)

That’s an interesting choice.

I am definitely not an expert on horses, but I have ridden a few times – at summer camps or while on vacation, and every time I have done so, I have chosen a horse that was an expert. In fact, probably due to a combination of care for their customers and the threat of lawsuits, expert horses were the only kind available to me. Horses that would calmly follow the assigned trail regardless of what the rider chose to do.

That’s just smart right? When you’re going to do something new or dangerous, go with an expert.

But Jesus chooses a “colt that has never been ridden.”

In movies and church re-enactments I’ve only ever seen Jesus riding an animal that was more reflective of the ones I road at summer camp – calmly plodding although despite the crowds of shouting people and palm branches and cloaks with a heavy human perched uncomfortably on top of their back.

But it’s just as likely that this colt – who has never had a human being climb on their back before – would have been wide eyed, filled with panic, and seeking to buck Jesus off at every turn in order to turn around and run back home.

Or at the very least, surely Jesus wouldn’t have been able to calmly wave to the crowd from atop this animal, rather he’d be working hard to control both the direction the animal was walking and working to avoid being bucked off and trampled on the ground.

A colt that has never been ridden.

It’s a weird choice.

It’s weird, but Jesus’ choice to ride an inexperienced colt tells me something about the nature of God.

God doesn’t need experts or perfect people. In fact, God often purposely chooses the untried and the unexpected. The people who are wide eyed and anxious and fully aware that they have no idea what they are doing. The people who want nothing more than to run from the limelight they have sudden been thrust into and run straight back to the safety of their homes.

That’s who God chooses, and that sounds like good news to me.

The various gospels describe the animal that Jesus road in different ways.

Mark and Luke say Jesus chose a colt that had never been ridden (11:2), John says it was a “young donkey,”(12:14) and Matthew says it was a “donkey and a colt.” (21:4)

A donkey AND a colt? Was it some kind of a tag team situation where Jesus rode one for a little bit and then the other?

Or was he riding both at the same time like a circus stunt rider? One leg on each of these animals? Have we just moved from the bizarre – choosing a colt that doesn’t know what it’s doing to the – well I don’t even know what the word for that kind of spectacle would be.

I can’t be certain, but I don’t think that Jesus rode into Jerusalem like a stunt rider with one foot on a donkey and one on a colt, but I do think that he may have taken both animals with him.

One of the reasons Matthew references both animals is because he wants us to see that Jesus’ actions are the fulfillment of a prophecy from Zechariah. A prophecy that said:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (9:9)

I wonder if this scene looked less like a circus, and more like those trail rides I took at camp – with the mother donkey leading the way and her child – the colt that had never been ridden – following behind her with Jesus on its back.

The colt knowing that as long as they followed their mother, they would be just fine.

Just like if this is your first time here, a little later in the service as we move through the space for communion, as long as you follow the person in front of you, you’ll be just fine.

And actually, you’ll be fine if you don’t follow too. We’re a pretty laid back bunch… right?

We don’t have to travel this pilgrim path alone. We just have to keep an eye on our loving mother who is always just a few steps ahead of us.
And that definitely sounds like good news to me.

But why ride any kind of donkey at all? Why not walk? Or ride a horse or a chariot?

It’s not an accident, it’s all part of the spectacle.

Jesus is a king, but not like any king the people have seen before. Writing in the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom noted: “[Jesus] is not drawn in a chariot like other kings, not demanding a tribute. Nor surrounded by officers and guards. Then the people ask: ‘What king has ever entered Jerusalem riding upon an ass?'”

With each choice Jesus makes he is communicating that his kingdom will not be like any kingdom they have ever known or imagined.

In Matthew, Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave…” (20:25-27)

Jesus is a king, but not a tyrant who will “lord it over them.” Jesus will be different. In Zechariah it says:

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (9:10)

“The chariot and war horse are instruments and symbols of war. The new king banishes both. [Jesus] proclaims peace to the nations.” (Korban)

If anyone in the crowd is reading the symbols correctly, they will recognize that Jesus is a king. A king who comes in peace but a king none the less. And having never had a king like Jesus before, there is no way that they can fully comprehend what’s happening.

But that lack of comprehension does not stop the people in the crowd from getting caught up in the excitement of the moment. It does not stop them from waving their branches and shouting “Hosanna!”

Hosanna literally means “please save us” or “save us now.” It’s a cry for help, a desperate plea.

I doubt that all of the people who are shouting for Jesus to save them understand what they are saying. I suspect that at least a percentage of them just happened upon this spectacle, heard others shouting and joined in without really thinking too much about it.

And Jesus is a king who has come to save them but his kingdom will be very different from anything they have ever seen before.

As people of faith our lives and our leaders and our institutions should look different too. A diocese is not a Walmart, a parish is not a Tim Horton’s. Even if coffee is really important to us.

In the past couple of years I have been very disappointed in my earthly leaders. Perhaps you have been too.

I’m disappointed in my leaders. I disappointed by people who seem to care more about power and safety and money than about people’s lives.

And I’m longing for something different.

I’m longing for leaders who look a little more like a powerful, but humble man riding on an untried colt. A colt that is patiently following its mother through a crowd on a pilgrim path. I’m longing for leaders whose actions are rooted and grounded in the power of self-giving love.

I’m longing for leaders who look well, who look like Jesus.

The Jesus who inspires me and gives me hope. The Jesus who reminds me that it’s OK to be disappointed in my earthly leaders but also asks me to examine my own heart and my own actions rather than simply complaining about other people.

The Jesus we will encounter as we remember and re-enact these sacred stories throughout the coming week.

And I hope you’ll join us when we do. Amen.