I don’t remember where the idea came from, but on Palm Sunday I woke up to a donkey on the front lawn of the church. Turns out it was Presbyterian. Its handlers part of a congregation, on the outskirts of the city. But there it was, a donkey on Charlton Ave, Palm Sunday. With it, there were children. One child, had been asked, I was told, by a family member to go a special trip that Sunday morning, away from church, to which they responded, “No thank you. I am going to church this morning. My church has a donkey.” So there was excitement. Children and teens – lots of them – coming over in the hour before worship to touch the donkey. To stand near it. To speak to it.
About 10 a.m., someone from the church handed out songs sheets, which people held awkwardly in their mittened hands. -4C. We practiced the song for our procession around the block. Hosanna. Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We sang it once, and then, about 50 of us, all ages, left. Donkey first.
The donkey headed up Caroline, and right on Herkimer. We sang Hosanna, quite well, I think, as we walked. The line was long, and the voices became stretched out, so it eventually become a round. The ‘donkey processional choir’. A few things happened that surprised me. I was surprised how the children walked at the front. They had one hand high, waving their palms, and the other hand, three of children, had on the donkey. Right there on its back, little hands buried in its dusty hair. The whole way. The were very connected to this animal.
As we walked, a minivan came close, slowed down, and stopped in the middle of the road to watch. After a minute, the windows came down, and out came the arm of a man who almost the oldest member of our church. We waved back. Off they went. A few minutes later, the same van, having circled the block, was back. Both windows down now, the man, and his wife and his grandson, all waving out the window, right in the middle of Herkimer, as we sang Hosanna. Other cars slowed down, stared.
Like they had never seen a parade of Presbyterians singing Hosanna in this city.
When the donkey made it to Hess and Charlton, our whole procession stopped to catch up. We kept singing. An HSR bus stopped to let passengers off on Charlton. The bus driver, put his coffee down, looked over, gave us all an ear to ear smile, and a big thumbs up. Hosanna – as he drove off West in his bus towards Locke St.
Back at the church, we all gathered on the front steps, and sang Hosanna one last time before parading into the service with our palms. It was chaotic; it was loud; it was energetic; it was joyful. It was Palm Sunday. We went into our church, the donkey back to its.
Two weeks later, I led the Prime Time Bible Study, a Wednesday afternoon. We checked in, talked over our lives, what was happening in the church. Talked about the donkey. One senior, never short of words, never short of a good story or a kindness, asked me if we had all seen the cross? A Ph.D. and ten years of university later, I hadn’t seen the cross. She asked, “don’t you know, every donkey has one on their back?” It’s said that ever since the beast carried our Saviour, every donkey had a cross on it, where two lines of dark hair met.
I had missed it. In the cold, in the singing, in the joy, in the crowds, I had missed the cross. Immediately I pulled up a picture, and there it was. The whole time we had been out there that Palm Sunday, up at front of the line, leading the way along the street, leading the singing, leading this public witness to the story of a certain kind of king, was a donkey, on Herkimer Street in Hamilton, with a cross on its back; and three little hands, holding onto it.