From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR
With Palm Sunday approaching, there are some donkeys in our area nervous about what they might be asked to do to add just that extra touch of realism to a church service.
Lowing cattle feel the same way around manger-scene time. You’ve seen them: the nervous hooves, the twitching ears, the quivering udder.
I have never been to a church service in which a real-live donkey participates, but I have friends who belong to a north Louisiana congregation for which this is old hat. Before you get too excited – “I wonder if I could rent them my donkey this year?” – cool your jets. They have one on standby, and he’s getting a fair shot next week on Palm Sunday.
My friends have eagerly told me the stories. For years and years, they had the same tame donkey who willingly walked the center aisle of the church each Palm Sunday, a modern-day reminder of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem as people – some worshippers and some admirers – celebrated his presence by scattering palm branches before him. Of course God has a sense of humor – (just look at us, for heaven’s sake) – so he had to appreciate, even then, how this would lead to some comical moments as believers grew and built actual country churches within walking or pickup-hauling distance of unsuspecting donkeys.
For years, the modern congregation we honor today appreciated the reliability of their Palm Sunday donkey. Crowd favorite. I don’t think they ever took him for granted. Around February, a deacon would call to see how he was doing, drop off some carrots, make sure he wasn’t busy on the crucial early-spring Sunday. Always, he was game.
But, as happens here below, the donkey died. They did not have a funeral in the church, which might have been a nice gesture, though possibly a bit too much. To the donkey’s owner, they did send flowers or a gift card, I can’t remember which. Even then, I think they knew how good they’d had it. If not, they knew for sure a couple of years later when, ready to get back up on that horse and ride him, they recruited another donkey.
This one didn’t fare as well. Remember that everyone is dressed in pre-Easter finery, that the moment is symbolic and solemn, that this IS, after all, Sunday morning at church. IN church. And here comes the new donkey, Palm Sunday, the children before him doing the frond thing.
He made it halfway, witnesses say. Stopped. A gentle pull and he’d continue – except he didn’t. Halfway down the aisle, like a bride with second thoughts, he got pillar-of-salt still.
The robed gentleman doing the pulling pulled harder. The donkey’s neck and jaws extended, his nose pointing up, like the high side of a seesaw. His front legs dug in. Like the tree planted by the waters, he would not be moved.
Another willing parishioner with more guts than I’ll ever have left his pew and got behind the donkey and pushed hard on the donkey’s backside with both hands, a dangerous maneuver on all sort of levels. Then he pushed with his shoulder. Finally with his chest. The front guy still pulling, the back guy pushing. The eternal struggle between good and evil?
Nobody cheered, but some wanted to. Would the donkey win, or the deacons? You can imagine the level of intrigue as Sunday-scrubbed necks craned to see who would be the first to crack. The janitor might have been the most nervous of all.
Parishioners had to imagine the rest of the event as the donkey began backing up. Apparently, he wasn’t a Methodist. He was forgiven on the spot, but no one’s asked him back.
Next Sunday it will be Brother, the donkey of a friend of mine, who will give it a try. I know Brother. I have faith in Brother. And hey, the pressure’s off, just like in athletics: You don’t want to be the donkey that follows the Hall of Fame donkey; you want to be like Brother -- the donkey that follows the donkey that follows the Hall of Fame donkey.
Of course, to be on the safe side, we probably still need to pray for him.