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Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

One of the oldest hymns in our hymnal was written in the year 818 A.D., by a man named Theodulf, the Bishop of Orleans. He was a noted poet who wrote a refrain that would become part of our standard Palm Sunday celebrations:

All glory, laud and honor,

To Thee, Redeemer, King,

To Whom the lips of children

Made sweet hosannas ring.

The entire hymn is a vivid portrayal of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and many churches sing it as children process down the aisles with palm fronds in their hands. What is widely unknown is that Theodulf wrote a sixth verse to the hymn. The reason it is not included in our hymnal will be plain when you read it:

Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,

And we the little ass,

That to God’s holy city

Together we may pass.

When John Neale translated Theodulf’s original Latin text to English in 1851, he remarked that this sixth verse “was usually sung until the 17th Century, at the quaintness of which we can scarcely avoid a smile.”

No, we will not be singing that verse this Sunday. But I am intrigued by the implications of Theodulf’s sixth verse. We have many points of entry into the Palm Sunday story.  

  • We might identify with the crowds who shouted “Hosanna!” (“Save us!”) and recognize our own need for Jesus in our lives.
  • We might identify with the citizens of Jerusalem, whose question “Who is this man?” captures the depth of our own spiritual searching.
  • We might identify with the disciples, as we measure the level of our commitment to Jesus in the midst of uncertainty and turmoil.

But rarely do we identify with that donkey.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus sent two of the disciples on an advance mission to secure a donkey that had been pre-arranged by Jesus. And all three gospels have these three verbs in common.

  • They untied the donkey.
  • They claimed it for Jesus by telling the owner that he needed it.
  • Then they brought it to Jesus for his use.

What would it mean for you to be the donkey on Palm Sunday? It would mean that you would participate in all three actions as part of your own spiritual preparation as we enter this holiest week of the year.

First, be untied.  From what aspects of your life does God wish to free you? What are the bonds that are preventing the free flow of God’s grace in your life, and what are the sins that are masking God’s full image from being revealed in you?

Second, remember that you are claimed.  God has placed a unique calling in your life, for the task of building the kingdom here on earth. Remember that no matter what happens, you belong to God, and you have been chosen for a purpose greater than your self-interest.  

Finally, draw near to Jesus. Be intentional during this upcoming Holy Week to recalibrate yourself toward the disciplines, priorities, and way of Christ. Surrender yourself to the cross you are called to bear, as we follow the One whose cross brought us new life.

I don’t know about you, but I somewhat wish we included Theodulf’s sixth verse in our hymnal. Regardless, we can all work to live out its words, and try to be “a little ass” for Jesus.

(And Neale was right; try reading that without a smile on your face!)

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist