Friday, 3 April 2009

Meeting God in a Braying Donkey

‘EE-AW, EE-AW.’ That was the sound which would greet me early every morning, when I was p.p. in the mountainous country parish of Birch Grove, Grenada. First one donkey would bray. Its call would be taken up by another donkey, then another one, until the whole valley reverberated with the sound of donkeys greeting each other.

And what a mournful noise a donkey makes! It sounds as though it’s in great pain or is carrying all the cares of the world on its back. The dawn chorus of braying donkeys reminded me of S. Paul writing about the whole of creation groaning as it waits for its redemption.

These humble beasts unwittingly seemed to express the universal growing pains and longing for Christ to return in glory to renew the whole of creation, both in heaven and on earth. We people articulate that yearning when we pray, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come.’ In its own way the donkey’s bray seemed more eloquent and heart-felt than our many words –certainly it’s much noisier.

As I toyed with the thought of the donkey sounding as though it were carrying all the cares of the world I was pulled up with a jolt.

In a flash I realised that there was one donkey, which did exactly that. On Palm Sunday it carried our saviour into Jerusalem and to his Passion. On that donkey’s back rode the one who bore the burden of the guilt of our sins, a burden, which he would remove through his death on the cross.

That donkey unwittingly played an important walk-on part in the drama of our salvation, as it carried our saviour to his Passion. It’s very appropriate that at least one breed of donkey has a dark cross on its shoulders. This is seen as reminding us of the privileged role one of them played in helping our saviour carry and remove all the troubles of the world.

With the doleful donkey I, too, groan or bray for the renewal of the whole of creation. With the Palm Sunday donkey I, too, must help those who are overburdened to carry their load. Christ identified with them, and so must I.

And isn’t it strange that a donkey is present at the birth and at the Passion of our saviour? The presence of this lowly beast of burden frames the whole of Christ’s life. As Jesus bore our sins on the cross he assumed the role of a beast of burden. We, too, are called to take up our crosses and follow him.

Another thought has just occurred to me. Perhaps the donkey’s braying is not only a doleful lament before the Lord, but also its way of singing his praises. I must learn from the donkey to do both. This humble beast of burden has its own special way of leading me to God.

On Wednesday Peter will post his reflections on a ‘Wretch like me.’

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