When [Jesus and his disciples] had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
 “Tell the daughter of Zion,
 Look, your king is coming to you,
  humble, and mounted on a donkey,
   and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, 
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.

Matthew 21:1-11

Pastor Marc's sermon on Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020) on Matthew 21:1-11. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


I don’t usually include props in my sermon but since you’re zoomed in right now, I figured today could be a little different. Before I sat here, I stopped by our church’s utility closet to pick something up. A utility closet is where we store stuff that we use at the church to make sure it stays clean and safe. And our closet is, thanks to the Property Committee, really well organized. It’s full of extension cords, paint rollers, screwdrivers, screws, paper towels, and this - toilet paper. Now toilet paper has been in the news recently because everyone seems to be buying it and no store seems to have it. A few nights ago, someone posted in one of my town’s many facebook groups that the local grocery store had just put out a pallet full of toilet paper. People, of course, were excited and they quickly shared their excitement by leaving comments on the post. Some people thanked the person who shared and then headed to the store. Others made jokes and posted funny pictures. Still more left comments lamenting our current situation. And then there additional people wondering why so many people were hoarding toilet paper that they didn’t need. Those last comments are one of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves constantly over this last month. When we go to the store and see barren shelves, we wonder what it is that other people are doing and why there’s nothing there for us. Toilet paper has, in many ways, become a symbol of the moment we’re living in right now. There are pizza shops where, when you order a pizza, they give you a roll of toilet paper. And there are jokes all over the internet where toilet paper has become like another form of currency. Every time a roll of TP shows up in a store or online, it’s not long before the story about other people hoarding supplies pops up. But - I’m not sure if the story about TP is really the story we’re telling. Because the shortage we see at stores is because our wider story has changed. We’re now spending most of our time at home and we no longer need our offices or schools to be stocked full of paper products. The companies that kept those places full of what they needed were not designed to cater to the ways we live at home. Rarely, if ever, is a roll of toilet paper in someone’s home the size of a hubcap. Yet that’s the standard size we see in offices, buildings, and at school. The paper companies that serve business and schools usually do not serve the consumers at home. So when we made the choice to stay at home because we wanted to keep other people safe, what changed was our entire story. The system we use to keep our stores stocked with all kinds of paper products was not designed for the story we’re currently living in. 

One of the things that struck me about today’s story from the gospel according to Matthew is the very last question that we hear. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the entire city wondered out loud: “who is this?” This moment is unique to Matthew and it hints at his vision of this moment being sort of this large and over-the-top kind of moment. The passage began with Jesus doing a slightly excessive thing, and asking for 2 animals to be brought to him rather than just one. And then, as he rode the donkey into the city, a large crowd led the way. People climbed trees to break off branches so they could wave them in the air. And still more took off their cloaks and jackets, throwing them onto the dirt road, so that no dust could be kicked up and obscure this over-the-top sort of moment. The crowds that surrounded Jesus kept shouting the words “Hosanna” and named Jesus as the son of David - and the one who comes in the name of the Lord. In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem is anything but quiet. The crowd is large and the shouts even larger. News about his arrival quickly floods the city and overwhelms whatever else was going on. No longer was the city of Jerusalem preoccupied by its everyday story. Jesus’ arrival changed that. Instead, the city seethed in confession by the arrival of this person and this movement that came from somewhere else. And Matthew lets the entire city speak out loud - as it wonders just who this Jesus is. 

That question - who is Jesus - has been our question this entire season of Lent. Each week, we’ve spent time during the sermon thinking about that moment when Jesus felt very real to us. Using that moment as the source of our faith story, we’ve been working on how to share that story with others. And we did that by finishing a series of sentences. We started by setting the stage for our story with the sentence: “Once upon a time there was…” We then kept our story going by describing a part of what our normal life was life by finishing the sentence “And every day…” But then Jesus showed up - and we noticed it right away or only saw it later, when we looked back at our life and realized that Jesus had been a part of it for a very long time. So we then added to our faith story by finishing the sentence “Until one day…” “And because of that…” our life shifted and changed. Last week, we described how that change sort of climaxed in our lives by finishing the sentence “Until finally…” Yet we know that the climax of the story isn’t the end of it. Rather, it’s the start of a new moment in our lives when the story that we tell becomes fully part of who we are. This pandemic that we’re living through wasn’t one that any of us planned for. We didn’t want it to come. We didn’t want it to impact Bergen County, our friends, our neighbors, and even ourselves as much as it has. We, together, have no idea when it will end. And we’re not sure when we’ll be able to go to the store again and be greeted by a mountain of toilet paper that we can freely buy. There’s a lot to our current story that we don’t know. But - there’s something we can add to that story by focusing on the question the city shouted out in today’s reading from the gospel according to Matthew. When the city asked the question, they actually received an answer. And though the answer stated in the Bible is important - what I’m more struck by is who it is that does the answering. It’s not just the disciples who answer who Jesus is. Nor is it only specific people - those who knew him his entire life, or those he healed, or those he fed with a few loaves of bread and fishes. Rather, it’s the crowd - the entire crowd - that gets to answer. That crowd wasn’t made up of only one kind of person. It was diverse - filled with people of all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of experiences. Each one of them, if you asked them who Jesus was, would have given different answers based on their personal experiences of Jesus Christ. Yet, together, their stories pointed to a wider story - that Jesus was someone who made a difference in their lives. The Jesus who came to us in our baptism, in our faith, and in that moment that we’re trying to share right now - is still here. He’s still with you. And he’s still an active part of your life as you learn to live into this new story of pandemic, barren shelves, and looking for rolls of toilet paper. So as we finish this Lenten series on telling our story - I invite you to reflect on what your life was like after Jesus was real to you. What new story did you find yourself living out? And then finish this sentence: “And ever since then…”