The Lord Needs Them

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on April 5, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here. 

Matthew 21:1-11

When they 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.”

This is a story of preparation, of getting ready for resurrection. 

We are too in a time of preparation, even for those who do not practice Lent and Easter. We’re in a unique time, for everyone around us is trying to prepare, to get ready for what is next. We are stocking up on the food we need, for those of us fortunate enough to be able to do that. We are cleaning door knobs, washing our hands, preparing ourselves so that we might have less of a chance of getting sick. We are preparing by staying inside, those of us who can do that, so that our world may flatten the curve a little faster, with our help. 

The beauty of our preparation is that there hopefully will be a time when things will change, when that pendulum will start to swing back. I’m not convinced anything will ever go back to ‘normal’, but normal is relative to begin with. 

I wonder though, if you’ve started to think about what you might do when it’s safe to do the things we can’t do now. I certainly have. I’m excited to be able to take my dog back to the dog beaches he loves, to run around safely with his puppy friends and me chat with my fellow dog moms. I’m excited to meet up with friends without a screen in front of us. What about you?

In the comments, let us know what the first thing you think you’ll do is, post social distancing? What are you most excited about experiencing, when that day finally comes?

All of us are preparing for that day when things change again. And now, we also find ourselves in the Lenten season, preparing again for Jesus to show us resurrection. How are we preparing for resurrection in our worlds? What will be different when it is finally here? As Jesus rides past us on a donkey, what work will he see that we have been done to get ready for him?

Palm Sunday is the beginning of a difficult journey towards the cross. 

Hosanna, the word that those in the crowds shouted as Jesus rode by is an interesting word. Some people claim that the word Hosanna is a greeting, a way of acknowledging a person’s presence who is of high status or regards. 

In this passage, Matthew, the author, is implying that those in the crowds don’t really know what they are doing. They are following the crowds in some ways. I can imagine the first few gathered, and then neighbors coming over to see what’s happening, then joining in, because, who doesn’t love a parade? This isn’t to say the crowd is wrong for being there, or uneducated or shouldn’t be there. Rather, it’s perhaps that the crowd as a whole didn’t even realize the magnitude of what was going on. 

While many historians tell us that Hosanna is a word of greeting, the word Hosanna is actually translated as “save us”. This changes the narrative quite a bit. Now, we can imagine Jesus riding through on a donkey, as everyone is surrounding him, pleading for his help. At the time, the people in the crowd didn’t realize or intend to be asking Jesus to “save us”, but in reality, they were speaking way more truth than they even knew. In a short time, the same people shouting Hosanna in joy would come to understand that Jesus was riding through town in preparation, inviting all who gathered to be ready for the time when Jesus would die on that cross, in order to save the world. 

Jesus was preparing for his death, and he had been doing so for a while. This is heavy, and it’s meant to be, because it highlights the weight of what was going on, which in turn leads us to appreciate even more, the outcome of the resurrection. In the unfortunate circumstances when someone knows they are going to die, whether they know when or not, there is preparation that takes place, even for us. We prepare by making a will, by making amends with loved ones, by sharing memories with our family and friends, and some even prepare by planning their own memorial services. 

So like we plan and prepare for things, big events in our lives, so did Jesus. It just so happened that the event he was planning for was bigger than all of us. 

Today, on Palm Sunday, we are invited to participate in this sort of parade, waving our palm branches, shouting Hosanna. On a regular year, this would have included kids leading us in this parade, this proclamation, joyous shouts of Hosanna coming from each end of the sanctuary. Today, it’s clear that this event looks a little different. 

It’s not lost on me, that we know the end of the story, and we know it’s something beyond death. The Jesus story doesn’t ever change, as it’s written. We know that Advent is a time that we prepare for the birth of Jesus, and then Lent rolls around, which is a time of remembrance, and preparation for Jesus’ death followed by his resurrection. In a time like the one we are in now, when everything around us is drastically changing, we still know what the end of the story looks like. We still know resurrection is around the corner. 

At the cornerstone of this resurrection, is a message of hope, of resilience, and of remembrance. We recognize through Jesus’ death, that he sacrifices himself in order to save all of us, Hosanna, right? 

So while many of us are sitting in our living rooms, some waving their branches, some drinking their coffee, today, we see the magnitude of what was happening on the day of that parade, an insight that those gathered may not have had. Today, in this oddly perfectly timed season we are in, honoring the beauty of life, death, and resurrection, in the midst of a global pandemic, we as Jesus followers carry an important perspective of hope with us. Not a hope that ignores the seriousness and the crisis going on around us. Not a hope that erases death or pain altogether. Rather, we as Easter people can sit in that grief, that sadness, that anger, that uncertainty. We can sit in that, and we can shout Hosanna, crying out to Jesus for him to save us all. We can do that, and know that there is more to come ahead, even if we don’t know the exact day that will happen. Even when resurrection hasn’t made it on a calendar yet. 

As we begin Holy Week, I want to invite you to remember two things. The first thing is, that we can’t rush resurrection. We can’t fast-forward the death part of Jesus. We can’t forget the hard things he endured, the times he was betrayed by his friends, the times his neighbors ridiculed him, the moment he dragged that cross up the hill to die. We have to remember those things, remembering to pause and sit in that for a little while. In order for the Easter story to work, to make sense, to be as grand as we believe it to be, loss has to be involved. The first thing for us to remember is to allow yourself to feel the pain that Jesus felt, not trying to rush towards resurrection.

The second thing for you to remember, is that resurrection will come. It will come because we are people of faith, people who on our best days, believe in the Jesus story, believing that there is truth in the events we read about in scripture. And resurrection will come because it has before, year after year. While circumstances have changed in our world, Jesus hasn’t. So while we allow ourselves to sit in grief, feeling to a small scale what Jesus might have felt, we can rest in knowing that resurrection is coming, not yet, but it will come. 

Friends, as we go from this place, may we continue journeying towards the cross, towards resurrection. But may we remember not to run there, trying to escape the troubling parts of the story, trying to speed up the grief process, trying to forget that often the hardest times in our lives take time to move through. May we take our time, allowing ourselves to feel how we want to feel, allowing ourselves to feel grounded, to find small moments of joy in our days of social distance, trying to find newness in what may have become a mundane routine. May we remember that we are still doing this work together, as a church family, as neighbors, as Jesus people, and as children of God. Amen.

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