A Reflection for Palm Sunday
by Abby Mohaupt
Matthew 21:1-11 Common English Bible (CEB)
When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
I'm standing in the courtyard in front of Memorial Chapel at Stanford University. I've just asked my students in the course I've been co-teaching in Liberation Theology to leave the classroom and come outside. I'm going to ask them to make a web out of rope, a web made out of the things that connect us and things that define us. This is an activity that I've used with people of all ages: older and wiser members of congregations, third graders, seminary students, and--now--Stanford University students.
We stand in a circle. One student holds the end of the rope and she names something about herself--something that makes her, her. Together we find someone else in the circle that shares that part of her story. Together we build a web of our identities. Together we recognize that each of these pieces about ourselves matter. Standing in this circle, on this campus, I look at the faces of these students, and I am surprised.
• I am too young to be teaching a class at Stanford, so I wear my clergy collar to class, to remind everyone that I'm supposed to be there.
• I am educated at a Midwestern Liberal Arts university, and I didn't even think about applying to a school like Stanford when I was their age.
• I am the female member of the teaching team and I've spent a lot of time loving on these two older male colleagues who invited me to challenge them.
Who am I to be asking these students to get out of their familiar classroom?
These surprises give way to the moment at hand and push away the fluttering in my belly. Instead I feel the solid rock under foot and the warm sun overhead.
I know these rocks and this sun. They are unsurprising because they are familiar.
Our connections are born out in this web of rope and the students look each other in the eye and they stand together. They see each other. They begin to know each other. They are not really strangers to each other. This is week six and they've been learning from each other, challenging each other, and teaching each other. But this is the first time they see each other.
I think about what it would have been like to see Jesus for the first time--to really see him in all his earthy glory. Having walked with him for years, listening to his stories, watching his healings, growing comfortable with this man named Jesus. He would have become so familiar.
And then he gets on a donkey and rides into the center of the city and he is so surprising. All of creation celebrates his entry and yet he is not what they expect.
• He’s too peaceful to be the coming King.
• He’s not educated or born into the ruling class.
• He’s spent too much time loving on the peasants and the people in the fields.
Who is this who comes in the name of the Lord?
I know this story, this donkey, this singing.
There’s a familiarity to this story about Jesus, this leader who has come to us, humble and riding on a donkey. He is not what we expect, but he is exactly what we need, connecting us as we are, to each other, to creation, to God. Each part matters, even when it celebrates the arrival of this surprising Jesus, even when it groans with anticipation.
There’s something comforting in knowing that while I have internalized so many parts of me that just seem like not enough, I matter—I belong to this web, not to the insecurities of the world.
Too much of creation groans, too much of creation suffers because we forget that the web of creation includes us all. As we celebrate the recognition of Jesus in our lives, as we look toward this Holy Week, how will we see the web that connects us? How will we welcome Jesus with hosannas and joy?
Contributor: Abby Mohaupt works at Puente de la Costa Sur in Pescadero, CA, where she divides her time between coordinating volunteers, meeting with faith communities, and nurturing learning in children. Abby holds a M.Div. and a Th.M. in eco-feminist theology from McCormick Theological Seminary. She is the At-Large Representative for the PEC Steering Committee.