I am happy to be back with you after spending a week at my daughter’s home. She lives a short walk from the beach which always gives me a chance to spend Lenten reflection time in a place where the ocean waves can re-set my spirit. I needed a reset, because…
So much has happened in the world over these days leading to Easter. Unrest in Yemen, the crash of the Germanwings airliner, Indiana passing legislation legalizing discrimination under the banner of religious freedom, and even one Senator who wants to make it mandatory to go to church! The headlines that bookend the world we live in are one reason I titled this message “Hang on to your Hosannas”…because in short, we’re going to need them.
Every year I ask myself, “What is different in the world this Palm Sunday? What insights from Jesus’ entry scene and final days can give us clues to God’s greater hopes for the world And how can OUR entry into holy week affect our own Easter hope?
One of the “noticings” about holy week is that it teaches us a fundamental truth. We cannot (and should not) skip ahead from celebratory palm branches to Easter miracles, without first going through the events and sorrow that brought it about. Anyone that has ever gone through great pain knows that the only way to get through it is to go through it.
Was it the same with Jesus?
He knew what was coming and that these were his final days. The first century world was just as frightening for our spiritual ancestors as our modern world is for us. The people desperately wanted to be delivered. And so on this day we’ve come to know as Palm Sunday, the streets of Jerusalem were packed with visitors who came for Passover, many of whom either already were disciples of this man Jesus, or who were curious, just wanting to catch a glimpse of him.
It’s curious then that Jesus comes to the city not in a powerful way, but in a ludicrously humble way—a grown man riding a donkey colt. The contrast of the military garrison that rode in from the opposite direction must have been quite a sight. They was there to incite fear and demonstrate military power, while Jesus’ entry was about hope, God’s power, and the possibility of redemption.
Matthew’s gospel is careful to show Jesus fulfilling the prophecies of the Hebrew prophet, riding animals described in Zechariah 9:9. The crowd hails him with a formula taken from the Psalms—all an intentional calculus to underscore his divinity and his purpose. And despite this anti-powerful entry, the cheering crowds clear his way and hail his presence! And they yelled Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
You and I understand the word Hosanna to be a shout of praise. But it wasn’t always. In Hebrew the word is hôsî-âh-nā and it means “Oh save us!—Save us now!” Redeem us from the oppression of Rome. Save us from a political climate that is killing us.
Do you ever wish there was a modern Messiah in that could save us from the crazy and the tragic happenings in our world? We may not be lining the streets physically shouting Hosanna, but I’ve been tempted to shout Hosanna at my television set!
And then, sitting on that beach in California, I had a thought. Jesus came that we might live and he left that we might carry on that work in his name. This annual review of his final days serve to remind us that WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST NOW.
Did you notice that our reading included verses 12-17, where Jesus upends commerce in the temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers. In a single moment of righteous activism, Jesus sweeps the temple mount clean of those whose financial interests impeded access for all to the temple. And while there, he takes time to heal the sick people who are brought to him, and he hears the praise of children. All of which precede his indictment as a subversive influence that must pay the price of any political dissident—crucifixion.
That one day, that one week is a micro-view of his whole ministry and by extension OUR ministry—healing, praise, witness and upset! Hosanna indeed!
That is Palm Sunday, this holiest of days when we enter a week of witness; a witness of ultimate pain born of ultimate love!
To witness Jesus and the glory of God on one side, and Rome’s soldiers in all their frightening finery on the other. Deliverance or judgement? Way of Jesus or way of empire? Who and what will you and I clear the way for? What Easter hope does God hold for the world?
Palm Sunday underscores that WE must finish the story! In the words of Teresa of Avila (spoken during the time of Martin Luther): “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good; Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”
The church of today is only irrelevant if we let it be. Hang on to your hosannas because the world looks to each of us to complete, in his name, what Jesus began.