Reflections on Hosanna

Homily for April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday                                                                                      Mark 11:1-11

They shouted Hosanna.  Over and over again, as the procession made its way into the city.  “Hosanna!  Hosanna!”  The crowd shouted and cheered.  And, some laid down cloaks and others branches to heighten the festive air.

“Hosanna!” they shouted and cried out.  Hosanna!

Have you ever wondered—ever looked up—what that word means?  Hosanna?

It means “save us.”

Save us.  How appropriate.  And, not just in the first century.

How appropriate for this moment, this time.

Save us:  Those who are lonely, feeling much too isolated.

Save us:   Those who are wishing that they could feel a bit more isolated, with a house full of people who aren’t usually there—at least not all the time.

Save us:   Those who are consumed with worry—worried about the simplest of tasks, like getting groceries or some milk from the convenience store.

Save us:   Those who are worried about family far away, and there’s no way to get there, except maybe online.

Save us:   Those who thought they knew the plan for the spring—things to do, a new job, a trip.  And now all of those plans are in the midst of the great unknown.

Save us.  Hosanna.  Save us.  We may not be lining the streets, shouting out or lining the rode with coats and tree branches, but we may be lifting up this cry silently in our own prayers many times throughout each day.

Who among us doesn’t yearn for saving, for deliverance, from this strange, unfamiliar and difficult time?  Who among us hasn’t yearned to be freed, to be brought safely through to the other side, that life may get back to its simple normal once again?

Here we find a deep and abiding tie to our ancient brethren, those who gathered along the streets of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday in the first century.  They too were seeking not simply a saving grace, a sense of blessing, but a literal saving—from the oppression of Rome, from religious leaders who worked in concert with the Romans.   They too sought and yearned for deliverance.  Hosanna, they shouted.  Save us.

Waving branches and setting down cloaks, with shouts of Hosanna.  Save us.

Yet, within a few days, that same crowd had changed their mind.  Their shouts of Hosanna altered to a viscous “Crucify Him!”

How could that be?  How could such a dramatic change happen in such a short time, from cries of “Save Us” to “Crucify Him”?

When they shouted “Hosanna” on that very first Palm Sunday, it turns out that it really was a sort of demand, with a lot attached to it.  “Save Us” was not some simple slogan, with an implied “please.”  It was a mandate, an expectation.  And one that didn’t have a lot of time attached to it, or much a variance from what they wanted—and at that moment.

Deliverance.  Now.  Big and decisive.  Now.  Romans gone.  Religious leaders doing the work of God and not in concert with the ruling Romans.  Now.  Save us.  Now.

The clues that the demands and expectations they had were not going to be met in the way that THEY wanted were clear enough right from the start.  This so-called Savior riding in on a humble beast, not a weapon or army in sight.  No chariot, no jewels, no trappings of royalty, no arms or armor, no soldiers in front nor behind.

This, so clearly, not the Savior they expected or wanted.  Not any number of Hosannas or branches waved or cloaks laid out was going to change that.

The question for today, the question as we begin our journey into Holy Week:  do we fall into that same trap?  Or, perhaps the question may more rightly be:  how many times have we fallen into that same sort of trap?

Deliver me.  Deliver us.  Save me.  Save us.  In the way that I want.  In the way that I need.  Or, I’ll turn away.

Like those who lined the streets on that first Palm Sunday, do we yearn for that sort of Savior who will swoop in, destroy our enemies, and give us want we want in the way that we want it?

Hosanna.  Save us.

What sort of yearnings do we have, as individuals and as a church?  What desires of God do we hold in our heart?

Do we welcome the Savior that we want or the Savior that Christ actually is?

Jesus doesn’t provide easy answers or a simple and decisive victory over our enemies.  Instead, he presents himself fully as the humble servant.  Where is strength?  It’s in weakness.  Where is your hope?  It’s in looking for a new way, a different way—not in violence, not in vengeance.

Here is your Savior, but he isn’t going to save you, or us, in the manner that we would like or prefer.

Today, on this Palm Sunday, in this strangest of times, at the start of this holiest of weeks, we take a moment to consider what sort of Savior we are looking for, what sort of Savior we want.  We have an opportunity to reflect for a moment on the sort of Jesus we are looking for, yearning for.  It’s best to begin this week not in the same place we began last year’s holy week, or the year before.  Here’s a new week, in a decidedly new time.

So take a moment and think about the sort of Savior you are looking for.  You don’t need to tell anyone else about it.  But, take a moment.  And, by taking that moment, we begin this holiest of weeks with an honest reckoning of where we are and who we are, that through this week, we may learn a little more about ourselves, and about who and what this Jesus was and is, and what it all means to us, and to Christ.

Will we be among those who shout Hosanna one day and then Crucify a few days later?  Or, will we be among those who walked quietly but determinedly with Jesus along the way, there when he was crucified and then there to discover the empty tomb of Easter morning?  Will we be among those who turned against him because he didn’t fulfill their expectations, or will we be among those who pushed those expectations aside and, therefore, discovered what saving is really all about?

I look forward to the journey of Holy Week with you, this year, this week.  Each day (except for Saturday), we’ll have an opportunity to spend a few moments together, to listen to the stories of this week, to reflect on our own faith, and our own expectations of Jesus, with the hope that, by doing so, we may discover something new and wonderful, something meaningful and marvelous.   Welcome to Holy Week.


About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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