If we lived in North Carolina, Palm Sunday might be likened to the celebration of the Tar Heels winning back the NCAA title with all the cheers and joy in that state. There was almost a sense of being redeemed from their buzzer loss, and the state’s basketball reputation saved. We all like the victory celebrations and the hope that is found in coming out on top. Some times when we get to Palm Sunday we want it to be that kind of thing. We like waving the palms, we like signing All Glory, Laud and Honor, we like shouting Hosanna. But how in the world does that square with the fact that in five short days Jesus will be crucified?
Hosanna is an Aramaic word appearing in three gospels, and twice in Matthew. It seems to be a word of praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David” “Hosanna in the highest heaven.” But in reality it is a plea and prayer to save. The people throwing down their cloaks are pleading with Jesus to save them from the chaos all around them. Today our Hosanna might be:
Hosanna, Lord save our planet.
Hosanna, Lord save our polarized political nation.
Hosanna, Lord save us from terrorism from places like North Korea and the Middle East.
We certainly have things from which we want God to save us and our community.
We also might pray, Hosanna, Lord save me from my illness.
Hosanna Lord save my spouse from Alzheimer’s
Hosanna, Lord save my child from addiction.
Hosanna declares God is the one who will be doing the saving!!!
The people shouting Hosanna lived in a “city in turmoil” (v. 10). Matthew said the whole city of Jerusalem was in turmoil. That word literally means “was shaken” or “trembled.” It comes from the same root word as seismic. I think we as Californians know something about the chaos after an earthquake. We know the feeling of wanting, needing, to be saved from devastating circumstances. We ask along with the crowd, “Who is this?” Who will help us in our hour of need? The answer is, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
He enters the city, as he enters our hearts, humble and riding on a donkey.
He comes as a man who knows he will soon face death, but he comes anyway.
He comes to show you God’s love and to let you know that whatever circumstance you face Jesus is with you. Whatever part of your life that is shaking or trembling, Jesus will enter in.
Jesus also comes fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy as God entering as the victorious and peaceful king. Yes the donkey reminds us of Jesus’ humility. But to those seeing this man riding on a donkey, riding on a colt, Jesus is now declaring to the world that he is the Messiah. He is the long awaited King. He is the One who will save! Hosanna!!
How do you know Jesus as the one who will save? I have placed a wooden cross for all to see, reminding us of God’s saving love.
But this week we will be walking with Jesus not to a place of companionship, but to a time of denial and betrayal.
Not to a place of celebration, but to a time of ridicule and pain.
We will be walking with Jesus, not to a place of love, but to a hill top of suffering and death.
Two weeks ago I went to a Presbytery clergy retreat at a Catholic retreat center in San Juan Bautista. Our evening devotions were in the chapel, with many purple shrouds draped throughout the sacred space. We sat facing the crucifix, with Jesus hanging in all of his anguish. An animal yoke was placed on the communion table surrounded by candles. Through lectio divina, we sat with Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). I was overwhelmed by the power of his suffering and the weight of his yoke; the sins, my sins, carried so that I could live in the light of God’s love. Jesus carried your sins too. For us to know Jesus is the Messiah there had to be a triumphal entry. For Hosanna to be real, God let his Son die. For Jesus to save there had to be a cross.
“Humanity had never been exposed before to a God who would go to a cross. Humanity had never before been exposed to a God who loves like that, who would give his own Son for His people. And yet, here is the hope of all who are in pain and call upon the name of God. In Jesus Christ, God has been where we are. In Jesus Christ, God has experienced what we experience.
Pastor Eugene Nelson, a United Church of Christ pastor tells about being on a retreat sometime back with a fellow UCC pastor named Fran Geddes. Fran, says Nelson, is fairly well known in New Age circles in that area. Sometimes New Age people have little use for the cross. So as they were talking about the cross toward the end of that retreat, they were absolutely shocked when Fran Geddes of all people, said he still affirmed the cross of Jesus. He then told the tragic story of his son.
When his family lived in San Francisco, Fran’s son went to school in that city and rode the bus every day. One day, coming home from school, he was the last one off the bus. This day, as he was getting off the bus his coat was caught in the closing door. The bus pulled away and before anyone could do anything, the boy was swept under the bus, run over and killed instantly.
It was a tragic accident.
Fran described for retreat members the incredible dark night of grief that he and his wife went through.
He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep, he didn’t know how he could ever pick up his life again.
He said one night as he was lying awake, as he did so often then, he had this vision, this image of Jesus on the cross. He said in that moment he suddenly realized, as he thought of Jesus on the cross, ‘that there was no pain I could feel that God didn’t feel, there was no grief I could feel that God didn’t feel.’ In that moment he realized how intimately God shared this painful time in his life. He knew, in that moment, ‘Jesus walks with me.’ Geddes concluded, ‘And because of that, in my ministry, I will always affirm the cross of Christ”” (sermons.com, prelude-to-the-passion).
We entered today waving palms; we entered celebrating God’s triumphal entry. But we leave knowing the radical reality.
God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that we have a Savior who walks with us,
we have a God who loves us,
we have a cross that has the power to save us.
Hosanna in the Highest. And let all of God’s people say Amen.