Hosanna “Save Us!”

Palm Sunday – Pastor Drew Tucker

May the God who was and is and is on the way be with us in the midst of this and every single day. Amen. 

When I was a child, Palm Sunday felt so strange. We’d just walked through most of Lent in a somber, reflective journey. Faced toward the cross, we didn’t say Halle…well, you know, the “H” word. We’d eat simpler meals, sing more songs in minor keys, and reflect in many ways that this wasn’t a happy time.  

Then, right before the VERY UNHAPPY TIME–you know, Holy Week–we’d break out palm branches imported from near and far, open all the stops on the Schantz organ, and sing with resolve hymns that resolved, all in major keys. We even put on our lips another H word, one that seemed to communicate praise but didn’t break the official Rules of Lent: hosanna

You see, we spent too little time asking what hosanna, actually meant, and why these crowds would cry it so loud to Christ right now, only to cry “crucify him” in a few short days.

You see, hosanna does not mean “Hurray!” Nor does it mean “Huzzah!” It’s not, in fact, a celebratory word at all. Hosanna, first in Hebrew, then in Greek, and even now in English, means, “save us, we pray” or, more bluntly, “rescue us.” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a young donkey, people looked at him as a political savior, as a rescuer from Roman oppression. When they cry aloud hosanna and strew at his feet their coats and palm branches, they’re paving the way for a political revolution. They’re making straight the path to war. Palm Sunday isn’t a day of celebration. It is a day of desperation. 

And of course, we know that the revolution for which these crowds were crying did not, in fact, come to pass. We know that Jesus did not start an armed conflict between Jews of Israel and their Roman occupiers. We know that, when the disciples encouraged armed conflict, Jesus demanded they put their swords away. The crowds called for a rescuer, and as soon as it became apparent that Jesus would not rescue them in the way that they wanted, their shouts turned sour on the real revolution that Christ brought.

But I am not here today to accuse this first century crowd of a special sin or a unique misunderstanding. Instead, I am here to confess that I, too, have called for Jesus to rescue me until I realized I didn’t want the kind of rescue that he brought. I too, have shouted hosanna at his arrival, only to turn my back on him once I realized why he showed up. And I imagine that you have too. 

This is all too often the story of faith, that we call for Christ to come not with principles of God’s Kin-dom or deliverance into abundant life, but instead, to coronate our desires for a particular kind of freedom that protects our privilege, or sanctifies our wealth, or redoubles our power. We really don’t want rescued. We want revenge. We want influence. 

In higher education right now, those battle lines are drawn around issues of tenure and shared governance, the fiscal responsibility of trustees and the particular lack of power among staff, not to mention the fact that students continue to accrue debt and question the value of a bachelor’s degree or the college experience  in the first place. This is true across the country. How have you, in your work or family or church life, sought help that you didn’t want once you realized what help looked like? If any of us call for Jesus to rescue us, but only seek for Jesus to take our side and give us the power taken from others, to bestow on us the the authority to oppress, then we too shout empty hosannas. 

That’s the thing about Jesus. He rescues us, but he does so by turning the world upside down. The one who healed Jew and Gentile alike, with miracles witnessed by people of all backgrounds, wasn’t in the world to play the same political game that we continue to play 2,000 years later. This is the guy who “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited and so emptied himself” by becoming human. God, with the power to simply speak life into existence, could have reset the game with a simple word. 

And instead, God redeemed the players with the Living Word.

Palm Sunday is the pivot of Lent, the inflection point that reminds us we’re not walking toward a decisive battlefield victory. We are walking toward apparent defeat. We are journeying not into a palace, but a cross outside the city gates. We are headed not into the halls of power or the fortress power, but a deadly silent tomb. 

That’s why one of my favorite hymns of this day isn’t all that common. It embraces this journey in minor key, with specific language of suffering.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry;

O Savior meek, pursue your road

with palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die:

O Christ, your triumphs now begin

over captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

The winged squadrons of the sky

look down with sad and wond’ring eyes

to see the approaching sacrifice.

This Sunday is still one of the strangest in all of the church year. Yet, it’s strangeness is not that we celebrate in midst of Lent.

It’s that, when our celebrations so terribly miss the mark, Jesus still comes. When we refused to follow Jesus to the cross, he still rides on. Long after we forgo the palm branches and hosannas, instead turning to crowns of thorns and shouts of condemnation, Jesus still rides on.

Make no mistake. This is the rescue that we need. Political revolution alone is too small for the cosmic propose of Christ. We need change in the White House, each statehouse, and all of our homes. We need environmental concerns in corporate headquarters and in the back corners of our own minds. We need love from our southern border with Mexico to the redlined borders of our communities. This road of majesty on which Jesus rides turns a cross of death into a tree of life not just for you, but for all. That is the promise, impossibly miraculous, that we see as Jesus rides on. 

Hosanna. Rescue us, Jesus. Even from ourselves. Amen.