Hosanna

Kathryn Lester-Bacon on April 9, 2017

Psalm 118, Matthew 21:1-12

Hosanna is a word we say and sing at this time of year, often without even thinking about what it means. This word is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew imperative, meaning “Save now” (Douglas Hare). Thus, Hosanna is a quite literally a cry for help.

Hosanna is what crowds might cry to a conqueror; it is a shout of trust and praise, placing the people’s lives into the hands of an all-powerful, all-mighty ruler. We hear this trust and praise used in Psalm 118, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!” Other descriptions from this psalm are also invoked by the gospel reading today. Amid the waving branches and the festal procession we watch the crowd and we hear the cry “Hosanna! Save us!”

Karl Barth said that the truest, simplest prayer is “help!”. When you cry help, you are admitting that you’ve fallen short, you are confessing that you cannot do it all, you are crying out for one who is mightier than you.

But our cries for help, for saving, these can mean different things to different people. Sometimes we know we need help, but we have a very specific idea of what that salvation will look like, we have a very precise plan for how God should actually respond to our plea.

Let us listen to the gospel, imagining a few of the ways people might be crying out for the Lord to save them.

READ MATTHEW 21: 1- 12

I wonder what it would have been like to part of the crowd in our story today.

You probably live in the city of Jerusalem. You are a busy person. You have things to do, places to go. If you pause to watch this Jesus, it is only because you need some entertainment, some spectacle to just a few minutes.

“Save us from boredom” you might be ready to cry.

You watch all the pilgrims flooding into Jerusalem for the Passover and you can’t help but roll your eyes. You hear their excitement about being in the big city and you chuckle to yourself. You have seen too many festivals to get excited about this one. You are more savvy now, you know better.

Besides, you are busy. You cannot pause for one more festal procession. You just want to stick to your own plans, stay out of the way, avoid all crowds and Roman soldiers. 

BUT you do hear things about this man, this Jesus of Nazareth from the hill country of Galilee. Stories do trickle back through a stream of whispers. You hear that this man, this prophet who is making his way through Jerusalem, this man has done some pretty interesting things. He has awed the crowds with healing and teaching. You also hear that he hangs out with quite scandalous people, people on the wrong side of the law, on the wrong side of public opinion.

You hear that he is saying some pretty radical things about the kingdom of God. You hear that he preached Blessed are the Poor and Blessed are the Downtrodden.

That is all just a little intense for you. He sounds a little too radical for you. You aren’t going to trouble yourself about him.

You see people hurrying past, tearing off their cloaks, spreading them on the ground for this man. You shake your head. What a silly thing. Most people only have one coat. Why cast it on the ground for this man? Better to save it. Better to save it for a rainy day. After all, there have been men who ride in promising to conquer the world before Jesus and there will be men who ride in after Jesus. This prophet won’t make any difference. Who will ever hear of him after today? Better not to get emotionally involved.

So, you listen and look for entertainment, to be saved from boredom, but you are busy.  You have an appointment to keep. You have a life to live.

And the cheers are entertaining, but crowds can change their mind quickly. Jesus better be careful. He had better continue to entertain the people; he had better not stop impressing the crowds; he had better keep his teaching lighthearted and his actions merely about spectacle.

Then when Jesus goes to the Temple and overturns the tables, you are surprised. Perhaps this Jesus means what he says. Perhaps he isn’t just putting on a good show for our entertainment. This Jesus better be careful or people might start to take him seriously.

“Save us, O Lord,” you are ready to cry.  But you are done for now. Time to get back to reality. You have seen enough. Time to get back to your appointments, your To Do list. You might check in with this Jesus again in a week, but you are busy with other things for now.

…Or I wonder it would have been like to be a disciple in our story today.

I wonder what it must have felt like to have followed Jesus across so many dusty roads, to rest on the floors of so many strangers, to be an alien in many foreign lands. I wonder what it must have felt like to have people question your decision to follow this Jesus. Perhaps they laughed at you; perhaps they shook their heads at how you poured out your time and talents, your very life, to this man. Perhaps now you are ready to prove them all wrong. Now you are ready to prove this Jesus of Nazareth has the right stuff.

“Save us, O Lord” you cry. “Save us from irrelevance.”

You are tired of trotting along in the background, toiling quietly. You are tired of small gestures of kindness, tired of just spending time with the poor and those on the margins of society. You are ready for Jesus to show everyone what he’s talking about, to take his seat at the table of the powerful, to launch a campaign of shock and awe. You are ready for something big, something splendid.. You are ready for prove that you haven’t wasted your time.

You watch Jesus walk through the streets, following in the promised footsteps of what a conqueror, a King will look like, and you feel yourself getting excited. You feel your heart starting to skip, your eyes tearing up. People are cheering. Big things are going to happen and you’re going to be a part of it.

You want this. You want to prove that you’ve hitched your wagon to the right star, that giving your life over to this Jesus has been an efficient use of your resources.

Sure, following Jesus has exhausted you at times. He makes you go places you don’t feel comfortable going—Samaria, a storm-filled sea, and even back to Jerusalem where people have been plotting against him.  And Jesus makes you talk to people you’d rather avoid—the woman at that well, the unclean lepers, the blind man at the side of the road.

But now, that is past. Now you are at the center of Jerusalem, the edge of power. The cheers are intoxicating. You must admit that you kind of enjoy basking in the admiration of the onlookers. Now is the time when you will be saved from irrelevance and delivered into something full of fame, glory, and a splendid show of power. 

But when Jesus next goes to the Temple and overturns the tables, you get scared. Jesus had better be careful. Jesus had better keep the crowds happy, keep them shouting his name in support.

“Save us, O Lord!” you are ready to cry.  But you cannot help but hope that Jesus tones it down a little bit. He might have big plans, but you do hope that he is more careful. The crowds might turn against him.

Save us, you cry, but you really hope Jesus plays it a little more safe.

….Or I wonder what it must have been like to be one of the people with actual power in Jerusalem.

After all, Jerusalem is a bustling city, the center for religious and political activities in the region. People flock here from all over, ready to pay much to get close to the Temple.  This is where soldiers fill the streets, new soldiers arriving all the time. If someone is smart, is savvy, there is much to accomplish here, many chances to make the most of the opportunities presented.

Perhaps you see that people are hungry for good news, for signs that the Roman Empire is on the wane, that the Jewish people will be free to rule themselves, once and for all. Perhaps you just want this as well. You want to make the people’s beliefs come true.

Perhaps you have some power--not a lot, mind you. You are not like Caiaphas or Pilate, but you have some privilege, some authority. You are just trying to use it for good. You aren’t doing anything particularly bad. You have been working hard with all the right people, saying all the right things, making all the wrong conflicts go away. Perhaps you are tired of waiting around, you want some help, some support.

“Save me, O Lord, save me from feeling like it’s all up to me,” you cry. You are tired of feeling this way. You are ready to make some headway on your plans, ready to make some strategic alliances.

And so, a few months ago, when you heard of this Jesus of Nazareth, you got excited. You heard whispers that he was a prophet with saving power, a ruler who could rally the region. Perhaps you were intrigued by his potential and you visited him, listened to him speak, watched the people he reached out to touch, looked at the people with whom he associated.

And it was then that you grew quite disillusioned. This was NOT the guy you wanted. You saw that he hangs out with all the wrong people. He says all the wrong things. He is way too radical for you. His sermon on the mount is making some political figures very uncomfortable. His promises about God’s kingdom are making some religious authorities very skittish. His talk about God’s love, about God pouring out love and weeping with love for the children of the earth, well this is all quite unseemly. 

You wish this Jesus would tone it down. You wish he would keep quiet. You have been plugging away at your own plans for a long time and he is going to upset everything.

You begin to feel like once again it is all up to you, once again you must take matters into your own hands. You’re frustrated because God hasn’t made this easy on you. Your power and privilege are hard-earned. YOU at least want to use these things for good. It’s the lesser of two evils.

These cheers, this procession, this waving of branches, this reminder of what the scriptures promise, that God will be in charge, that God’s Kingdom is the one with power in the world, this is scary stuff. You would rather Jesus just went away. You would rather these people just went away. These crowds are full of people who are just getting in the way, people who just don’t have the right connections or tax brackets or lobbying support. They cannot accomplish anything. They are just in the way. The city is in upheaval. This is bad.

When Jesus goes to the Temple and overturns the tables, you are determined. You know what you must do. “Save me, O Lord!” you have cried, but God hasn’t answered your prayers. It is time for you to take matters into your own hands.

This Jesus must be reigned in. He must be silenced. He must be stopped. And even though you don’t like the idea, perhaps he even must be killed. 

And so, you get to work.

….I wonder what we are asking God to save us from?

And I wonder if we actually want the Savior that we get .

Let us pray.