The Rev. Melanie McCarley
The word “Hosanna” is an Aramaic word, spelled in Greek letters. Translated, it means “Save us, we pray.”
Everyone wants saving. The question is, from what? Certainly, with a world-wide pandemic on our hands, we want saving from the COVID-19 virus. I certainly pray for this, and I hope you do as well. But there are a host of others searching for salvation at this time: people who have lost their jobs want to be saved from unemployment; others who have seen their finances take a hit want to be saved from mortgage lenders and banking institutions; those who suffer from health issues and psychological struggles wish to be saved from pain, suffering and illness.
Pleas for salvation come from all quarters. People living in refugee camps want peace. Those whose homes are impacted by rising tides want to be saved from global warming. If you live in East Africa, it is certain that at this moment you wish to be saved from the current plague of locusts devastating your region. There are many reasons to cry “Hosanna”, “Save us, we pray.”
With so many people looking for salvation, it shouldn’t surprise us that they are searching for it in a wide variety of places. Some people turn to trusted news sources—which, depending on the source, may or may not be trustworthy to someone else. Others look to their friends and loved ones. Some people turn to politicians or celebrities, others to scientists and doctors or people with degrees. Some simply listen to the loudest voice in the room. Others tune into the quietest.
The truth is, we are no different than the people living in the time of our Savior. Our ancient brothers and sisters, they were avidly searching for salvation as well. So, when Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem, and people strew the streets with palm branches, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” we know, and we can understand, perhaps now, more than ever before, that they were pleading for salvation.
But here’s the question—What did saving look like for them? I suspect that for the vast majority of those shouting “Hosanna” as they watched Jesus enter the city of Jerusalem, their vision of salvation looked like their beloved city, minus Roman occupation. Their vision of a Messiah was that of a political ruler, infused with the spirit of King David. A righteous leader whose principle task would be to route the Romans. For them, the Roman Army was their enemy. And so they waved their branches of palm and cried: “Lord, save us, we pray.”
This, mind you, was their perception. God’s understanding was dramatically different. For, the real enemy upon whom to wage war wasn’t the Romans—not at all. The real enemy was death. And the type of messiah which was needed wasn’t that of a political leader; but the Son of God who would save them—and ourselves from sin and death. So let’s take another look at the palm branches that have been blessed this morning.
In some countries of the world, most notably, South America, Christians who attend worship on Good Friday carry with them to church the palms they received the previous Sunday. It’s a curious sight, certainly; a Good Friday service with lots yellowed palm leaves, all the worse for the wear, drooping and waving about—and it invokes a profound paradox. It is a recognition that those same hands that waved the branches, shouting “Hosanna” and calling for Jesus to save them just a few days earlier, are now demanding the crucifixion of the Son of God. In less than the span of a week, Palm Sunday has turned into Good Friday with alarming speed.
Let’s face it, we’re amazingly fickle creatures when you think about it. Each of us looks around, and heaven knows, we all behold a broken world. Peering at it from our individual spheres we are certain of what it is that we and our neighbors need; what type of saving we require and what kind of savior we should serve and which God we should worship. So certain are we, that we are frequently blind to anything which hints at a different picture of salvation than the one carefully curated by ourselves. Palm Sunday encourages us to pause—and to look at the world, not from the vantage point of what we think constitutes salvation; but from the perspective of the cross. Because there’s truth in those intersecting beams of the hard wood of the cross. We do need to be saved. Truly, we do.
These branches of palm; they play an interesting role in Holy Week. Some Christians will bring them with them to church on Good Friday. But the palm branches…they don’t disappear with the burial of Jesus. Nope. They show up one more time in the Bible. The last time, at the very end of time, in heaven. In the Book of Revelation St. John tells us:
“After that I saw that there was a huge number, impossible for anyone to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted in a loud voice, “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
These palms, they symbolize hope on Palm Sunday; and they are a reminder of our guilt on Good Friday; but finally, and most importantly, they are a sign of our victory celebration in heaven.
Palm Sunday presents us with a lesson on perception. It is a reminder that our sight is limited. It is also a reminder that though we are limited; God is not. God is not limited by compassion, mercy, vision or love. We are God’s children, we are inheritors of the promise of Christ—and we are indeed, saved through the limitless love of our Savior. “Hosanna in the highest.” Amen.