Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hosanna! Save me, Jesus!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

This Palm Sunday looks for all the world like the pinnacle of the career of Jesus of Nazareth.  This Jewish, son-of-a-carpenter has spent the last three years or so wandering around all of Jerusalem proclaiming the advent of a new kingdom where God will reign and the harsh rule of  the Roman empire will be no more.  He’s gathered quite a following in his short time as preacher and teacher, and the people love and trust him.  They’ve begun to understand that Jesus is the Messiah.  The savior of the people.  But they don’t yet understand exactly what that looks like.  They’re still expecting a great army to rise up and slay all of the Romans.  They’re expecting a miracle.

And they’ll get one, just not the one they’re expecting.

Now it is the time of the Passover feast in Jerusalem and all devout Jews who could possibly travel would be in the city for worship and celebration.  (So there would be an extra-large number of Roman soldiers there, too, to “keep the peace”).

And Caesar sent Pilate to oversee this little town which is positively bursting at the seams with extra people.  Now what the Gospel writer takes for granted here is that we would understand on one side of the city, Pilate is riding up to the city gates on a war horse in a parade of soldiers and a show of military might that sends a specific signal of oppression and a threat of death.  Terry would tell you that, “In the ancient Middle East, if a conquering king rode into town on a war horse that meant that the army was free to loot, take women as wives (or worse) and that men could be killed if soldiers wished.”  So Pilate proudly enters the city astride his warhorse, flanked by squadrons of Roman soldiers, and sending a clear message that Rome is in charge here.  The empire is alive and well. 

At the same time, on the other side of the city, Jesus is riding up to the gates in his own parade surrounded by a desperate people.  These people wave palms, not spears, and Jesus is riding humbly upon the back of a donkey.  That’s right.  “hee haw!” a barnyard animal with no experience out in the battle field.  So what does that mean?  Is it simply a matter of available animal transport?  Not according to Terry.  He would tell us that “a conquering king who rode into town on a donkey sent a very different signal. This meant that the city and its people, while now ruled by the king, would be basically left untouched. It meant the king was now going to begin his rule in peace.”  I wonder how long it took before Pilate heard about the competing parade?[1]

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Words of praise?  Maybe.  Maybe that was the intention.  But considering the location and desperation of the crowd (think about it, they are publically committing treason by participating in this parade), I wonder if this is less a cry of glorification and more an anxious and demanding cry for liberation.

“Save us!
We’re so glad you’re here, you wonderful man!
Thanks be to God for sending you to help us!
Save us now!”
Writer Anne Lamott says there are three simple prayers to get you through most things.  One is “help me, help me, help me!”  Another is “thank you, thank you, thank you!”  The last is “Wow! Wow! Wow!”
The people walking with Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem are praying the first one:  help us, help us, help us!
As I was reflecting this week on this idea of a plea for help rather than a shout of glory, I read something that really helped me understand my own participation in this story (and maybe this will resonate with you, too): in this country, in this culture, in this time, we don’t seem to turn to God and ask “help us”…we say, “help me”.[2]
And so I think that thousands of years later, nothing would change.  When we encounter Jesus on the road to Jerusalem…on the road to the cross…we are still thinking only about ourselves.  What does it mean for me if Jesus dies again this Holy Week?  What does it mean for me if Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead?  What does it mean for me if he does?  “Save me, Jesus!”
Here’s the Good News:  He already has.
This week, as we walk with Jesus though the worst that humanity has to offer, let us be open to understanding the depths of sacrifice that God has made and continues to make on our behalf, the ways in which God is present in our daily lives…in big ways and in small, in both the joys and the suffering… so that we are able to see the places where we can and should and will be praying “thank you, thank you, thank you”.  And are able from this place of wonder and gratitude to think beyond ourselves and to look toward our neighbor.
And let us trust that on the other side of this Holy-hellacious Week, we will take up the glad shout “wow! wow! wow!”

[1] Borg and Crossan, The Last Week (the first 30 or so pages).  Find it here

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