April 2, 2023, Palm Sunday Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "Hosanna, God Save Us"
Apr 2nd | The Reverend Anna von Winckler | Matthew 21:1-11
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Hosanna. Hosanna is an interesting word. Its literal meaning is God, save us or save now. But in biblical times it had also come to take on the connotation of Hallelujah, a form of praise. Perhaps in this passage from Matthew it is meant to mean both. The people, not necessarily pleading, ‘God, save us!’ but perhaps rejoicing, ‘Praise be, Salvation has come!’ They were a people living under the occupation of the Romans and were waiting for a Savior to deliver them. And so they came with palms and shouts of Hosanna for the one whom they believed could deliver them.
Today is the beginning of what we mark as the last week of Jesus’ life on earth, beginning with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people who shouted Hosanna believed he was coming as a Victor. In their limited understanding, they believed he was their deliverer and that their bondage would soon be ended. They, like Judas, imagined that the Savior they sought would reign from an earthly throne, but the throne he would reside upon was a cross. They thought of salvation in terms of earthly freedom. But Jesus knew that that was not the kind of Victor he would be, not the kind of King he would be, nor would the freedom he brought be the kind they were expecting. His liberation of God’s people came with a price, with a sacrifice, with humility and powerlessness, but it also came with a hope for a liberation from bondage for all eternity.
Matthew is the only gospel that presents Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as one that shook the whole city. While in the NIV, the translation we read from this morning, we are told the city was stirred at Jesus’ arrival, the word used for “stirred” in the Greek is more like the shaking that comes from an earthquake. Jesus’ arrival was a seismic event according to Matthew. Whatever it was like on that day, I like to think that Jesus was able to gain strength from the people’s love, for the next several days would take all his strength and faith to get through.
The word that comes to mind when I think of Jesus facing Jerusalem is that he was resolute in what he was doing and needed to do. Have you ever been in that position where you knew you needed to do something, but didn’t want to do it because it was too difficult, too scary, too risky? Did you go through with doing whatever needed to be done? And what did you find from that experience? Being that Jesus was also fully human, he probably had many of the same feelings we would have - apprehension, uncertainty, fear. We know that in the Garden of Gethsemane he asked God if there was any other way to bring about salvation beside his death. The answer was no. There was no other way and so, resolute, Jesus continued on to do what God had required of him.
I think it is important for us to ponder upon the actions of Jesus as we go through Holy Week. What he set himself to do, as well as the feelings he must have had - besides fear of his impending death, there must have been grief over Judas’ betrayal, as well as grief over the thought of leaving behind his disciples with whom he had spent the last three years with.
I could preach a feel-good sermon on this Palm Sunday, one of jubilation and triumph and then for those who aren’t able to join us for the Maundy Thursday service, can just slide through to the joyful resurrection celebration that we have on Easter. It is the same for those who come to church only on Christmas and Easter - the glorious birth of a Savior and the glorious resurrection. But that was not just what Jesus was about - not in his life and especially not in his last week of life. For his life, death, and resurrection, contain the depth of the gift we were given from God. That is why I believe it is important that throughout Holy Week, we think about each step that Jesus took on his way to the cross. For it is only in seeing, feeling, pondering upon the realities of the things that occurred, the arrest, the beating, carrying the cross to Golgotha, the bitter wine that was given to him, the crown of thorns placed upon his head, the nails hammered into his hands, the spear that was thrust into his side, that we then can begin to appreciate all that Christ did for us.
I think this is important for us to spend time in the depths of Jesus’ pain because I think it helps us to remember and be grateful for the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf. It was a sacrifice, a gift not to be taken lightly. This sacrifice is the foundation of our faith. Our faith should be deeper than the feelings of the moment or the circumstance we might currently be in. We see in the people who welcomed Jesus that their loyalty vanished just days later. Was it because they did not receive what they had expected? And how do we respond when we are in trying circumstances and don’t receive the response or relief that we expect? Do our hosannas turn to jeers, to faithlessness?
Jesus came riding in on a donkey, a beast of burden. He did not come riding in on a large and stately horse as someone of means and power would do. He came, we are told, gentle and humble. Throughout this narrative and other scriptures that describe the Savior that was to come, we see a servant leader -one who washed the feet of his disciples, who embraced the lepers, the hemorrhagic woman, the friend who had been in the tomb for three days. In this lowly manner he served and healed and showed his power in a way that was unrecognizable by the earthly powers and by those who could only find safety and security within the earthly structures.
But that is the challenge for us today as we exist in a climate of turmoil, chaos, and confusion. We may wonder where God is in all this madness and yet Christ is right where Christ has always been - here in the midst of us, like the calm that exists in the eye of the storm, Christ is the calm in the storm of our lives.
And it is this, this Jesus that we call friend and Savior that should be the focus on this Sunday, not the palms or the pageantry, but Jesus. This Jesus who we are told is the Lord and Savior, the Jesus that we gather today to worship.
Jesus went through agony during his final week on earth, but during his life on earth he told us and showed us who he was. The people responded to the question of “Who is he?” by saying he was “the prophet Jesus from Galilee.” But this is who he said he was.
-He is The one who God sent - for God so loved the world.
-The one who is present with us - “Where two or three are gathered in my name.”
-The one who relieves us of our burdens - “come to me all ye who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
-The one who gives peace - “My peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you.”
-He is the one who bestows courage - “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”
-The one who comes so that we - may have life, and have it abundantly
-He is the one who will never abandon us - “I will never leave or forsake you.”
-He is the one who makes all things new.
-And, Jesus is the one who is always present with us -”Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What do you hear in those words? Do you hear the Easter message?
Many of those who shouted hosanna on that first Palm Sunday showed that their adoration and belief in Jesus was superficial; for by Friday their praises had turned to jeers. They had turned on him.
And what about your hosannas? I’m sure your hosannas are often like mine, “God, save me.” But when the change we want doesn’t come, when the disappointments in life threaten to overcome, do our hosannas cease?
As you go through this week, think about Jesus’ agony, but also think about how Jesus is presented in the Bible; think about who Jesus is to you. And as you move toward Easter, may the turmoil and confusion within turn to hope and joy; for Easter is almost here. Amen.
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