1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 The disciples went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 The disciples told the bystanders what Jesus had said; and they allowed the disciples to take it. 7 Then the disciples brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, Jesus went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
In our lives full of burdens, of hurt, and of pain,
We reach out, searching for something to grab onto,
Something to save us.
Hear our cries of “Hosanna.”
Walk with us this Holy Week
From death into life.
We love a good story.
Some of you are avid bookworms. Some of you, like me, struggle to make time to read. But more than reading stories, almost universally, we love hearing stories.
There’s not much we enjoy more than sitting back with a cup of something warm or a glass of something cold and hearing, “Have I ever told you about the time…?” Unless, of course, we have heard about that time before…like 7 or 8 times…then it’s not always so enjoyable. But, in general, we like stories.
We’re story people.
We kind of construct our lives around stories. We tell stories about ourselves. We use stories to make meaning and make sense of what’s going on in our lives, of what’s going on in the world.
Stories are not only our history…they’re our present reality, and they’re the future we envision.
Stories tell us something true.
Palm Sunday—today—marks the beginning of a week of incredibly familiar stories. Holy Week is the most important week in the life of a Christian, and we know these stories well. And they’ve got all the elements of a memorable tale: great characters, shocking plot lines, heroic protagonists, detestable villains, high drama, and a surprising twist of an ending…this is the stuff good stories are made of.
One of the things about biblical stories, though, is that we have an overwhelming tendency to leave them there. We read them or we hear them in their historical context, but rarely, if ever, do we ask what these same stories might sound like in our time and place.
A different way of saying this might be, “Who would be Jesus in our time? What would this Jesus-person be doing in 2021?”
One of the things our Lenten series from A Sanctified Art called Again & Again: A Lenten Refrain has been trying to illustrate for us is how the biblical narratives don’t just reside in 1st century Palestine. In a way, the biblical stories we know so well are echoed throughout history, and in fact, are replayed and retold and reimagined in our own time. The whole premise of Again & Again is that these stories about Jesus and about the people Jesus ministered to repeat again and again, over and over, in an almost predictable pattern.
The biblical stories are part of a meta-narrative—or an overarching story—that has been true about us since the very beginning of our human history in God’s perfect garden all the way throughout the millennia. The biblical stories are about us because they are also our stories.
Again and again, powerful people act with impunity and seek to keep and exert their power over vulnerable populations.
Again and again, we dismiss and decry the ones in our midst who come to us telling us that we can choose to live a different way…a way marked by care and concern for our neighbor and the other.
Again and again, we cast aspersions on the prophetic voices that are sent to us and slap them with fluffed-up charges because they dare to challenge the status quo and dare to challenge us in ways that make us uncomfortable.
Again and again, injustice seems to win out.
Again and again, we kill innocent people in the name of safety, security, punishment, or justice.
Again and again, we seek to silence the voices of the ones who don’t tell us what we want to hear.
This is Jesus’ story.
But do you hear how this story also echoes throughout history? In fact, don’t you hear how this same story is still happening today?
Who are the religious authorities in our world? What are the occupying imperial forces in our time? Who are the ones for us that are in need of healing, in need of restoration, in need of wholeness?
Or what about the Palm Sunday procession…Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem…
Where do we see people demonstrating against an oppressive force? What are the powers and principalities of this world that movements rise up in opposition to? Who are the Messiah figures in 2021, the ones that we lift up and set on pedestals and proclaim them as our hope and our saviors?
Do you get it?
Do you hear how these stories are still so very true?
Do you hear how this very thing is still happening as we speak?
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a mockery and a direct shot at the Roman Emperor and the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. That the crowd was adoring Jesus with palm branches and cloaks and shouts of “Hosanna!” was an intentional provocation and seditious act toward the religious establishment in Jerusalem.
Jesus is making a clear political statement here.
The emperors of war ride majestic horses in their parades. The Prince of Peace rides a colt.
The emperors of war have flowers thrown at their feet. The Prince of Peace has dusty cloaks and spare branches cut from the fields.
This is satirical political theater. It’s a direct action against the Empire.
Is it a protest march…? Maybe…
Jesus is showing how his rule and the kingdom of God are in direct opposition to the religious establishment, the occupying imperial forces, and the Caesar himself.
Jesus is a different kind of ruler. God is a different kind of king.
The idea of Palm Sunday and the reality of what Jesus’ procession actually meant don’t exactly match up for the people in Jerusalem.
And so when it finally sinks in for these people, these ones that are shouting “Hosanna!”, that Jesus threatening the power structures is going to have consequences for everyone associated with him, these people start to bail.
Even Jesus’ disciples will desert him.
Within a few days, those cries of “Hosanna!” will quickly turn to, at best, mutters of “I’ve never met the guy,” and at worst, shouts of “Crucify him!”
The stories of this Holy Week are salvation stories. They’re the stories of just how far God will go to rescue and save God’s people. And they’re relevant for us because we’re still very much in need of saving.
There are just a handful of words in the gospels that aren’t translated into Greek. They’re words that are untranslated Aramaic, which is likely the language Jesus spoke. Anyway, Hosanna is one of these words. Hosanna is an Aramaic word that means, very literally, “Save us.”
Those people waving palms in Jerusalem weren’t shouting praises, they were crying out for Jesus to save them. And when Jesus showed them what it would cost them…that the way of following Jesus is the way of giving up your life, of giving of yourself for others, the way of nonviolent resistance, the way of peace…they turned their cries of “Save us!” to shouts of “Crucify!”
Which, for us who sit on this side of Easter, who know that the cross was God’s act of salvation for all of humanity, know that they might have been shouting different words, but they were still crying out to be saved…
At our most basic and fundamental, we, too, are still crying out “Save us!” If you’re being honest with yourself, you know that you cannot save yourself.
…And deep in your heart of hearts, you know you don’t have to…
These stories of Holy Week are salvation stories.
They’re about God’s salvation for God’s people 2,000 years ago. And they’re about God’s salvation for you. For us. For this world. For our world.
Again and again, these same stories repeat time and time again.
Again and again, we find ourselves in need of salvation.
And again and again, God shows up to save us.
Welcome to Holy Week, church.
I promise you, you will find renewal in these stories…
This is the story of your salvation.