This is Palm Sunday April 1, 2007 message examining the contrast between the Hosannas of the crown on Sunday and the calls for crucifixion on Friday.
Hosanna! Hosanna! What a joyful exclamation!
How often do we use this word in the church? Really only on Palm Sunday, right? We don’t greet each other with it at the post office. It doesn’t really come up in conversation. It’s just this one day when we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem at Passover. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
But what does it mean? Not just the word, I mean yeah, we do want to know that. But more than that, why use it in this situation? And even more so, what does Hosanna mean in the light of what we know to expect at the end of this week?
Well first, let’s talk about what the word actually means.
Hosanna is a Hebrew word. Its literal translation is “Save, we pray.” The first place we’ll find it in the Bible is in Psalm 118 in the Old Testament. Save us we pray O Lord! Hosanna!
Later, Psalms 113-118 became associated with the Feast of the Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was a season of great rejoicing. It was a saying amongst the Jews that those who had not witnessed it did not know what joy meant. In this way hosanna became associated with rejoicing. The same has to be said of the use of palm-branches. The last day of the seven-day feast was actually called “The Great Hosanna.” This was a day of great joy and waving palm and willow branches was a part of the celebration. Even the branches became known as hosannas. (The Catholic Encyclopedia Online as found at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07472b.htm)
Now hear it all again in English. “Save us we pray! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Kinda takes on a new dimension, doesn’t it? While we have a whole lot of years to understand who Jesus is and was, these folks are making a definitive statement here aren’t they? Right in the middle of Jesus’ life, these folks are recognizing who Jesus really is. Because in order for Jesus to save them, he had to have the power to save them.
This is what these folks were saying. Here is a man who can rescue us from Roman oppression!Jesus is the one that the Scriptures tell us will come to save us! Save us Jesus!
Now we have history to tell us that Jesus wasn’t actually the conquering king that they expected. But these people, gathered in Jerusalem for Passover, truly believed that this Jesus was their Hosanna. They understood that this Jesus was here to rescue them and become their new King. But, even though the multitudes were shouting His adoration, many of these people would be the same ones that would be calling for His crucifixion just a few days later.
Nevertheless, as they welcomed Him into Jerusalem that day, spreading palm branches and their own garments in His path, little did they know that they were fulfilling an ancient prophecy. The crowds were acknowledging Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Son of David, and the chief priests and scribes were not happy with this. But their unhappiness had also been predicted in the same Psalm: NIV Psalm 118:22-23 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes."
Now one of my seminary professors said that text without context is pretext. Put more simply, context holds the key to understanding everything. So what did Hosanna mean in this context?
Well, common scholarship on this passage says that welcoming pilgrims to Jerusalem was common. There were welcomes like this all the time. Except that not too many folks got welcomed like Jesus did. His welcome was a bit grander, a bit louder than most.
Plus, Jesus’ entry on a donkey symbolizes that he comes as an ambassador, not as a king. So given the context of all this, what are the people really saying?
If one is willing to put the idea that these folks might be putting Jesus on aside, then they are affirming that this man comes as the one that will settle the dispute with Rome and set the Jews free again.
Unless the people welcoming Jesus are making fun of him, and there is no indication that they are then they truly believe that he is here to change their lives and their world.
No wonder they become disappointed by Friday. No wonder they are so easily persuaded by the scribes and Pharisees to call for his crucifixion.
And that’s exactly where this Hosanna is headed. He’s headed for a cross. Just like the palm and willow branches that were cut from the trees he is doomed for death and destruction. Oh sure, we all know that he’s going to overcome that death. But he’s got to go through the cross to get there.
Now this morning I’ve given you a little different palm. It’s a little more permanent than the ones you usually get. You see, the problem with palms is that once you cut the branches from the tree, they don’t live long. The problem with Palm Sunday is that the excitement of that crowd soon faded, and when Good Friday rolled around, many of the same voices who shouted “Hosanna!” were also shouting “Crucify him!” Their love for the Lord was shallow and based entirely on their hope of what exciting things he could do for them. (Tony W. Cartledge, “The problem with palms — A Palm Sunday sermon,” March 4, 2003, biblicalrecorder.org. Retrieved October 9, 2006)
When he didn’t produce in an expedient manner, he suffered the same fate as the palms. Cut off from the source of life. Dried up and withered. But this is one palm that doesn’t stay dead. This is one Hosanna that, even when crucified, returns with love and mercy and compassion.
Which leads me to my challenge for you all today. Consider where you might have been in this crowd on that Palm Sunday morning. Were a joyous spectator? Were you part of the parade? Did you throw your cloak on the ground in front of him? Did you wave palm branches? And did you end up calling for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus on Friday?
I suppose that none of us really know where we would have been. But we do know where we can go with the knowledge of Jesus’ response and reactions. Jesus did what he knew he had to do. As unpleasant as it was and as it turned out to be, he did what God intended for him to do.
Can we do any less?
Can we honestly go through our lives and not seek God’s will for ourselves?
My challenge to you this week is one of intensive prayer. During this, the holiest week of the year, immerse yourself in prayer. Seek God’s will for your life. Ask God to give you a vision of what you can do for God’s Kingdom. Even if you are in the twilight of your life, as long as you still draw breath, you are useful to God. Go to god in prayer this week, every single day. And ask what you can do or how you can further his Kingdom.
And don’t be surprised when that answer comes, because it won’t be something that you already do. It’s gonna be a whole new Hosanna in your life.