Hosanna – save us!

A sermon for Palm Sunday, 2023

One crowd cried, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us!”

Another crowd mocked, “Save yourself!”

We are used to thinking of them as the same crowd, moving from one Sunday to the next, but what if they were more like us: divided among themselves, one crying one thing and one another, each with their own ideas of whom should be saved, and how?

Jesus’ answer to both of them was the same: he went to the Cross.

For the children in the crowd, the mothers on whose hips they bounced and balanced, the uncles over whose shoulders they climbed; he went to the Cross for these. He would not teach them war. Though he could call down legions of angels should he choose, he did not choose to wage violence. He told his disciples, “Put back your weapon. Those who take the sword will perish by it.”

My God, how often have we seen it happen? In Parkland, at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Uvalde, down the street in Chardon, at a church school in Nashville …  Our reliance on ever-escalating weapons access is wreaking havoc on our children’s lives, and not on theirs alone. But that is not what he would teach those children, singing hosannas, save us, reaching out for the donkey’s ears and waving their little palms.

He went to the Cross for them, and he went to the Cross for the soldiers on the hill, inured to the pain of their victims and calloused against their cries; for those who thought, “Death will teach them!” For those who mocked and jeered, “Save yourself, why don’t you?” he went to the Cross. For those who will not care to change their ways as long as they keep their own power, he went even to the Cross.

The centurion who believed did so because he could hardly believe what he had seen: that someone so powerful would lay it all down. 

Jesus wanted them all to see that love will not be provoked to despair, nor mercy to revenge. And he prayed for them, for the perpetrators, as we so often fail to do, in case we are reminded of our responsibility for what transpires in our own communities, our own country. 

We are the crowd; we are the people. We are as divided as ever over who should save us, and how they should save us, how we might save ourselves. Jesus’ answer remains the same. Even when we think he must agree with us, follow us – and that’s the hardest part for me, to be honest – instead, and still, he leads the way to the Cross. For us, for our repentance, and for our salvation, he went to the Cross.

Though he could call down legions of angels to sort us out, should he choose, he spoke instead the words of the Psalm, the words of lament, the words of the Psalm that begins in sorrow, My God, my God; the Psalm that ends in dust and ashes, and even there finds hope:

To [the Lord], indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
… proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it. (Psalm 22:29,31)

For we are not helpless, nor hopeless. God has saved us, and if we would only look up from our palms to see where Jesus will lead us, in love, in humility, in all mercy, then we would find resurrection. 

It takes courage, though, to face the Passion. Even Jesus had his moment, in the Garden. Are we ready for that, to give up our power and our pride, lay down our hammers, follow in the way of the Saviour, who may be the only way of our salvation, whose path is humility and costly, such costly grace? God alone knows, and God alone strengthens us, by grace, by mercy, in love, to bear it.

Hosanna, Lord Jesus: save us.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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