Reflection April 16


Today we waved palm fronds in the air and marched into the sanctuary of our church singing, "Hosanna!" while a visiting thirty piece band played a rising melody.

We reenacted Jesus' entry into Jerusalem all those years ago--when the crowds gathered to see him, riding on a lowly donkey, as they thrust upon him all their hopes and expectations for salvation.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of listening to Ray Vander Laan speak on the dissonance of Palm Sunday. He taught about the palm leaves being the symbol of Jewish nationalism, brought into existence in the time of the Maccabees, and how "Hosanna!" was actually the motto of the Zealots--those who wished to overthrow Roman rule and instate Jewish independence. "Hosanna" which means, "Save us, please!" was a plea for a military ruler, one who would come and make everything right in a very political sense.

I remember hearing these things and imagining, as he suggested, that Jesus was so dismayed at the cries of the crowd. I imagined that as they laid down their palm branches and made a path for him, he would shake his head with pity and flummox, at the crowd that swayed as easily as the branches they held in their eager hands. I imagined him crying at their misunderstanding as, in fact, he does in Luke's account, before he cleanses the Temple.

I found it unacceptable that we recreated that scene every year, in churches everywhere. What were we doing, reenacting these silly people? These people that made Jesus cry because they simply did not get it.

But then I heard some more people talk about Palm Sunday, and about how the misled crowd that cried for his salvation (and later for his crucifixion), was also prophetic. "Hosanna!" is a cry we still echo because Christ does, indeed, save us. The salvation is not in a Jewish nation, or a military victory, but the salvation is no less real.

This morning, I was caught up with another idea--we still do this all the time. We cry "Hosanna!" with very specific expectations. We pray for God to act in specific and direct ways and are dismayed when he doesn't do as we asked. We think we get it. We wave palm branches when we think we have figured out Jesus, that we know what he's about, and that he is on our side. We plead for God's salvation in ways that preserve our comfort and our dignity and minimize our suffering. And while this is all unfortunate, while it is not great, and it belies our immaturity, our cries are still being met by the Savior. The one who does save. The only one who can take our misplaced hopes and toss them up in the air and catch them carefully in his loving arms and fulfill them in our true best interests.

In Luke, before Jesus cries at the state of his people, the Pharisees tell him to make the crowd be quiet, to silence their pleas for salvation. But Jesus doesn't. He doesn't! Even though the people don't quite understand what they are saying, Jesus says, "I tell you if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Jesus encouraged them to cry out for his help, even then. It seems to me that he is still encouraging our pleas today.

I was reminded of a line from The Golgotha Experience, a lovely artistic journey through the Stations of the Cross, put on by Poor Bishop Hooper. (Here is a link.) During the station of Peter's denial, the meditation reminded us, "The truth is, we love him in spite of our denials."

I know and have come to readily accept that Jesus loves me in spite of my denials, but this was like a cup of fresh water. "The truth is, I love him in spite of my denials."

A hearty affirming of my humanity, of my misunderstandings, my failings and my lack, my utter dependence and my mistakes I make on a cycle of repeat. It is in that humanity that I cry out, with the rest of the crowd, not knowing exactly what we ask, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Kristen Leach