THE WORD Psalm 2:5-11
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling.
MESSAGE “Exaltation and Humiliation” Rev. Jim Renfrew
Palm Sunday! What a day! It must be a very important day for us as Christian people because the story appears in all four Gospels! You can pick Matthew, Mark, Luke or John and find this Palm Sunday story. Some of the stories of Jesus only appear in one Gospel, only a few in all four, so this must be an important one.
Sometimes I pay most attention to the palm branches waving – what does that mean, why would people have done that? Sometimes I am wondering about what kind of animal it was that Jesus rode into the city – why a donkey, why not a big horse or an elephant? His choice of steed must mean something. Sometimes I wonder about the size of the crowd, was it only a few curious people watching from the sidewalk, or was it thousands upon thousands joining the parade themselves, following Jesus into Jerusalem? But this morning I am noticing what the crowd is shouting, “Hosanna!” What did that word mean, and why were people eager to shout it?
The details are different in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s stories, but it is clear in all four that a crowd of people are incredibly excited to see Jesus arrive, and they were shouting. “Hosanna!”, is their expression of their bold hope that Jesus will be the one who will lead them to freedom: freedom from the Romans soldiers occupying their land, freedom from corrupt rulers like Herod, freedom from poverty, freedom from violence, freedom from sickness, freedom from the power of sin.
Crowds can have an enthusiasm that is infectious. Have you ever been in a crowd that greeted a famous person?
I was on the street outside of the old Midtown Plaza in Rochester in 1976 when Jimmy Carter came through during his campaign for the presidency. When he appeared on the stage people around me started shrieking with joy!
I was in New York City in 1979 when Pope John Paul came down Broadway in his pope-mobile, the sidewalks were jammed with spectators, and people not even Catholic were ecstatic when they caught a glimpse of him.
Again in New York City, there was the night that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at Madison Square Garden. Tickets were scarce, but a friend acquired one for $500. “Five hundred dollars?” He looked at me like I ought to have my head examined, “It’s Bruce, man!” I bet he would have paid a thousand dollars or more – he was so excited to see his favorite musician.
Have you ever been in a crowd that greeted a famous person? Who is the most famous person you’ve seen, and how were people around you reacting?
“Hosanna!” means “God save us!” As you shout that word, think about what you need to be saved from. This isn’t hypothetical or imaginary. Think about what you need to be saved from.
We love remembering that day in Jerusalem long ago when the people in the crowd were overflowing with enthusiasm. Beautiful flowers, waving palm branches, colorful clothing, dancing children, maybe even the sound of trumpets and other loud musical instruments. Hosanna! God, save us! Hosanna! Jesus save us! Hosanna! Save us right now! It’s hard to imagine a happier occasion. It’s hard to imagine a moment when God is more present than this, hearing your shout, knowing exactly what you mean, and preparing to deliver you from all that troubles you, addiction, violence, hatred, violence.
A few minutes ago we heard a reading from the second psalm, not just an old song in the Old Testament, but an intimate message from God telling us what is happening on this beautiful day: “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” Some people in that crowd began to think that this Jesus was the long-hoped for Messiah, finally appearing in Jerusalem to redeem Israel and the whole world. It is a moment of exaltation, and the psalms and the donkey are the evidence that had been long-promised.
The day begins with indescribable joy, but in a short matter of time it ends in humiliation: Jesus betrayed, arrested, hanging on the cross. From exaltation to humiliation, and it happens in the blink of an eye.
As the crowd was shouting with joy, a conspiracy was at work, and finally a betrayal. In the end the crowd that shouted with joy was shouting something different, something much darker. Instead of “Hosanna”, an angry crowd is shouting “Away with him, get rid of him, kick him out, he’s an imposter, he’s a liar; let him drop dead, crucify him!”
What a radical change, from flowers and singing, to nails and murder; what a radical change from a wonderful parade through the streets, to the horror of the hill of crucifixion; from celebration under the sun to burial in a cold dark cave.
We know where the story goes next, yet here we are shouting Hosanna, along with the children who understand little of the complexities of life, the peaks and valleys, the hopes and disappointments, who given a chance to shout and laugh and wave along with the parade do so with unlimited joy. Hosanna! God save us! Hosanna! Jesus save us! Hosanna! Save us right away!
We are drawn to this story, because it resonates with our own experiences, our own observations. What does “resonate” mean? It means that if Jesus’ life under the sun and his death in the darkness was a song, we would keep finding ourselves humming the tune … and his tune sounds a lot like the song of your life! His tune is your tune. His Palm Sunday parade is your parade. His Cross is your cross. His resurrection is your resurrection.