We have grown accustomed to hearing the story of the entry into Jerusalem as something akin to Mardi Gras – a grand celebration, a party, after which the one riding on a donkey would somehow kick the Romans back across the Mediterranean and establish God’s reign before the week was out.
That isn’t how it happened.
We have also grown accustomed to hearing the shouts of “hosanna” as words of jubilation, celebration. And in truth, that is how its use developed when translated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English.
But that is not what it meant first.
On this morning when we begin with the Liturgy for Palm Sunday, we usually read a portion of Psalm 118 which we chose to omit this morning in our efforts to keep our liturgies brief as part of our COVID protocols. But when we read Psalm 118, verse 25, it says
Hosanna, LORD, hosanna! *
LORD, send us now success.
The Hebrew, however, says “I pray the Lord save now; I pray the Lord send prosperity now.”
הֹושִׁ֘יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א means “save now.” We’ll hear it again on Good Friday when we read Psalm 22:
Save me from the lion’s mouth – הֹ֭ושִׁיעֵנִי – save me.
The people shouting Hosanna as Jesus rides from the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem are begging him to save them. Save them from the mouth of the lion. Save them from Caesar. Save them from oppression. Save them from violence and poverty and hunger and want. Save now.
But the kind of saving they wanted was not what Jesus was offering. There was no way that a violent uprising would best the Roman Empire – not with the tools and weapons available to the Jews of Palestine. Before the century was out, they would be crushed, and mercilessly so.
No, the kind of saving Jesus promised was not going to come about by violence, but by love.
And there were those in the crowd who could not stand that.
I’m sure there are many here, myself included, who would have felt betrayed and disappointed that Jesus of Nazareth was not what we thought he was.
And so we remember that we, too, are part of the crowd, shouting “hosanna” at the beginning of the story and “crucify him” before it was over.
We are reminded that we cry to God to save now; save us from a world of war and conflict and inequality and fear and judgment. And if we truly want God to save now, we have to accept that the kind of saving God offers us, still, is through love. Love of God and love of neighbor, and it is so hard because we want to be right. We want to be in control. We want for those “other people” to not be such a nuisance.
And when Jesus welcomes Judas to the table at the last supper and offers him something to eat and something to drink, even while knowing what Judas is up to, we are condemned in our judgment. Until we learn to invite Judas to our table, we will never really understand this crazy gospel of love in which God allows God’s very self to undergo a brutal death for us. To show us what “save now” looks like in God’s reign. It isn’t about violence or being in control or being right. It’s about love, all the way to Calvary.