Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hosanna--a sermon for Palm Sunday B

there's nothing quite like a complete re-write that starts at 1230am!

Rev. Teri Peterson
Mark 11.1-11
5 April 2009, Palm Sunday B

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
It does sound like a throng of pilgrims on their way to the biggest festival of the year, doesn’t it?
It was nearly Passover, the time of remembering and celebrating God’s power, God’s faithfulness, God’s bringing the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. The time when everyone who possibly could made their way to the Temple for the celebration. The time when a lamb would be sacrificed, unleavened bread baked, songs sung in praise of the God who rescued the people.
And on the way to the holy city, the crowds would sing, recite psalms, and tell stories. On the way to the holy city, pilgrims would cut branches and trade recipes. On the way to the holy city, people coming together in the name of the Lord would celebrate together with shouting and dancing.
Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
In the midst of this crowd comes Jesus, in a carefully staged parade. Not on a mighty warhorse, but on a donkey’s colt, feet dragging on the ground, bumping along with the jerky movements of a fool’s animal. No armed escort, no gleaming shields and helmets, no parting of the crowds to let the king through. No symbols of military power, no symbols of empire, nothing to confuse him with Rome. Just a man on a donkey, riding toward the holy city.
Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
He’s a popular rabbi. He’s a known healer and miracle worker. He’s a great teacher. There are whispers he might be the Messiah, the one to rescue them from Roman oppression, the one to crush the powers that be with a mighty hand. And now, at Passover, at the celebration when we remember God’s power to save us from slavery in Egypt, comes a man to save us from yet another cruel political and military power.
Hosanna! Save us, Lord! the people plead, even as they affirm “God saves us!”
Messiah, anointed one, God’s chosen. To the people in that crowd, that means military hero, mighty warrior, powerful king. When he rides into the city, they wave palm branches, they shout praises, they shout pleas. They line the street with coats so his feet don’t get muddy, they fan him with leaves, they cheer like they would for a king returning victorious from battle. They hope—no, they expect great things, a better-than-Roman-style general’s triumph through the streets of the city to the governor’s palace, mighty deeds of power that end years of humiliation, objectification, and oppression.
Hosanna! Lord, save us! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Long live our Messiah, our warrior king!
Jesus, parading into the holy city, parody of a Roman victory procession, knows God saves. Jesus, vulnerable and looking ridiculous, chooses to make fun of military power, showing its inability to save people, just at the moment people place all their expectations on him. Hosanna, they cry, save us!
From what do we want to be saved?
Fear? Anxiety? Hopelessness? Grief? Anger? Illness? Desire? Hatred?
What do we think life will be like when the Lord has saved us?
Bright and cheery? Without any bad things happening? No more sin, no more death, no more worries because the blood of a sacrifice has set us free, rescued us from something awful?
What happens when our expectations, our hopes and fears projected on another person, are not met?
Hosanna! the crowd cries. Save us from Rome!
And Jesus goes into the Temple alone, looks around, and quietly leaves the way he came.
This anti-climax begins to turn the tide from Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! to whispers, then shouts, of Crucify! Crucify this one who did not meet our expectations! Crucify this one we have so misunderstood. We thought he was the one to rescue us.
But what if the kind of salvation Jesus brings, the kind of salvation we need, isn’t another rescue from another cruel political leader?
Hosanna! Save us! the people shout. And Jesus, in his parody parade, does exactly that, but not the way we expect, not the way we want, but the way we need. He comes. He comes into the city, into the houses, into the crowd. He shares our life, he shares our joys and our sorrows, he shares our death. God comes, in the flesh, to be with us, to give us courage and strength, to walk with us on the journey. God comes, not with political power and military might, not with coercion and crushing, not with violence that only begets more violence, but with compassion, with care, with love.
Hosanna! we shout—save us! come again into our lives, into our world, into our community, and walk with us the road of this world’s suffering and this world’s joy. Redeem us, make us whole again, reconcile us to one another, help us to love and serve.
Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
In some traditions these words are part of the Communion prayer—evidence that God’s story doesn’t always go the way we expect. We say these words with palm branches waving, and then pray them on the way to a table where we remember again that we, together, are the body of Christ, the ones who come in the name of the Lord, the hands and feet of the one who saves us by coming into the world to share a common life.
May it be so.


  1. Teri, this is fine. The only change I would make is to take out the first part of the second sentence in your last paragraph. It gets in the way of Jesus showing us salvation and you've already made the point.
    Even without that very small change, this one preaches, my sister.

  2. I agree. This'll preach. One idea I would add: I've heard Rebecca Parker refer to the Passion/Resurrection narrative in terms of the Ancient Greek concepts of tragedy and comedy.

    A tragedy, according to Parker, is a story whose awful end you can see coming, yet you are powerless to stop it. A comedy, for the Ancient Greeks, was a story where the end turns out very different from what you expect. The Holy Week story starts out sounding very much like a classic tragedy. We can almost hear the discordant (sp?) soundtrack as the horrible scenes play out.

    But Jesus communicates, with his radical openness, his humor, his unexpected actions, that we do NOT know how all this will end. Every time the Powers of Empire try to squash him under their Mighty Thumbs, he somehow keeps slipping out and showing up in our midst again.

    (This is the basic skeleton of a sermon I did one year when Palm Sunday fell on April Fools' Day.)

    I'll post this over at RevGals too. Sorry to be so long-winded. Hope this helps!

  3. Well,I agree, and like the suggestions well as what you have to say.

  4. yes, to what they said, and I especially like how you bring in the idea of how Jesus saves us, what do we want to get saved from, what does Jesus salvation really mean.