Yesterday was Palm Sunday – the day we commemorate Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. On that day so long ago, the city was packed as people came from all over the region to celebrate the Jewish Passover. Jesus rode through the streets on a donkey as people lined the path with their coats, waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
When we think of this event, we usually picture a one-man parade, with throngs of happy people leading the way up ahead and following along from behind, while the “parade marshal”, Jesus, rides along, smiling at children and bestowing blessings. At least that’s what most Bible story books depict; it’s a happy celebration in honor of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords……right?
Well……maybe not exactly. The nation of Israel was tired of being oppressed – tired of being the underdogs, of not having a home to call their own. They were tired of being overlooked, second class, powerless and being tossed crumbs from the banquet tables of Rome.
Then almost suddenly, it seemed, there was one who rose up from among them and gained popularity like no one had ever done before. Not only was he popular but he was able to do miracles! Jesus was definitely not ordinary, and his ability to gather enormous crowds further fed the desire to claim him as their leader.
I imagine the scene was as much political rally as festive parade. By waving palms and running alongside him, crying “Hosanna!”, they were, in fact, crying for him to become their King. He seemed the best hope this small nation had seen in some time and they were ready for revolution! Some were probably just purely hopeful – they had either seen of his miracles or heard of them secondhand….everyone knew who he was by this time – and the idea of a leader who was that powerful and that actually cared about them was intoxicating.
This last week of the Lenten season is referred to by some as “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” It begins the last week of the life of Jesus, and though he had already suffered ridicule, being run out of town, had many followers reject him because of his hard teachings, and even faced death threats, it was nothing compared to what lay ahead during this final week….
The very crowds who waved palm branches and hailed him as King would only days later shout “Crucify him….crucify him!” when given the choice to set him free. Jesus wasn’t the savior they were looking for. They never did really get who He was and what He came for… they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like we do.
The English (and also Greek) word “hosanna” comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na. And that Hebrew phrase is found one solitary place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm 118:25, where it means, “Save, please!”, or sometimes “Save now” or Please save!” It is a cry to God for help. That certainly puts the parade of palms in perspective. I’m sure there was celebration; they were excited! Hopeful! They were finally daring to anticipate a leader that would rally them together to empower them to stand up to Rome and claim their homeland. “Save us!” was entirely appropriate for them…..
…and also appropriate for us today. We are a resurrection people! We know, even as we remember the last week of our Savior’s life that it will end in glory and power. No amount of darkness will conceal his glorious light; He will rise and death will be defeated.
But still…..if we are honest….some of us are still lingering at the parade. Our “Hosanna”s are intermingled with “Save us!” as we carry heavy burdens of our own. Our expectations haven’t been met exactly as we planned, and we’re looking to Jesus to put it all back together, to save us…..in the way we wish to be saved.
If there is anything I have learned while walking, running, stumbling and getting up again on this unexpected and most unwelcome road of sorrow, it is that Jesus cares about those who linger at the edges of the crowd. He understands our questions and our disappointments, and His love remains steadfast and true. Those people who shouted, “Crucify him!”? He loved them too, and died for them just the same. That is what makes him King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
As we walk these last few days together, it is my heart’s cry that we know what it is to be saved….rescued from the prisons of unbelief, disappointment, false expectations and pride. Our salvation may not come in the way we believe it should, but will always come in the way Jesus knows we need.
Can I get a “Hosanna?” =)