Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the last week of Lent.
Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, where crowds laid the road with cloth and leafy palms and waved them in excitement and praise for the king they were waiting for – one who would ride in on a donkey. It’s an ancient story, where “Hosannas” filled the air. Hosannas as cheers, of prayers, of pleas and of protest – and it is a present day story, where we are invited today to wonder afresh – what gives shape to our “Hosannas?”
I have a friend who regularly checks in on me. At any point in the day – they send a two-word text that says, “Vibe check.” It’s an invitation for me to pause for a second, and think about how I’m feeling… how the day’s going… a true pulse on where I’m at… it often feels like a pretty sacred exchange.
The vibe of the Palm Sunday we read in scripture (and we will in just a moment), is often regarded by many of us as celebratory – a scene where audible joy and jubilant energy is manifested by a hopeful crowd.
And we can feel that alive in us today too – how it feels to hope for something for a long time and finally see it come into view. This crowd has been waiting for a Savior, one who could make their hopes and longings – their history and lived experience of oppression – into a new story. To help them believe that a different world, a new world was finally possible – and it comes into view, as Jesus enters those gates of Jerusalem.
Except an actual vibe check of this crowd, would likely reveal more. Palm Sunday while it is the cusp of joy and hope – is also the cusp of watching the world as they knew it crumble.
And even as the cheers of “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest” reached a fever pitch in the crowd – they are quickly eclipsed by the threat of the Roman Empire.
Palm Sunday holds more than excited palm waving…it is the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, of betrayal, denial – of threat, his arrest, and violence/ crucifixion. Palm Sunday, with all the excitement and hope, leads directly to Good Friday. And that is part of our story too – and the ongoing story of our faith.
A faith that is riddled with hopes and threats – and hopes and threats – in our everyday lives.
This morning we’ll read this story in scripture and consider what it is we hope for these days? How it is we might live our way into this ancient cry, “Hosanna!” with integrity – with an energy that flips what threatens our hope – into a triumphant story where the threat of hope – keeps us moving along this road of life with Jesus.
Prayer: We praise you Jesus. We bless you – for being the One who comes among us – and is still coming. For the one who walks down our streets and enters our neighborhoods – for the one who disrupts the thoughts that threaten our hope – for the one who helps us disrupt the real forces and powers that threaten our hope. This morning hear our prayers – the ones that are beyond words – the prayers that we are hoarse from shouting – -the prayers that are fresh and the ones that feel ancient. Thank you for being among – between and in us. Amen.
SCRIPTURE | Matthew 21:1-11 (Common English Bible)
Let’s read the story of Palm Sunday together – we’ll read Matthew’s version in Chapter 21:
“When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that their master needs them.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!Hosanna in the highest!” And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Like so much of scripture – there is scripture within scripture here. Right in the middle of this story we have a reference to the Old Testament – to the words of the prophet Zechariah 9:9… who predicts this moment – saying,
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey …”
And many of those gathered in the crowd likely knew this prophecy. Because the setting here is Passover. And upwards of 200,000 people from all over Athens and Egypt, Babylon, Damascus and Galilee – join Jesus and his followers in Jerusalem to observe and celebrate this most important Jewish holiday. Passover celebrates the exodus from slavery in Egypt – it is a festival of freedom. Freedom that God intended for everyone… and one they are still longing for.
At this time the Jewish people were under the brutal empire of Rome.
“They were a colony; a subject people – living in a new kind of servitude, a new kind of bondage. Now, not in Egypt, but in their own land.” (Bishop Michael Curry)
So while Rome allows the Jewish pilgrims to gather for the Passover festival – any real action, any real resistance that would push against that power of Rome – call out the oppression – would not be tolerated. And just to make sure that is communicated – that complete loyalty and submission is obeyed – they send Pontius Pilate and Roman agents into the city with a full entourage – soldiers, horses, calvary, weapons. The Roman Empire puffing out its chest, making its greatness, its power shown through intimidation and threat.
Jesus enters Jerusalem with a rag-tag bunch, no cavalry – on a donkey – a procession of what many would regard as the “powerless” and the “explicitly vulnerable.” Where strength and power are demonstrated through subversive action, humility, nonviolence, and hope. And Jesus invites those in the crowd – some of whom had witnessed his recent healing miracles (and some who hadn’t), some who still hoped for a savior (and some who couldn’t), some who knew who this man on a donkey was (and most who didn’t) but nevertheless Jesus invites them ALL to find their way into this song from exactly where they are at, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”
Jesus’ entrance – riding in on a donkey doesn’t just offer a parallel picture of what a “king” or a “savior” or a “hero” could be – it is a move to counter everything – the common expressions of authority and intimidation of the emperor’s norm. (enfleshed.org)
Historians tell us that it is likely that, Pilate entered the city from the west and Jesus entered the city from the east.
A meeting of sorts – a meeting where the power of authoritative threat and the power of indelible hope face off.
Now here’s the thing – the threats for the Jewish people are real… not just empty intimidation. Ever since the time of exile – the Jewish people have – for most of that time – suffered under some sort of foreign power. Just a few decades earlier the Romans crushed an attempted rebellion of the people – where 2,000 of those suspected in the resistance movement were crucified. Their lives have been impacted by fear and violence for a long time.
And yet the crowds watch as the words of Zechariah unfold in their streets, and the hope of their spiritual ancestors rises, the cries of “Hosanna!” swell. These voices echoing a proclamation of trust in a different type of power, a different type of LORD and King.
And it’s a gritty – graspy- sort of hope. One that recalls God’s great works – of manna appearing in the wilderness, of the Red Sea parting …and the struggle, death and oppression – it’s a holy remembrance – one that forms an active, courageous cry of “Hosanna” – a resolute present day cry that protests injustice.
And the Roman powers feel this … they are threatened.
Many in the crowds hold on to a faith that is not run by militaristic conquering authority – but on the power of justice – the power of collective hope that has formed over anguish and centuries – through the bones of their ancestors – that sticks to their spirits as they stand on that dusty road to Jerusalem.
And everything they do – from raising their palms to shouting “hosanna!” are subversive acts and messages to the empire. A message of hope that threatens and puts Rome on the alert – as much as Rome had hoped to do with their war horses.
It’s why celebrating Palm Sunday is worth it – even when we know how Holy week plays out.
It’s why harkening back to our spiritual ancestors matters. Because sometimes we need to re-tell a story, even re-enact a story of our history that reminds us – and tells us again – of how good and faithful God has been – a source of life-giving hope – even when it isn’t realized in our story yet.
Vernee Wilkinson was up here last week leading us in a participatory service – along with Reverend Laura Everett – that centered around the plant, indigo. Indigo, the source of blue dye that you recognize in your jeans. And she shared that as a descendant of enslaved people – her ancestors were likely forced to plant, tend and harvest the cash crop of indigo.
Their lives likely bought and sold with indigo. Lives that were threatened and terrorized. And yet these ancestors gathered together for hope, for the promise of liberation – they sang songs together – they cried out “Hosanna” in their own ways for a freedom that is still sought – and fought for today. And today, Vernee turns to indigo for healing, to make new things as a prayer of protest. – Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” – To suggest that we, collectively, can reclaim, redeem, make reparations – return Indigo to its healing properties, honor its potent artistic expression and WORK TO free it from a history of violence and oppression.
The leaves of the indigo plant are dried, crushed and fermented – placed in a big vat of liquid-y solution that becomes a live – living thing. It speaks of a history and story full of threats and violence – and – hope/beauty and freedom.
The palms that were laid in the streets and waved in the air, by the crowd that surrounded Jesus spoke of the same. Before Roman occupation – there was a time when the Jewish people had been free and self-governed – and they had their own currency. On their largest coin – a palm branch was prominently displayed – a symbol of Jewish rebellion.
The choice to cut palm branches and lay them ahead of Jesus was an act of defiance and a message to the Roman authorities. “We want to be free – we want liberty.” And they look to Jesus – Jesus who learned early
“how to resist an unjust system. His entire life plays out in the shadow of empire. All his teaching and storytelling, his healing and preaching, his praying and miracle working – all of it takes place under that same shadow of the occupying power of Rome. (Tim Hart – Anderson)
And so they think – maybe this Jesus can help us, can save us. The scene that day in Jerusalem is not particularly religious. The palm-waving is not part of a worship service – but a welcome for a hoped-for liberator that is meant to stand up to the dehumanizing power of empire and privilege.
And so they shout “HOSANNA! HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST” as they wave palms, a freedom song. They do not recite the Roman pledge of allegiance which was, “Caesar is Lord” – but instead say Jesus is Lord – “Hosanna”! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! They hail a new king.
A subversive action.
The word“Hosanna,” is not only a cheer – or only an expression of adoration. It is a political and religious word – made up of two Hebrew words: hōša῾and nā. Hōša means “help us, save us, deliver us,” and nā which means “we pray” or “now!” “please!” (Tim Suttle,www.patheos.com).
They remember this word “Hosanna” – from their ancestors which we can read in Psalm 118 where they say,
“Lord, please save us! Lord, please let us succeed!”
Words that the pilgrims would sing as they came into Jerusalem, and as Jews would recite on the Passover holiday. And their hope hung that day, on those words as they walked into Jerusalem – as a ritual of faith – a hope woven into their story – unfolding as a direct challenge to Roman authority.
HOSANNA is a risky word.
A vulnerable cry.
An exhausted plea.
A protest prayer.
An ancient word – a modern word – a word that bridges and connects us to a cloud of witnesses, a company of saints, lovers of God and lovers of people. All connected to the life-giving source.
It’s how the past becomes present on Palm Sunday – and our ancestors’ words, our own. (Enfleshed.org)
…… and how they still hold an urgency to them.
This crowd is shouting,
“Save us! from Roman occupation, economic struggle, hunger, poverty.. And do it now.”
It’s desperate, it’s real, it’s the vibe of this crowd.
And it’s our vibe today.
We cry –
“Save us! Oh God! Please! We long for freedom from all that destroys life.
God hear our cry.”
And help us hear the cries of others.
THIS WEEK we had another mass school shooting – *firearms, now the leading cause of death among children.*
Trans rights are threatened.
Women’s rights are threatened.
Affordable housing & affordable healthcare is threatened.*SO. MUCH. LIFE. IS. THREATENED.*
We are still on the road to Jerusalem today my friends.
So much to right. So many crowds to push through.
So many of us are anxiety-filled, stressed, tired. . . crest-fallen…
Held in the bondage of poverty, racism, misogyny, corruption.
And we fumble to gather our words into a “prayer” – our emotions pour out over the top of the bitter cup of sorrow… it’s too much … it’s too much to swallow…. Alone.
Jesus as he entered Jerusalem wept over the city –
he knew he would not immediately fulfill the hopes of these people, and violence would ensue. (Luke 19:41)
We too walk along the road as much as we fall along the road, and we believe and shout in adoration – as much as we weep and grieve in disbelief. Hope can feel futile – foolish even.
The interesting thing about indigo is how that rich blue color comes to be. It is all about how many times you return to that big – live – fermenting dye vat. How many times you return to dip your cloth into the mix of sugars, bacteria, and plant leaves – is what deepens and enriches the color.
This is the invitation of Jesus on that Jerusalem road,
“Keep returning to the source – it’s where you will be strengthened.”
It might not look like you thought it would… but keep reaching to God, your ancestors, one another … there we can find a vat of love – of courage – of vision – that strengthens and multiplies our capacity to hope in the face of threat.
Last Sunday many of us folded our prayers into these indigo dyed cloths. ((Hopefully if you were here last week – you were able to grab yours on the way in this morning.)) These prayers were left to rest – to breathe this week – to deepen in our spirits – as they were laid in the company of one another’s prayers.
It was in preparation for us today – for the Hosanna’s we will shape as a community, the body of Christ together. Because as much as “Hosanna! – help us“ is a cry to God … it is also a cry to one another.
“I need your help, we need each other’s help – to keep walking this well-worn road of life – to fix our gaze upon Jesus and figure out what our Hosanna’s even mean.”
This is how the song of collective hope is sung.
Standing alongside one another – lifting each other up when we can’t see Jesus at all in our days. Sending one another vibe check texts – dipping ourselves elbow-deep in the ferment of God’s love and promise of freedom … So that we can cut through the empires of despair – of oppressive lies…. So we can change the world we live in. And believe that this road to Jerusalem isn’t a forever road to Good Friday – but one that leads to resurrection.
‘A resurrection that releases unchecked hope into our world which is dying for it.’ (THA)
In a few minutes we will sing the song “Hosanna,” together. And however you find your way into that word this morning – whether it’s out of defiant joy, or a hoarse whisper… know that we are naming – above all else – what we love in common – Jesus. A God who has saved. Will save. And does save us today. Reminding one another that Jesus will forever be riding into our lives in the most unexpected ways – and we are here to help each other notice as best we can along the journey. The poet, Ross Gay says
noticing what we love in common is a practice of survival.
It’s how generations that have gone before us – have survived. Pleading, singing, praying, shouting – together- “Hosanna – Hosanna in the highest.”
It’s how the generations that will come after us – will survive.
Pleading, singing, praying, shouting -together- “Hosanna – Hosanna in the highest.”
And it’s how today on this Palm Sunday, we form our Hosanna’s – with pleading, singing, praying and shouting – together… so that our hopes will survive. We know things are not resolved, and far from fixed… we know the days aheadin our holy weeksstill hold more work, more sadness, more threats…
But today – we rest and we breathe – we come alongside one another – with the Spirit of God, with our ancestors and we strengthen.
And we wave our palms today – our indigo cloths – our hopes.
We cry, “Hosanna, Save us!” with remembrance that the God we cry out to lives within all of us. And that when “Hosanna, Save Us” – departs our lips – it is a calling of truth to power to the imperialistic forces in our day. And it is a call to the power of hope. The power to right injustices – to steady our quaking ground – to revive us again…a power that is not commanded from a king on HIGH – but one that is altogether mighty, as it rises up from deep within us – as we gather here right now – and in the streets of our neighborhood, our city – our schools – our workplaces… our abiding places and our in between places. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
VIBE CHECK: Where are you? Where is Jesus? Where is your hope?
Prayer: Today God – we offer our “Hosanna’s” just as they are. We ask you to break open our hearts for what breaks yours in this world. To revive in us the imagination, strength, courage, to believe that your steadfast love does endure forever. .that it isn’t foolish to hope . . remind us how much we need it. Remind us how much we need you. Amen.