Palm Sunday (Year B)

TEXT: Mark 11:1-11

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, “Hosanna! 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!”  (Mark 11:8-10)

AH! The fans of Jesus! Rock stars have fans. Movie stars have them. Athletes have them. Even some politicians have fans.

The fans that Jesus had seem more like that last kind than anything else. Andrew Lloyd Webber had it right when—in Jesus Christ Superstar—he coined the term, “Jesusmania.”

As Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem, his fans made a carpet of welcome for him with their cloaks, and with the branches they had cut in the fields. They waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna!”

The word hosanna means “save now” or “save us now.” To call out, “Save us!” was to greet a saviour—but not in the personal sense in which Christians today might think of it. No. The sense here is of a national Saviour—like a general leading an army of liberation.

The form of this celebration goes back to the Jewish “Festival of the Booths.” In that celebration, the branches represented the crude shelters in which the Hebrew people lived in the desert after they escaped from Egypt. Psalm 118 echoes what the ancient Jews used to sing as they approached Jerusalem to join in the festival. In part, it goes like this:

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the
Lord.                           (Psalm 118:25-26)

“Save us! (Hosanna!) Save us, we beseech you …” These are the words with which Jesus was welcomed into the capital city. They used the greeting for a saviour—for a liberator, a Messiah. That apparently unconscious acknowledgment in the word “hosanna” (“save us”), is like using the name “Jesus” without remembering that it, too, means “Saviour.” (see Matt. 1:21)

Jesus was welcomed as a conquering hero. But instead of a war horse, he chose to ride a donkey, in what should have been an obvious reference to the messianic symbolism of the prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.              (Zechariah 9:9-10)

Christ entered Jerusalem not in the style of a triumphant general, but in the style of a humble servant. To the very end, Jesus tried to make people understand the true nature of his Messiahship.

It is perhaps difficult for us to understand—as we look backward in time—how they could possibly have misunderstood him. But we have to remember how desperate they were. They were an occupied and oppressed people. What they wanted—what they thought they needed—was a warrior-king who would expel the Romans, and restore their nation. If they had paid attention to what Jesus was trying to show them about himself, they would have had to face the same question which confronted Pilate later in the week—concerning who this man was, and if he was a king, what sort of king. (see John 18:33-38)

I guess it’s the same question we still grapple with, some 2,000 years later: Who was he? Who is he? And—with all the conflicting and competing pictures of Jesus in our modern world—who is he, for us?

Who is Jesus, for you? Who is he, for me? Perhaps, for us, it has indeed become a question that can only be answered in a personal way … and perhaps, after all, that’s what he always intended. I wish I knew for sure. I wish the church, at least, could reach some kind of consensus on that point—about who he is, and what he means. And I wonder what would happen if Jesus was arriving in our city this afternoon, and all of the Christians turned out to greet him. What kind of hosannas would we be shouting?

Here’s a poem. Actually, I guess it’s more like a prayer than a poem. A Briton named John Young wrote it, and I think it’s worth quoting today.

A Palm Sunday Reflection: Twenty Centuries Past

Twenty centuries past, what city has not heard
of your coming?
From Beijing to Berlin, from Jerusalem to Johannesburg,
from New York to New Delhi
surely the word has spread that you’ve come in peace,
not violence
to enrich, renew, transform our lives and bring us to shalom?

Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of God. Hosanna in the highest.

Twenty centuries past, what city has not heard
of your church?
From Catholic, Orthodox, Uniting or Anglican,
Evangelical, Progressive or Pentecostal
surely the message of acceptance, healing, confidence
in your royal advent, has been passed on through
faithful living?

Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of God. Hosanna in the highest.

Twenty centuries past, what city has not rejected you?
From penthouse to tenement, from factory to leisure centre,
from theme park to concert hall,
surely the news is that this life is for taking, not giving
and what stands in the way of this lifestyle
must now be removed?

Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of God. Hosanna in the highest.

Twenty centuries past, what city does the Christ seek to enter?
From leafy suburb to shanty town, from housing estate
to West-End flat, from salon to slum,
surely the sign of the church free from pride, united in deed,
must be the welcome the Christ longs for
as he enters our city?

Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of God. Hosanna in the highest.


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