What have your prayers been like? What are you asking to be saved from?
Admittedly, celebrating Palm Sunday works best when we are together, right? It’s hard to get that celebratory, parade feeling in our own homes for sure. Yet being three weeks into this, we are finding ways to be creative and are entering into these stories from a different angle. In a preaching seminar I attended, I was told to not always prepare my sermon in the same location. I was challenged to get out of my office or home office when writing a sermon and instead go outside or go to a coffee shop in the UW Union or go to a pizza shop. The thought was that my interaction with the scripture text would take on new meaning with a different backdrop. Likewise, as we listen to the stories from scripture we may find new meaning and understanding because we are in a different setting as we receive them. And certainly, the anxiety we are experiencing as we live through this pandemic will affect how we hear these stories as well.
This happened to me this week as I turned to the scripture story we traditionally read on Palm Sunday. There is a word in the scripture story that I was drawn to this time that perhaps has never caught my attention as acutely. It’s a word that I haven’t said or read probably since last Palm Sunday. And I’m guessing, you haven’t uttered this word since last Palm Sunday either—that curious word, Hosanna. In the story we read that people are gathered to see Jesus arrive into Jerusalem and as he passes by them, they shout “Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
From the Hebrew, Hosanna is a contraction of two words: yaw-shah, meaning to save or deliver, and “naw” meaning to implore or pray. So the translation of the shouts from the crowd might be: “We implore you to save us.” One can see why, then, this word Hosanna has caught my attention. “God, please save us from this pandemic” are the words on my lips every day. Has this been true for you? What have your prayers been like? What are you asking to be saved from?
In the Gospel story, it is understood that the people wanted to be saved from the Romans. They wanted freedom from an occupying army. Their hope as they saw Jesus enter Jerusalem was that he would indeed bring them deliverance; he would loosen the bonds of the oppression. But as we read further into the stories of Holy Week, we discover that Jesus would not save them in a manner that they could recognize or even want. He did not take up a sword and send the Romans out of town. Instead he went and had supper with his friends; he went and prayed in a garden; he was arrested and sentenced to die. When the people discovered that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they wanted, their cry of “Hosanna” quickly turned to “Crucify him.”
As we read through the stories of Holy Week this week, one might wonder why Jesus didn’t usher in salvation in the way his people wanted him to. Did not Jesus hear the cries of his people? So what kind of salvation was Jesus offering? And what does God save us from today? Does God hear our cries for salvation, for deliverance? And as Holy Week commences, what do the stories teach us about God and the work of God in the world and in our lives?
What I discover again as I reread these stories from Holy Week is the powerful truth that God is with us—the same powerful truth we heard at Christmas time as we read the birth narratives. Yet, how does God being with us save us? This is the Lenten mystery question of the week!!
I think part of being saved involves a God who enters into the messiest places of our lives; those places that remind us of our vulnerability; those places where we slam into our limitations.
About 17 years ago, Rob and I had done all the laborious paperwork to adopt a child from China. We had Gabe and Lily but we wanted to expand our family and so we went through the process to make this happen. Not long after we submitted all of our paperwork, China had changed their policy and drastically slowed down the number of international adoptions they would grant. Instead of waiting one year or less, it would now take years of waiting. About that same time, Rob was going through some difficult times personally and this created lots of suffering for all of us. A friend of mine, knowing that we were struggling, asked if I wanted to meet her for a walk. I said yes. As soon as I saw her and as we walked together, comfort and relief filled my heart. Her presence that day made all the difference. One could say that I felt…sort of…well… “saved.”
To be listened to and understood by a friend in a time of great need is to experience an incredible oneness which I believe, in part, is how God saves us. God is with us as we are with each other.
We know today that there are many for whom this time creates great need. One challenge during this time is how to “be with” others as we distance ourselves physically from each other, but we are finding ways! We are calling one another, face timing one another, writing more emails, sending letters through the mail—these are all ways we discover God in our midst and experience a fierce solidarity with one another. And as we share with one another perhaps we are being a bit more vulnerable, a bit more tender. These acts of connection should not be underestimated in their power. I spoke with a woman earlier this week, a member of our church. She does not have a computer so I told her I would send things to her through the mail. Her mom later told me that her daughter was so excited that I would be sending her mailings that she told her mom this at least three times in one phone conversation. Salvation comes as we care for one another.
Instead of holding and waving palms for this Palm Sunday, I invite you to open up your hands and lay them on your lap, palms facing upward. Our open palms remind us of our vulnerability, of the suffering and pain we are living through and holding, of so many using their hands, minds, and bodies on the frontlines of this pandemic. And as we look at our palms we speak from the deep, honest places within us and ask God, “Save us…please, save us”? As we begin Holy Week, may we, as we read the stories from Scripture, remember Christ whose life, death, and resurrection shows us how to live, how to be free, and how to be saved. Amen.