Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
During my first year as the campus pastor at the University of South Dakota, the campus ministry students sponsored open mic coffee houses. It was during our final coffee house of the school year when one of the last performers came to the mic, read some poetry and then, with tears, spoke about how important the campus ministry had been to her during her years at the university. I didn’t know her and she left the building before I had a chance to talk with her. No one else in our little worshipping community knew her either. I had her name, so I called the previous campus pastor and asked him. He didn’t know her. Curious, I tracked her down on campus and asked her how she was connected to the ministry. This is what she said:
“Every day for the past four years, I have walked by your building on my way to classes. Every day, I looked at the wooden cross out in front of the building and it reminded me that God was with me, and that I’d be OK. There were days that was the only thing that kept me going…”
Every year for Passion Sunday we processed around our building as we read together the story of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. We waved palms and shouted “Hosanna!” We processed to the altar and shared communion. We read the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial and processed out to the cross in front of our building to remember Golgotha. Like that student, we stood there on the corner, surrounded by dorms and fast food restaurants and the traffic whizzing by and heard the good news that God was with us and that, because of Christ, we would be OK.
By Jesus’ time the word “hosanna” had become a festive cheer, but originally, the Hebrew word meant, “Save us, we pray!” It is translated that way in Psalm 118:25-26, which Matthew, Mark and Luke allude to in their accounts of Palm Sunday. That day in Jerusalem, the praiseful crowds might not have known they were praying as they spread their cloaks and branches on the road, but Jesus answers their prayers anyway. He answers it by going to a cross, which was not what they expected either.
This year, as we mark Palm Sunday locked down under the shroud of COVID-19, our shouts of “Hosanna!” definitely carry our prayers. Like the crowds before the walls of Jerusalem, we are praying for a savior. Our hearts are pleading for safety, for security, and for a return to “normalcy.” We are grieving in the face of loss and death, and in anticipation of the losses and deaths we fear may come. And, once more, Jesus enters. He rides into our lives. Maybe not in the ways we expect, but in the way we need him to. As Paul writes to the Philippians,
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. (2:5-8)
As we look upon the cross, we see God’s answer to all our “Hosannas!” Because Jesus gave up his safety, we know Jesus is with us when we are afraid. Because Jesus gave up his security, we know Jesus stands with us in our insecurity. Because Jesus gave up his life, we know that Jesus identifies with all our deaths.
That’s the powerful message of the cross. A message my student needed to be reminded of every day. And so do we. Especially now.
Join me in praying, “Hosanna!” Pray that God would bring a swift end to COVID-19 and give us the guidance and wisdom we need to push back the virus, save lives and stay safe.
Thanks for reading.