When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 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!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. Mark 11: 1-11
This is a reading with huge liturgical significance for Christians because we reenact it on Palm Sunday as our entrance into worship and into Holy Week. We shout the verse beginning “Hosanna!” and wave our palms. Taken literally, hosanna expresses a cry for help from the divine like “Save us, now”. Yet, when we proclaim it on Palm Sunday, we intend a joyful greeting like “Savior!”
One preacher, whose sermon I read while preparing to preach a Palm Sunday service years ago, Scott B. Johnston, insisted on the former reading. He asked the listeners to identify their own deepest fear: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out ‘Hosanna,’ do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from crushing debt and unemployment. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom. Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three AM wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears.”
By encouraging me to make myself vulnerable with the crowd crying out to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, my engagement with the liturgy of Palm Sunday became visceral. I could greet Jesus with a heart full of expectant joy at receiving deliverance from suffering. I joined many other hopeful, expectant people, each reaching out for deliverance, all hurrying to see and greet Jesus. I was ready to process with them into the service and could proclaim God’s love even in the midst of the haunting Gospel narrative to follow.
The Rev. Barbara Abbott
Saint George’s, Ardmore
NOTE: The word hosanna (Latin osanna, Greek ὡσαννά, hōsanná) is from Hebrew הושיעה־נא, הושיעה נא hôshia-nā’ which is short for hôšî‘â-nā’ and related to Aramaic אושענא (‘ōsha‘nā) meaning “save, rescue, savior”. In the Hebrew Bible it is used only in verses such as “help” or “save, I pray” (Psalms 118:25). However, the old interpretation “Save, now!”, based on Psalm 118:25, does not fully explain the occurrence of the word in the Gospels as a shout of jubilation, and this has given rise to complex discussions.