Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna. Save us now. That’s literally what hosanna means, “save us now.” And so accompanying the strange royal parade into Jerusalem, welcoming this man Jesus riding on the back of a beast of burden, tossed in the air along with leafy branches and palms, thrown down along with robes and other sacrificed garments, ringing in the ears of the crowd and those who passed by, were the words hosanna, save us now.
Save us from the crushing weight of an oppressive empire. Save us from life on the margins, a life under occupation, in the land of our ancestors. Save us from poverty and hunger. Save us from illness and disease. Save us from death. Save us as you promised.
As we began worship today, we joined that crowd on the way into Jerusalem, lifting our palms and our voices to ring out the same words, Hosanna in the highest, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, and the same plea, Hosanna, save us now.
Save us from our fears and anxieties. Save us from our greed and over-indulgence. Save us from erratic and unpredictable world leaders. Save us from the constant threat of violence and terrorism. Save us from climate change and global warming. Save us from the burden of being overscheduled and overworked. Save us from an uncertain future for our kids. Save us from sickness and disease. Save us from death. Save us as you promised.
And yet the mystery of this day is how quickly a plea turns into a condemnation, how quickly Hosanna is abandoned in favor of crucify. What the crowd of Jesus followers, hailing him as king found out the hard way and what we often need reminding is that our God isn’t one who simply defeats our enemies, delivers us from catastrophe or all of sudden makes our lives perfect. We don’t worship a God who magically makes our glasses rosy. Our God is one who knows each and every one of our struggles. We worship a God who jumps into life’s trenches with us, knowing the depth of pain and abandonment.
Pain and abandonment is what Jesus’ path is paved with in Mark’s gospel. The path strewn with garments and palm branches, the coronation march into Jerusalem is long over and gone. The path now looks more like one taken by the suffering servant in Isaiah. One-by-one, all of Jesus’ friends, followers, disciples abandon him. There is betrayal, denial and desertion. At the foot of the cross, only the centurion remains, dutifully keeping guard, with a group of women watching from a distance.
You can add each of us to the list of those who abandon, and yet, it is through the cross—a symbol of deepest oppression—that we are saved. Jesus empties himself, showing humility and obedience even to the point of death, for our sake and for the sake of the world. And what we discover less than a week from now, death is essential to resurrection. The cross is essential to the empty tomb. Joined in baptism to his suffering and death, this one raises us to share his new life. Led to the table of bread and wine, Christ’s own body and blood, we celebrate the resurrection.
In both realities, death and new life, we remember how it all started, that promise born to us at Christmas, Immanuel, God-with-us. In pain and promise, God is with us. This is how God saves us. Not with victory on the battlefields of life, not even with answered prayers, only with a presence and a love that knows no bounds, meets us in every corner of our lives, no matter how dark, and refuses to allow sin and death the last word. With this good news, God saves us now, today and every day, just as God has promised. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.