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"Hosanna: A Week in the Crowd," by Claire Helton

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

“Hosanna!” they cried. “Save us!” And the church has been mocking them ever since.

They didn’t understand (we preach, year after year) the kind of saving Jesus had come to do, simple-minded as they all must have been. They wanted saving from their oppression, from their afflictions, from all that plagued them from every injustice and hurt that had given them grief and turned their lives upside down.

“How shortsighted,” we have thought. How could they so thoroughly have missed the point, mistaking the teaching “the kingdom is here” for a promise that anything was actually going to change?

“How fickle,” we have judged them, (from our perch on the margins of history) in view of their progression from the joy of the procession of palms to the riotous fury of Friday.

Except, hear me out, what if they didn’t miss the point, don’t deserve their reputation as a wild, impressionable crowd tossed uncontrollably from one moment’s whim to the passionate frenzy of the next?

Perhaps, this year more than ever, we are prepared to cut them some slack.

Perhaps for the first time we find ourselves crying out in harmony:

“Save us, Holy One, Hosanna, God on High, we beseech you, save us, save us and the ones we love.”

*

It is not so inconceivable to me now that in the face of danger the people reverted to violence.

It is not so inconceivable to me now that when confronted with a threat they became susceptible to mass panic, or that chaos ensued.

Presented with the choice between Barabbas, the villain they knew, and Jesus, the wild card whose strategy for social action seemed to leave something to be desired, it is not so inconceivable to me that the ones who had hailed him king now abandoned him in the hope of some simpler salvation.

*

Still, I imagine it was hard for them to watch. I imagine it was, likewise, hard to look away.

There hung their hopes up there on that cross; there hung the dreaming of a people who had waited for centuries for someone to make good on the promises of God.

There hung their certainty that those promises would ever actually save them.

There, in sorrow, or disgust, in anger and resentment, in fear or in blank resignation, the crowd dispersed one by one.

*

On Saturday they kept the Sabbath. No longer a crowd; each sheltering in place offering prayers to a silent God they weren’t sure they could still believe in.

*

And then it came: the rising. Somehow, when Sunday came they found enough life to join together and start telling the story of all they’d been through, of all they had seen.

In the aftermath of that terrible week, that holy, terrible week, they found one another, gathered once again, and one by one, all by all, it saved them.

Whether the saving itself was accomplished through the story they told or the gathering together to tell it, they would never really know. But whatever it was, it plucked them up out of meaninglessness, it gathered them out of isolation, it rescued from the ravages of despair and told them there was something worth living for, worth organizing their lives around.

And truly, it turned their lives upside down. From the grief that was given them, they found the courage to confront every injustice and hurt, to face all that plagued them, plagued them and those they loved, to bring healing to the afflicted, and to find hope in the midst of oppression. And in seeking the salvation of one another they found they wanted saving no longer.

Simple, the oneness of mind, of purpose, they found in the kind of saving Jesus had come to do. And so, we preach the story of the crowd year after year, understanding it is our story too. For in truth those who follow this pattern have been the church ever since. “Save us!” still we cry. “Hosanna!”

Amen.

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