Focus Statement: Our hosannas rise on this Palm Sunday, bearing the weight of all our longings and hopes: Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
Call to Worship
On this Palm Sunday we join in spirit with the very large
crowd in Jerusalem that spread their cloaks on the road,
while others cut branches and spread them on the road,
to welcome Jesus. Together, with those crowds walking
in front of Jesus and those walking behind, let us shout:
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.
Eternal God, we can only imagine what it must have
been like that day in Jerusalem, with throngs of
people looking for someone to lead them. Your Son arrives, not on a war horse but on a donkey, to show the Way of Peace. Open our hearts and our minds to receive
the hope that comes from following this Prince of Peace.
Song: Hosanna, loud hosanna HWB 238
Prayer of Confession
God, we come before you today with troubled hearts. The COVID 19 pandemic, that has captured our attention, disrupted our economy, and altered many lives, reminds us how fragile and how precious life is. Forgive us for the times we forget to show you our gratitude.
Lord, have mercy.
We come as the people who were baffled that first Palm Sunday, when they realize how quickly their joy was turned to sorrow.
Lord, have mercy
We come, wanting to be with you as you enter the time and place of your death, knowing we cannot face this week alone.
Lord, have mercy
Words of Assurance
Know that Jesus offers mercy and understands the hard road between joy and devastation, between belief and disbelief. Know that Jesus will never leave you and will love you on whatever part of the road you find yourself on. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 118:19-29; Matthew 21:1-11
This is God’s word to the people.
Thanks be to God.
God, as we open our hearts and hands in sharing, bless what we are able to give.
Take what we share and bless it, multiply it, and use it for the work of healing and hope in this world. Amen.
I’m sitting this morning beside the beautiful Lent display in our sanctuary. Before this time of social isolation began, we were, for each Sunday in Lent, extinguishing one candle. Today on Palm Sunday, the sixth Sunday of Lent, there would have been just one candle left burning. And as I sit in the empty sanctuary, I have so many good memories of the children parading up and down the aisles waving palm branches, while we all sang our hosannas together. I’m hoping that some of you children might have done a little parading around your homes this morning with the palm branch that was left on your doorstep yesterday.
When I was a kid, I did my own waving of palm branches down the aisles of Grace Mennonite Church in Brandon, Manitoba. I always thought this was a pretty great gig: You got to yell in church! And my shouts carried a tone something like, “Hosanna! Go Jesus! You got this, King Jesus!” For me, it sort of seemed like the cheering section for a sports team. And according to the story in Matthew, it sure seems like the crowd was cheering Jesus on, hailing him as their champion, their Saviour, with their hosannas, their shouts of praise.
But the funny thing is, that’s not at all what the word “hosanna” originally meant. If we go back to the Hebrew roots of the word, we find that hosanna actually meant, “Save us, please!” It was a plea for help. In fact, the way Matthew tells the story, the crowds in that palm parade were directly quoting Psalm 118, where hosanna is translated as Save us, we beseech you! O Lord, we beseech you!
Now that would kind of change the tone of the story just a bit, don’t you think? If the crowd in the palm parade was not crying, “Go, Jesus, go!” but rather, “Save us, O Lord.”
So that raises the question: What was that crowd doing that day? Crying for help? Or shouting praise? Was hosanna an exclamation of desperation? Or faith? What, really is going on in this crowd?
“Hosanna,” it turns out, is a pretty loaded word. For the Israelites, it carried historical connotations, overlaid with meanings in their present context, as well as big future expectation.
In its historical context, if we go back to the roots of the word hosanna in the history of the Israelite people, we find that word just once, only Psalm 118. And Psalm 118 was part of the temple liturgy for the Feast of Tabernacles. During this feast, the Israelites constructed and lived in temporary booths, remembering how their ancestors lived in fragile shelters during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. As part of this celebration, the people chanted the hosannas of Psalm 118: Save us, we beseech You, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech You! But this petition is followed immediately by a confident exclamation of praise: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. And they would celebrate how God had sheltered them and provided for them in their need. During the Feast, in their communal worship, hosanna was certainly a cry for help, and it was mingled together with praise for help already received. It was a recognition of the God who both hears and responds, who both sees and acts. “Hosanna, Save Us!” was inseparable from the affirmation,“God saves!” Both petition and praise, in a single word.
Many years later, when the Israelite people drew again on this word, hosanna, they were once more in a fragile, dangerous time. They were living under foreign occupation, and
their lives were constantly controlled by cruel, colonial systems. Just 150 years before the time of Jesus, Judas Maccabeus had led the Israelites in a successful revolt against the imperial power of Syria. The Israelites had celebrated this victory by waving palm branches, and Judas Maccabeus had stamped the image of palm branches into coins to commemorate the victory. This story would have been deeply embedded in the collective psyche of the Israelites when, in the time of Jesus, they were living under another colonial power – this time Rome. And when they took up palm branches, just like the followers of Judas Maccabeus, you can bet those Hosannas! contained a good bit of resistance. They were hailing a king – King Jesus – in direct challenge to the Roman King and all his power.
Hosanna! A cry of petition. A cry of praise. A cry of resistance.
And if that’s not enough, hosanna was also a cry that projected into the future. We read in the story of Matthew that the whole city of Jerusalem was set in turmoil by the hosanna parade. That word “turmoil” in Greek, is the same root word that is used to describe the earthquake at Jesus’ final breath upon the cross. The same word is used to describe another earthquake when the angel of the Lord appeared and rolled back the stone from the tomb. In Old Testament prophecy, that kind of shaking of the earth was a sign of “the day of the Lord,” the coming of God. To emphasize this even more, the crowds in Jesus day were waving those palm branches on the Mount of Olives, a site that was linked in Israelite prophecy with God coming in power and restoration. The hosannas of the crowd were loaded with great hope in the seismic nature and cosmic significance of Jesus.
Hosanna! Petition. Praise. Resistance. Hope. It’s an ancient, weighted word, swirling with emotions and expectations, with fears and hopes.
And I wonder if this vast word, hosanna, is both spacious and hefty enough to hold the swirl of emotions we carry with us today. Like the Israelite people, we are also living in dangerous, fragile times, knowing our vulnerabilities. As we grasp our Palm branches, I think our hosannas today are expansive enough to carry our most haunting fears, our gnawing anxieties in the night, our deepest longings for God: Hosanna! Save us, we beseech you!
Even as we cry for help, the word on our tongue pivots towards faith, because the cries are directional. They are turned towards the One we trust, the One we believe can help us. As we cry “Hosanna!” in our collective worship, dispersed though we are, we are joining thousands of years of Israelite worship. This word holds the long storied history of how God has helped us in the past and to it may we add our own the stories of God sheltering us in the wilderness. May our cries of “God, save us!” also be tuned towards this remembering in faith and praise.
Will our hosanna this year also carry the tone of defiance? Will it be our cry of resistance to a culture of fear? Will it speak generosity in the face of hoarding? As we withdraw and shut the physical doors of our church to the community, as we close our homes to our friends and neighbours, will our hosannas keep our hearts wide open in prayer and in acts of creative care?
Finally may we know in our hosannas the powerful strains of hope. If this coronavirus is global in its scope, if it has brought the whole world to its knees, how much more should our hosannas rise, proclaiming the earthshaking life, death and resurrection of Jesus, announcing the cosmic significance of the God who promises to be more than enough to meet us in this time of global crisis.
May we enter the days ahead holding tight to our palm branches, and may that ancient cry, “Hosanna!” rise again, rich in history, layered in meaning, full of petition, praise, resistance, hope, all that we carry. Nothing will be lost in our cries to God.
Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
Song Nothing is lost on the breath of God Purple 121
Prayers of the people
God of palms and passions,
Since nothing is lost on your breath, O God,
we bring before you all that swirls within us these days:
Our fears and anxieties in uncertain times,
our longings and hopes for this day and for the days ahead,
our pain and illness, our loneliness and grief,
our joy in small gifts and unexpected delights.
Hear our prayers, O God.
Since no one is lost before your eyes, O God,
we hold before all who face great challenges in these days:
those who are ill and suffer pain
those who are vulnerable and afraid
those who grieve
those who are alone and isolated
those who lament lost opportunities and radically altered plans
those who seek food and safe shelter in these difficult days
those who are losing their income
businesses, organizations and institutions struggling to survive
front-line medical workers who, at great personal risk, care for others
leaders who seek to guide us through this time of crisis
Hear our prayers, O God.
Since no place is hidden from your heart, O God,
we pray that your love will flow with comfort, strength, and hope into
the deep spaces of our lives
the homes and streets of our neighbourhoods
the communities, towns and cities in this land
countries around the world.
May we all know your heart of love,
the love that remains, holding the world forever.
Hear our prayers, O God.
And now, in faith and hope, we pray together as Jesus taught us:
Our Father in heaven
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and forever. AMEN
Song Ride on, ride on in majesty Blue 239
May you find the balance you need in the ups and downs of your life, and may you have the courage to keep following Jesus. Go in peace to continue your walk with Jesus.
The Entry into Jerusalem, Simon Bening, about 1525-1530. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.
David Neufeld for collecting and writing prayers and litanies
Judith Friesen Epp for the meditation
Leader magazine, for worship resources