Mark 11: 1-11
What if Palm Sunday were the end of the gospel story? Cloaks and branches thrown down on the ground in front of the new king, everyone bubbling over with praise and shouts of “hosanna” as Jesus passes by? This is the question I ran across this week in my reading: What if Palm Sunday were the end? Isn’t it kind of like a little Easter? Everyone recognizes that Jesus is the messiah and there’s a spontaneous party in the street. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that a good place to end?
The people are shouting “hosanna.” The best translation we’ve been able to come up with for this word is “save us now.” But the same commentary that asked about Palm Sunday being the end of the story points out that if today were the end there’d be no salvation (http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/viewArticle.php?aID=282). Only the cry for salvation and a parade. “Save us now!” And scene.
I have to admit that part of me feels uneasy with Palm Sunday. There is the pitiful, embarrassed waving of branches, like it’s hard to get as excited as we are supposed to. We know the story, we’re grownups, and this processional is too slow and staged. Let’s get on with it and have Easter already. I used to think this uneasiness and our lame branch-waving was about not really knowing how to full-out praise God. In public. In church. With part of a tree. That may still be some of it but, remember, the crowds are not just praising Jesus. They are shouting “hosanna.”
What if, in our heretofore sad spectacles we were to call out in English “Save us now!” instead? If we were to yell that, enthusiastically, while stomping and processing and waving branches, could we be more convincing? If we were to yell “Save us now!” we’d have to know what we need saving from (http://day1.org/1240-save_us).
There are an awful lot of Christians who say the right words – hosanna, Lord, Lord – while really believing we can save ourselves. We’d never say that but I know I have believed it from time to time. I keep making the mistake of thinking I can get myself out of the fixes I’m in. I’ll ask God about it if it gets worse. Are you familiar with this?
Admitting that I am not God and that I need God – that I can’t save myself and only God can do this kind of saving – this makes us vulnerable. Of course, we already are vulnerable but we like to puff up and pretend we’re not. Admitting this means we look our own vulnerability in the face. Admitting this by public processional while waving tree branches and saying, out loud, “Save us now!” is the whole ball of wax.
We are woefully bad at being vulnerable in public even though our whole faith is built on the purposeful vulnerability of God, born as an utterly defenseless infant and dying a slow, human death on cross. So maybe that’s part of the Palm Sunday discomfort. Underneath the festivity of the parade is the raw truth of how need we are.
Save us now! Even if we admit this much, what are we asking for? The crowds in Jerusalem might have said things like “Save us from the Romans! Come and be our rightful ruler and everything will be right again!” If they gave it any thought, they probably thought they needed saving from the politics and power of the day. But if the story ended on Palm Sunday with only the end of Roman rule, where is the salvation?
I think they had the words right but they didn’t know what they really meant by them until later on. A long week after Palm Sunday.
We think we need saving from the politics of the day, too. We might say things like “ save us from… the republicans” or “the democrats” or “my professors.” We might say “Save us from big coal” or “fighting in the Middle East” or “my tendency to eat too much chocolate.” Would any of those “saves” save you?
Here’s another way to think about what we are asking for when we scream “Save us now!”: What wakes you up a night or keeps you from falling asleep while you worry? What would really change your life if God saved you from it? Jerusalem thought it was the Romans but Jesus conquered death instead.
If we get real, what do we need to cry out – from the crowds of the parade, or in middle of night, at our low point, from the depths of our souls? What do you need to give up hope of fixing yourself and hand to God? Are you ready for the strange, beautiful, unexpected mysterious way God will indeed save you?
Today we get the words right. We are crying out for the right thing – Save us now! – even though we don’t know what we’re saying. Don’t worry, God knows. And the promise of this day will be fulfilled. Stick with it even in that valley of days between Thursday and Sunday’s sunrise. That’s the winding path this salvation story goes. It’s a story that doesn’t end with our cries but God’s. And it’s not as easy as one Sunday and then the next Sunday – cry out and then be saved.
We have to make the trek through the terrain of tough days, watching God become more vulnerable than we’ve ever admitted we ourselves are, following where we don’t want to go to a place and a salvation we can’t imagine from here.
Thanks be to God!
© 2012 Deborah E. Lewis