GOSPEL: Matthew 21:1-11
…8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!… (Read the whole passage)
There is something somewhat alien about the gospel lesson today.
Crowds. Big gatherings of people. Mobs and masses lining the road that leads into the Jerusalem. People touching each other, jostling for a better view, putting their clothes down on the road. Our COVID-19 captivity is only a few weeks old, but this scene from the triumphal entry does not match the world that we know.
I am still preaching to a camera in an empty building. You are all not sitting in your normal pew, but gathered around screens big and small to worship. And people closer to home are joining us for worship from across the country and across international boarders.
And likely none of us have seen a group of people standing close together if we have seen a group at all.
Today we enter into Holy Week, the most important week of our liturgical year and in our life of faith as the Body of Christ. It is also one of the most ritualized times for the church. We usually gather with palm branches and process into the sanctuary, and we hear the passion story from Matthew to begin our Holy Week observance. On Thursday we usually gather to remember the Last Supper by sharing meal together. On Good Friday we usually go to Golgatha with the same hymns and readings each year. And on Sunday, we usually welcome the news of the risen Christ with the same easter breakfasts, sunrises services, trumpets and celebratory Easter hymns that we have sung for lifetime.
Except it won’t exactly be like that this year.
This year we will do some of those things, adapt others, and postpone more until we can meet again in person.
Yet, despite out isolation and our inability to congregate, despite the lack of crowds, there is also something about Palm Sunday that is more familiar and understood than ever before.
I think today we get the Hosannas.
So often we mistake the Hosannas for Alleluias. Exclamations of Praise and Thanksgiving. But Hosanna does not mean “praise the Lord” or something similar. Hosanna instead means something very different.
Hosanna means save now.
Save me now.
And doesn’t that change the whole moment?
Crowds lining the road, calling out to the one riding into Jerusalem, and asking for, begging for salvation. Hoping that this Messiah, this saviour is the one who will come and fix their problems, end their troubles, defeat their enemies, take away their helplessness.
Even as we are relegated to our homes, to physical distancing and isolation, we know what it is like to cry out next to our neighbour for healing, hope or salvation. We have been crying Hosanna online, in emails, in phone calls and texts. Crying Hosanna because we feel helpless, because the thing that we have been told to do fight this pandemic is nothing. Stay home, stay small, pull back from regular life. A helpless, small feeling indeed.
Before this pandemic moment, I had always assumed that everyone lining that road into the city knew what each other meant. It always seemed that those crowds were asking for salvation from the same thing.
But if there is anything that the anxiety, worry, fear and uncertainty that this COVID-19 global health pandemic has revealed, it is that we can all be calling for salvation at the same time, while having very different and varied ideas about salvation means and looks like.
In fact, the thing that brings us together, that probably brought those crowds together on that road, is the collective action of calling out as one body. Even as what salvation looks like for each voice may mean very different things.
In a helpless situation – COVID-19 today, oppression by a foreign and powerful empire 2000 years ago – we all search for something to hold on to, something that we can do to stop feeling helpless, something that gives us even the smallest sense of control.
For us these days, it is calling for masks, finding loopholes to leave our homes, demanding the government act to protect jobs and businesses and economic sectors.
For more COVID-19 testing, for more data and projections, for closing borders.
For keeping borders open, for more health care staff and beds, for places other than hospitals for COVID-19 patients to be sent to.
For flights home for Canadians abroad, exceptions to disembark quarantined cruise ships, exceptions to visit the elderly in care home.
For closures, lock downs and shelter-at-home orders to keep everyone everywhere physically distanced.
And on and on and on.
We are all crying out for something, all shouting Hosanna these days. But Hosanna from or for what? Well, that depends on who you ask.
And those crowds with palm branches lining the road into Jerusalem had equally chaotic and contradictory reasons to shout Hosanna, expecting salvation for different reasons and to come in different ways.
So today, we get the Hosannas maybe more than we ever have before. We get something now that most people throughout history understood and felt every day of their lives… that the world is more dangerous and more precarious place than we have known for the past 70 years in North America.
A world were most people feel pretty helpless against the dangers of the world.
And today, Jesus just rides a donkey right into the middle of it all. Jesus just rolls on in to the chaotic, unsafe, and terrifying world that God’s people seem to be living in, that we seem to have fallen into like a bad dream.
Just as Jesus rolled up to the river Jordan.
Was driven on into the desert.
Met Nicodemus in the middle of existential crisis.
Strolled up to the Samaritan woman at the well.
Happened upon the blindman.
Walked the road to Bethany with Mary, Martha and eventually Lazarus.
Just like he has always done, today Jesus is entering straight into the middle of human messiness and suffering, chaos and loaded expectations, desperation and struggle, sin and death.
Just just rides right into the middle of it, with a mob wanting him to fix it. Fix it all.
Hosanna – save now.
And Jesus heads right on in to do that.
Right to the middle of the pandemic of sin and death. Right to the middle of the mobs demanding action from the leaders and rulers, right to the leaders and rulers brushing their problems under the carpet or on to the cross.
Just heads right on in.
Even as we brace ourselves for the worst weeks of this crisis ahead of us.
Jesus is riding right into the middle of our pandemic.
Jesus is crossing borders in trucks loaded down with much needed medical supplies and equipment.
Jesus is standing at grocery store check outs for hours on end, even as angry customers refuse to physical distance properly.
Jesus is teaching students from virtual classrooms, meeting with patients over the phone, giving concerts on Facebook live, taping messages of hope to windows, ringing bells at shift change.
Jesus is rolling into a quarantined hospital rooms with a reused N95 mask on.
Jesus is keeping vigil in an outbreak ridden personal care home.
Jesus sitting at the bedside of the dying, when no one else is allowed to be present.
Jesus is heading into the middle of pandemic and chaos, straight to betrayal, arrest and trial.
And Jesus is on his way to the cross.
To the thing that no one had in mind when they cried Hosanna. That none of us has in mind when we cry Hosanna.
No one but God.
And there in the middle of our Hosannas, Jesus will confront the thing that fuels all our fears, the thing that puts us one edge, the thing that we are utterly helpless to prevent.
Jesus takes our Hosannas right to death.
And the thing that we fear, the thing that is underneath all our varied Hosannas.
Well Jesus will deal with that thing.
Jesus will confront and transform death into something new.
Something found in empty tombs, in upper rooms, and long walks between cities.
Something that that we cannot see yet from Palm Sundays on crowded streets, or crowded Facebook pages and live streams.
Jesus will transform death itself into the answer for our Hosannas.
Jesus is riding into the middle of Jerusalem, into the middle of pandemic, right into death itself.
And will bring our Hosannas and us with him.
And will bring all of it and us to new life.
* This sermon was prepared in collaboration with my partner in life, ministry, and parenting, The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker