The Unexpected Reply to Hosanna

+ A Palm Sunday (Year B) sermon preached for preaching class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, IL on March 18, 2015 +

Text: Mark 11:1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When he entered in the city, crowds surrounded the procession. They clamored to catch a glimpse of the coming savior. The people in the streets longed for someone to come to their aid. They had lived under the oppression of a foreign minority for as long as anyone could remember. This man was a symbol of their hope. A chance to throw off the oppressive forces that had stymied their people. Agents of the oppressive government worriedly observed the entrance of this man, concerned about their future and how the people would react to his presence. As the man rode through the city, the sounds of “save us” reverberated from the crowd. ‘Save us from those who are oppressing us. Give us the freedom we have longed for. Restore our people to their rightful place.’

The date was February 11, 1990 and Nelson Mandela was going through Cape Town, South Africa after being released from Victor Verster Prison. He was on his way to city hall where he would deliver a speech after 27 years of imprisonment. Apartheid was nearly over and the white Afrikaner minority government feared retaliation by a black majority led by Mandela. Many black South Africans craved revenge after decades of Apartheid oppression. There was likely great anticipation and anxiety as Mandela approached city hall. What would he say? How would he lead the people? When he got to the stage, the great leader Mandela gave a speech focusing on the need for peace and reconciliation between all South Africans. Rather than igniting a civil war, he emphasized harmony. Four years later, Apartheid would be dismantled and in the first vote black South Africans were ever able to cast, Nelson Mandela was elected president and established a rainbow government with members of many ethnic groups represented.

Mandela had a different understanding of the future for his country than many people wanted. Rather than leading an armed revolution to throw off oppression, Mandela called for reconciliation. Even though many would have thought civil war to be justified, Mandela desired peace. Despite the expectations of many seeking revenge for decades of atrocities, the people were saved in a different and unexpected way. South Africa’s salvation would come in an unexpected way.

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem in today’s reading, crowds surrounded the procession. They clamored to catch a glimpse of the coming savior. The people in the streets longed for someone to come to their aid. They had lived under the oppression of a foreign empire for as long as anyone could remember. This man was a symbol of their hope. And yet, as he rode in, he looked nothing like a warrior or a powerful man. He was wearing ratty clothes and was riding a donkey of all things. And yet, they shouted, “Hosanna!” Which means “Save us!”

The crowd saw that he was headed to the temple, a center of power for the oppressive forces and their puppet government. What would he do when he got there? Is that where the imminent rebellion would start?

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” God had promised to David that his dynasty would not end. Perhaps this man was the long awaited messiah who would restore that kingdom by smiting its enemies and freeing his people, Israel. But when Jesus got to the temple, rather than starting a ruckus, he just looked around and left. He didn’t give a speech. He didn’t throw over any tables (yet). He went home. How anti-climactic! I would guess the crowd was a little confused and maybe disappointed as they picked up their coats that were still on the road and went to their homes.

“Who is this man? Why was he riding a donkey? Why did we throw our coats on the ground?” I imagine these were some of the questions that the members of the crowd asked each other as they walked home. They probably wondered how this simple man was supposed to save them? He sure didn’t look like a king.

And yet, this simple man had demonstrated throughout his ministry what his version of leadership was. Perhaps this was difficult to see because of the radically different visions of power between Jesus and what the people expected. Jesus was not interested in the leadership of the world focusing on the wealthy and those in power; he was interested in a ministry for those on the margins, the people forgotten by society. Jesus did not worry about establishing a kingdom for one group of people, but reached out to the blind, the prostitutes, the Gentiles, and the tax collectors. If the people were expecting Jesus to be a revolutionary coming to Jerusalem to overthrow the empire and establish a new dynasty, they would be disappointed. Their salvation would come in another way – an unexpected way. Jesus’ salvation would come through servant leadership and giving up his life for his friends. Jesus would seek to overturn the Roman Empire not with a sword, but with the idea that all people are loved by God. Jesus did not seek the earthly throne of King David, but would instead be crucified in defiance of worldly powers.

Each Sunday we recreate this entry into Jerusalem by processing into our churches with the cross of Christ held high. Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we reprise the cry, “Hosanna in the highest! God save us!” Our cries echo and resonate on streets of every age throughout the world. We join in the cries of “save us!” in Ferguson and Madison, in Damascus and Donetsk, in Gaza and the Southside of Chicago, in Cape Town in 1990 and Jerusalem in 30 CE. We look for someone to come and save us from the evils of the world. And yet, the savior of the world has come and is continually entering our streets to help us. He comes in bread and wine and in the love of neighbor. He comes in service to others and the challenge of the mighty. His methods may not be what the world imagines, but they are the unexpected and life-giving ways of God where all people are equally loved and valued. He does not come with the sword but with open arms. He does not come to establish a kingdom but rather a reign of peace.

Hosanna in the highest.


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