On Palm Sunday Jesus makes a short journey from a land where people recognized him as the one who healed the sick, cured the blind, and raised the dead to the city where the people will reject him, his friends will betray him, and the leaders will kill him. The Gospel of John tells us that the crowd that is cheering, “Hosanna, Save us!” is the same people who witnessed his miracles. They saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus with his followers of sinners and outcast are arriving in the holy city with shouts of liberation.
He begins his short ride from the Mount of Olives. It is the same path that others have taken who have ridden into Jerusalem as conquerors. The prophet Zechariah foretells the day when the Lord will place his feet on “the Mount of Olives and the mount will be split in two” (14:4). It is on that day that the Lord will descend from the Mount into Jerusalem and will become “king over all the earth” (14:9). The people held captive by Roman oppression remember the prophecy and are anticipating the day when the Lord would redeem. It is a day of celebration. A day when all the hopes of the people are focused on God’s chosen One who will redeem the world and usher in God’s reign in Jerusalem.
This day is the beginning of Passover. It is when the people remember their salvation from slavery in Egypt and the release from the hardship of oppression. They retell the story of Moses and how he led the people to freedom to a land promised by God that would flow with milk and honey. They say again how the Lord defeated Pharaoh and set the slaves free. Jesus rides into Jerusalem like Moses descending from the mountain. He rides in as a liberator ready to set the world right and to bring God’s reign on earth. The people who have gathered to wave palm branches and make a way for Jesus know that Rome was the new Egypt and the Roman Emperor was the new Pharaoh. Their hope was Jesus being the new Moses sent by the Lord to lead the people to freedom.
At the same time that Jesus is coming through the gate on the east side of Jerusalem, Pilate is marching in from the west. Rome’s representative is holding the reigns of a war horse surrounded by the powerful and lethal Roman guard. The flags are flying. The clank of the armor can be heard through the crowd. The beating of the drums sends vibrations along the ground. The grand display was Rome’s way of saying to the people, “You may have your story of liberation and freedom but remember you are still enslaved, still under our control.”
Imagine yourself as a bystander standing on top of your house watching as both of these scenes unfold. Jesus is riding in on a humble animal while Pilate gallops in on a stallion. The crowd on the East is peasants, outcast, and sinners. The crowd to your West is upper-class, politicians, and religious leaders. Your heart longs for Jesus to be your liberator but your head reasons that he does not have a fighting chance. Standing at a distance it is clear to see how the crowd could turn so easily when Jesus did not live up to there expectation. The shouts of “Hosanna, Save us!” will quickly turn to “Crucify him!” when Jesus refuses to meet the expectations of the people.
It is difficult to discover the salvation of the Lord when we are confused about what it is we need saving from. We wave our palm branches and shout our praises of “Hosanna!” but do we truly understand what we really need God to save us from? How quickly our shouts of “Hosanna” can turn to “crucify him” when our expectations are not met?
We have a tendency to turn against God when we don’t get from God what we want or think we need. We peek at Jesus and say, “This guy is going to save us? He is going to be the one to rescue us?” We want Captain America, not Jesus. We don’t want someone who is stupid enough to get himself killed even if it means he comes back from the dead. We need a savior who never dies. We want someone who can reflect the bullets. We want someone to help us avoid the pain. Instead we get a Savior who shows us a way through the pain.
Don’t close yourself off to the way God wants to come to you today. Don’t let your expectations of what you need saving from or how you think salvation ought to look to keep you from missing out on God’s redeeming grace. Don’t be surprise if God doesn’t answer your cries of “Hosanna, save us!” in ways so utterly unexpected that you have to look back and tell yourself, “I never saw that coming.” Go ahead and cry out, “Hosanna, save us,” but leave the results of how it happens in God’s hands. If God will use the cross as a way to save the world, we must stay open to all the unique ways in which God will come and rescue us.