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Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday)

Hosanna! Cries and Praise in the Week to Come

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, surrounded by palm branches, hosanna cries, and cries of praise, marks our entry into Holy Week where we experience much of the same. Like the crowds flowing before and after Jesus as He rode into that Holy City, we begin our entry into Holy Week with palm branches in our hands.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday riding a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey, upon which no man had ever ridden. Jesus rode into the nest of His enemies – those who hated Him and plotted to kill Him – not on a warhorse, but in humility – “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming” … “righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey” [John 12:15; Zechariah 9:9].

On Sunday, Jesus rides amidst cheering friends into the city where He, on Thursday, will be betrayed by a friend. On Thursday night of that week, in the upper room where Jesus celebrates a Holy Supper of closest Communion, Judas, His friend, will become determined in His heart to betray Him. That night Jesus will be arrested.

After a faux trial, Jesus at noon on Friday will be nailed and suspended upon a cross. The voices which on Sunday cried, “Hosanna! Blessed is He!” will, on Friday, shout “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Jesus enters Holy Week with a cheering crowd – by Friday, He has only His mother and His beloved disciple, John, standing at the foot of His cross, while a few others watched from a distance. Holy Week is a week of contrary extremes.

Days of betrayal and death, yet we will call these days “Holy Thursday” and “Good Friday”. It is Holy Week because it is the week in which God’s will for sin-broken man is accomplished – His will that we would not perish but have eternal life.

“Hosanna” – “Hoshiah-nah” – means “Save us, please!” “Help us, please!” It is a desperate cry. People in misery, people squashed by life, people feeling their condemnation, cry “Save us, please!” Yet, the One they cry to is the Man whose name, Jesus, means “God saves”. Because of the One to whom they cry, their cry becomes a shout of praise. Cry and Praise find their place together.

You experience this too. In saying, “I, a poor miserable sinner”, you find comfort because of the One to whom you say it – the One who forgives sins and helps the miserable. Our crying and our praise find their place together. And we also sing our Hosanna’s as a song of praise.

Palm branches were plenteous around Jerusalem and were used to adorn religious processions. Palm branches had even become a national symbol for Israel and were often depicted on Israelite coins. The men and women in the Gospel carrying their palm branches were shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” With their palms and their praise, they were declaring that Jesus is their King. We carry our palms on Palm Sunday to declare that our King, Jesus, enters our midst now as well.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to offer His body and blood upon the cross as the sacrifice to atone for all of man’s sin. We carry our palms on this Palm Sunday to declare that Jesus truly comes to us now, in His Supper, in that very same body and blood.

Those crowds waved their palm branches, and we see, in Matthew 21, that those crowds also laid their palms down in Jesus’ path as He rode. We have laid our palms down in the very place where we will encounter Jesus today – at the table of His Supper.

In fact, every Sunday with the Lord’s Supper is truly a Palm Sunday for us. We don’t always carry palms, but we do always sing the cries and the shouts of this crowd - we sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest” – in the Sanctus (part of our liturgy).

We have entered Palm Sunday with green palms and songs of praise. We will exit Palm Sunday receiving dried palms bent into the shape of the cross. As today ends, the events of the coming week begin.

On Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), we will gather in this room, packed in close around a table, and recline forward on this altar rail to receive the very Supper that Jesus first gave on that night when He was betrayed. To remember the suffering and humiliation that began for Jesus that night, we, on that night, will leave with our altar stripped bare.

On Good Friday, just as the sky in the whole land turned to darkness, even at midday, during our Lord’s crucifixion, we will, this Friday, observe an evening service of darkness. As we remember our Lord’s passion, step-by-step we will remember the darkness of that day and, therefore, the greatness of His sacrifice.

On that first Palm Sunday, the crowd which followed Jesus into Jerusalem, crying to Him and praising Him, was great and numerous. By the end of the week, nearly no one was left. All had left Him but a few. In thanksgiving for all that Christ has done for us, it’s fitting that we should all, as much as we are able, follow through this whole Holy Week with our Lord to the very end. We walk through this Holy Week together and with our Lord, once per year, to remember all He did for us, once and for all, during that first Holy Week.

And every day, trusting in the One to whom we cry, we cry to Jesus, “Help us, please! Save us, please! Hosanna!” And because He is God-Who-Saves, we give Him praise, saying always, “Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord, even our King.” Amen.

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