By Derek Weber
It is true that in the introduction, the suggestion was made that preaching be at a minimum this day. However, should you determine that a space for the proclamation of the Word is important, let us suggest some considerations. The Gospel reading for this Year A, Palm Sunday, is Matthew 21:1-11. Matthew clearly sees in this event a fulfillment of prophecy and an echo of Zechariah’s proclamation of God as the king of peace and victory restoring Israel to a position of prominence. This event lifts all the people of God, even those who don’t realize it. Matthew points out that not everyone was on the bandwagon. There was a crowd, yes, but then the “whole city was in turmoil asking, ‘Who is this?’” And even the crowd calls him the “prophet who comes from Galilee, not the promised messiah or the king that such a ritual would announce. Yes, “Son of David” is a kingly designation, but apparently not a convincing one, according to Matthew. It isn’t Matthew, but Luke who includes the word from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” but Matthew implies that the crowd here doesn’t know what they are doing.
Yet, they shouted, Matthew claims, “Hosanna,” which translates as “Save us.” Some historians argue that by this time, “Hosanna” was merely a greeting, a salutation for those in power and that the translation no longer held meaning for those who lined the streets that day. Perhaps that is true, and yet, here again it was an appropriate shout to make to the one who rode into the city that day. They shouted more truth than they knew.
The preacher could also reference the preparations made for this event. Sending the disciples into the village to retrieve the donkey and the colt was not necessarily a supernatural event, but the result of a planned approach. Jesus was making his declaration to the city of Jerusalem, a final attempt to win their hearts to his mission and ministry. Audrey West, in Feasting on the Word, (Year A, Volume 2, p.153) says that this event “is to the crowds what Caesarea Philippi is to Peter: their confession that Jesus is the Messiah.” And in the moment, those who shout hosanna seem to have grasped some thread of the truth of this moment. How deeply they have grasped this truth is debatable, given how quickly the crowd turns on him this week.
Finally, some reflection on the statement is also appropriate. Jesus makes the declaration in a specific, recognizable way. By choosing the donkey as the means of conveyance, he declares himself to be a king of peace. He could have chosen a white charger, a war horse for a conquering warrior king. Instead, he chose a donkey and a colt to trot alongside as signs of vulnerability and peacefulness. Matthew’s message is that this wasn’t an accident, a happenstance on the road to Jerusalem one sunny day. Instead, it was a declaration then and now and an invitation to pledge allegiance to the king of peace.
The preacher could also continue the Selah theme for this sixth Sunday of Lent and present the Psalm. Psalm 118 is variously designated as an individual song of thanksgiving, or a kingly proclamation after a battle, or a liturgical procession ending in the temple. It might be all this together, and it makes for a perfect complement to the Palm Sunday procession. The psalm contains many familiar words, as it is often quoted in the New Testament. There is a powerful celebratory mood in the psalm that will echo the procession of palm branches and shouts of “hosanna” in the sanctuary on this day.
A spiritual to partner with this psalm, should you choose to continue the theme, would be “Ride on King Jesus.”
Ride on king Jesus / No man can a-hinder me / Ride on king Jesus / No man can a-hinder me / In that great getting up morning / Fare ye well, fare ye well / In that great getting up morning / Fare ye well, fare ye well.
Is the song about entering heaven? Yes, but it is also about a heaven on earth, a new kin-dom brought in by the king who rides in. “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It is about this day, redeemed by the one who rides the dusty streets of Jerusalem, cheered by a crowd in celebration and affirmation.
Yet there are seeds of discontent, of the tragedy that is to come in our Passion story, even in this glorious hymn of thanksgiving and victory: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (v.22) The one acclaimed has been and will be rejected. And we will move, all too quickly from shouting “Hosanna” to crying “Crucify!” This is a move that must be made in worship, for all the reasons described in the introduction. If you choose to not go into full Passion Sunday mode, at least leave a pointer, a hint of what is to come. There will be some who can’t or won’t come to Holy Week services, and they need a taste of the journey that leads to the empty tomb on Easter morning.
At the very least, offer an invitation to join the community at the foot of the cross on Friday.