Do we cry “Hosanna!” or “Crucify!” ?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 12:1-18

In my former parish on Saturday evenings after Great Vespers we made a habit of having question and answer time for our parishioners.  This time after Vespers was lovingly called “Stump the priest”.

Now during one of these sessions I was asked “What is the meaning of Hosanna?”  As we just heard the gospel reading we remember that the people were all shouting “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  to Our Lord Jesus Christ as He is entering into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey.

Hosanna is a term that we are all familiar with from Palm Sunday but what does it actually mean?  I certainly didn’t know at the time so I had to look it up.  So what does “Hosanna” mean?  Basically it is an expression that means “Save us, I pray” or I pray that you will save us.

So this was the cry of all the people following Jesus.  In essence, they were begging him to be saved.  They were calling Him blessed.  Just a while earlier they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and they were convinced that this Jesus was someone special…The all began to think that He was in fact the long awaited Messiah.  This is so important and in much of the Christian world (especially among the Protestants) there is a disconnect before Palm Sunday.  There is very little acknowledgement of the miracle performed just before the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem.  This miracle outdid all of the others that Jesus had performed and this miracle caught the ear, if not the eye, of nearly every Jew in and around the area at that time.  People were beginning to think that this was no mere itinerant preacher or healer, or even a prophet.  His works proved Him to be much more, and the people celebrated His arrival to the holy city as such.  Yet we see how quickly things can change in a matter of days.

As we fast forward to the evenings of Holy Thursday and Holy Friday we remember that Our Lord is brought to trial illegally, in the middle of the night and the people, the same people who witnessed Christs’ many miracles and heard His life-giving teaching and cried out to Him “Hosanna!” These same people, will all cry “Crucify Him!”  What’s worse is that not one will stand up for him, His disciples will all quietly distance themselves from Him or worse yet they will deny Him or even betray Him.

Today’s Feast is a reminder that we are the people who have cried “Hosanna” and we are also the people who have shouted “Crucify Him”, we are both.  We are those who cry Hosanna whenever we are in need or feel threatened or feel like we’re losing control of our lives, often these are the only times we will pray and ask God to have mercy on us and save us.  This we do out of the depths of our despair.  But when hard times pass we forget God and all that He has done for us.  Sometimes we have the opportunity to honor God in our lives and in our work.  We can credit Him with our successes, but how often do we?  Instead we credit ourselves, our hard work, and our intelligence with everything good in our lives.

We can honor God by living according to the teachings of Jesus.  But when we ignore those teachings and go our own way it is the equivalent of casting Jesus aside as the people did when He was brought before Pontius Pilate.  It is as if we are saying “What do we care what happens to this man, as long as He doesn’t cramp my style, and as long I can live my own life.”  This is our reminder that we are sinful people in need of a great redeemer.

These people cried “Hosanna” and some may have even meant it!  But they turned away when it was no longer convenient to believe so boldly.  Are we ashamed to speak the name of Christ around others?  Are we ashamed to pray before our meals when others are around?  Are we ashamed to share the teachings of Christ or the Church for fear of what others might say or think? Truly we have all betrayed God and we must feel the depth of our own sin and rebellion before we can rightly praise God for what He is about to do.

Our Lord Jesus Christ displays His great love for us in this holiest of weeks because He hears both our cries of Hosanna and our cries to crucify Him.  And in His great love for mankind He allows Himself to be crucified when we are against Him in order to do precisely what we had begged Him to do while we were still on His side.  We had cried out to be saved and He didn’t forget.  He will carry our cries of Hosanna to the only place where He can actually fulfill them.  He loves us so much that He will use sin against sin.  He will use the sin of the people, our sin, to break the bonds of sin forever.  And in breaking the bond of sin, He will answer our petitions and will truly save us.

So in all of this when Christ is going to the cross, He has not forgotten our cries for help, or our cries for a savior.  He will indeed answer these cries before the week is out, when He will bow His head and say “It is finished.”  May this week’s journey to the empty tomb be filled with godly sorrow, followed by unending joy and blessings for each of you.

Glory be to God forever and ever AMEN!  Portions from a homily preached on Mar 28, 2010

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