“Ho Sanna, Hey Sanna, Sanna, Sanna, Ho…” As today officially announces the beginning of Holy Week, Palm Sunday is a bitter sweet reminder of how quickly we can embrace passion and, for better or for worst, join the crowd. It is a day to ask ourselves why we are cheering for Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. What is our deep motivation for screaming at the top of our lungs, for tearing palm fronds from the ground and laying them at his feet? True, there is a prophetic precedent for something akin to screaming like teenagers in 1964 when the Beatles came to town as we hear in Zechariah 9: 9:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The script for what we are to do is certainly spelled out for us hundreds of years before Jesus took his place upon that fated donkey and came into that city of power looking like a sideshow freak announcing that the circus was coming to town in some ways more than than the Kingdom of God. But perhaps herein lies one of many points of irony of Palm Sunday – the circus *did* come to town and is still competing for center stage with the Kingdom of God. The “spectacular spectacular” of Palm Sunday madness and fervor akin to a scene Baz Larmann’s film Moulin Rouge is seen in many churches across America every Sunday to the point that it is parodied yet rarely challenged. Our “Hosanna” cry that means “God save us!” that waits and longs for salvation becomes a strange “Ho Sanna, Hey Sanna, Sanna, Sanna, Ho!” from Jesus Christ Superstar that is passionate to be sure, yet merely sing-song like and half-hearted in the way we whip each other into a frenzy of praise music, flashy bands, loud preaching, and little contemplation:
Yes, there is excitement in gathering together and discovering that we are not alone in our longing.
Yes, there is power in the Holy Spirit dwelling deeply within the place and people of worship as the temple of God in this time.
Yes, we too are to lift up our hands and shout for joy…
But do we know what this shouting for joy will cost us?
In some ways, I imagine Jesus’ triumphal entry on a donkey as something profoundly basic in addition to all the exegetical renderings of announcing the reign of David’s son with its ancient echo effect to the prophets. Coming in “lowly” meant that we have no choice but to look him in the face – he is not “high and lifted up” as on a warhorse above the muck and mire of life. No, Jesus is at our level in all of this and we have no choice but to look fully into his face as he journeys this last stretch of road which will take him to a tragic last meal, an evening of sweating blood, and finally to be lifted high in death and humiliation. As we shout in praise “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” are we looking deeply into his eyes and seeing where this is all leading. As we follow his gaze, do we see where he is looking, what this journey will mean, and whether we are willing to stand with him when the musical tide turns from major key to minor key – from triumph to tragedy? In Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, he muses about whether we can stand firm and resolute amidst the turning tides:
“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men and women. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
So as many of us celebrate this wonderful moment of triumphal entry and as children lift palms in sanctuaries around the world gathering our voices into a great “Hosanna”… the question for the coming week, as Bonhoeffer puts it, is fairly sobering: Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?
In short, when the songs die down, will we still be in worship?
Ho Sanna, Hey Sanna, Sanna, Sanna, Ho….indeed…