April 2, 2023

"Hosanna or Heartache?”

Rev. Scott Landis

Philippians 2:5-11 & Matthew 21:1-17

You’ve now heard the story of what we refer to as “Palm Sunday” from the gospel of Matthew. You’ve heard it beautifully portrayed in song from our very own Leihua Bissen. Perhaps all this has stirred nostalgic memories of Palm Sundays past with keiki marching down the aisle with Areca Palms mimicking the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. 

It is an exciting day as we enter this final phase of our Lenten journey and begin the week Christians call “holy.” And yet, sometimes, as we focus on the parade, we might overlook the conflicts that were occurring in the city at this time, as well as in the heart of Jesus. While the crowds were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” There was a whole lot more going on. 

The timing is critical for our understanding of the conflicts involved. Jesus arrived just outside the city gates during the Passover – which was one of the holiest celebrations for Jews then and now. Passover is the annual remembrance of how God liberated the Jewish captives from Egyptian slavery. The story is retold each year in Jewish homes and synagogues – in scripture and in song – of how the captives were instructed by God to sacrifice a pure and unblemished lamb. To take the blood from the lamb and paint the lintels of their doorways. That way, when the angel of death would come and strike the firstborn sons of all those in Egypt, the angel would see the blood on their doorways and “pass – over” their homes thus sparing the Hebrew children. 

It was the final blow to the Egyptians and spoke more forcefully than any of the other plagues wrought by God. When THIS tragedy occurred, Pharaoh finally gave in to Moses’ plea to “Let my people go.” The Hebrews were liberated from Egyptian captivity. In haste they fled into the wilderness and began their 40-year trek toward the Promised Land confident in the power and grace of their God. [Pause]

I realize this is a hard story for many of us to hear and maybe even more so now. Children so often seem to be innocent pawns and unsuspecting victims in political battles whether it involves slavery, border migration, or the right to own automatic assault weapons. Too often it’s the children who have become dispensable entities in our inability to exercise common sense in making critically important decisions that affect us all — then and now. But, hold that thought, as we return to the story.

The Hebrew slaves were liberated and those who followed in their lineage have never forgotten – and certainly not those who lived in Jesus’ day. The Passover was an enthusiastic time of pilgrimage to the city of Jerusalem – to bring sacrifice and offering to the Holy Temple – the place where, they believed, God resided – in the Holy of Holies.

  But this was historically a tense time for the Romans, who had ultimate control of the city, AND the Jewish leaders who stood between the Roman authorities and the Jewish enthusiasts. 

Remember, this was a celebration of liberation. A time to retell the story of how God had set them free. Yet, in many ways, they remained captive. They were now under the thumb of both the Roman political leaders who were in cahoots with the Jewish religious leaders. 

Passover would be the ideal time for liberation once again. That air was electric. The thirst for freedom – palpable. That was the scene as Jesus came into the city – riding on a donkey – through the narrow streets. Creating quite a stir as they laid cloaks and branches before him. As they exclaimed, “Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Remember Leihua’s chorus?

There is strength in the name of the Lord.
There is power in the name of the Lord.
There is hope in the name of the Lord.
Blessed is He who comes. 
In the name of the Lord.

Matthew tells us, the whole city was in turmoil.  The leaders where shaking in their boots as they asked, “Who is this?”  To which the crowds responded, “this is Jesus – the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Do you get a sense of the conflicts involved, split loyalties, a thirst for liberation? Jerusalem was a powder keg – ready to explode. 

But that was just the surroundings and that was just the timing. The one riding on the donkey was also in turmoil as he looked folks square in the eyes while they shouted words of praise knowing full well, they would, in just a few days, be shouting words of condemnation. Crucify! Crucify him! [Pause]

It didn’t take long until Jesus’ emotions erupted. He entered the temple and saw nothing but corruption as merchants were making good money off the pilgrims who needed to exchange their currency to buy doves or lambs for their Passover sacrifice. 

Jesus was hurt, angry, fearful, and deeply saddened as he witnessed so much hypocrisy taking place right before him in his Father’s house. 

Jerusalem was rife for revolution and the one at the center of it all was caught between ‘Hosanna and Heartache.’ [Pause]

It would be much more fun to preach a sermon today based solely on our need and desire to praise God – perhaps focus on the origins of the word, “hosanna.” Talk about the palms and how we, who are surrounded by such trees, can relate in ways those in colder climes cannot. But that would be irresponsible to the history of this day and to our contemporary experience. 

We know all too well this tension between hosanna and heartache because we carry that burden each day. And we see similar hypocrisies witnessed by our Lord in the actions of many who call themselves Christian, those who claim to follow the Prince of Peace, while demonstrating values that are far from anything, I believe, Jesus would embrace. 

This Palm Sunday, as we begin our own ride into Holy Week – our own Journey toward Jerusalem, I invite you to take your own inward journey. Check in with your soul. Become deeply aware of the conflicts that you carry – the burdens you bear. But then let’s take it one step further – let’s do something that begins to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of everyone around us. 

If you are as frustrated as I am about the mind-numbing violence – the senseless numbers of victims – either murdered or who have their lives destroyed because automatic assault weapons that are as easy to purchase as a hamburger and French fries then do something about it – write our mayor, our congressional representatives, our governor and let your voice be heard. And by all means, Vote!

Or if you are as heart-struck as I am at the pollution of our ‘āina which is our ‘ohana, our island home, then mālama our ‘āina, pick up trash when you are out walking. Just a few pieces make a whole lot of difference if we all do it.  

Or if you are concerned that the aloha spirit is waning here on our beautiful island than take time to look another in the eye. Smile. Offer “aloha.” Extend a helping hand or offer a hug, or encouraging word. Doing so changes lives. 

It does little good to lament and complain - only. And “thoughts and prayers” help – but they are not enough. We need to take action. We need to do something that makes a difference. To, as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

We live in this tension – between hosanna and heartache. And, Lord knows – I mean that literally – it may not get easier for a while. In fact, it might get worse. It certainly did for Jesus. But he demonstrated the way to deal with the conflict. It is certainly not to avoid it - but to ride into it. To confront it. And through personal sacrifice - to change it. His life example is something we ought to heed. We need to pray and then to do something. Imua – go forward into God’s new day. 

When my plans have fallen through.
And when my strength is nearly gone.
When there's nothing left to do.
But just depend on You.
Your strength through weakness to show.
We can know the Master's plan.
Extend the Master's hand.
When we come – we can go – we can do – in the name of the Lord.

Come, let us walk in the name of the Lord. Let us ride into Jerusalem. Let our hosanna and our heartache join hands as we commit ourselves to doing what we can to bring maluhia, to bring aloha, to bring hau’oli, to bring mana’olana into our home and into the streets.

  Hosanna. Blessed it the one who comes in the name of the Lord. 


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