The word “Hosanna” has become synonymous with the word “praise”. Praise means more literally to “admire the face”. John begins his Gospel by proclaiming that Jesus is the Word and the Word was God and the Word became flesh. And the people in the crowd looked into the face of God and admired the Creator, Who came as His own creation to His own creation. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only has made Him known (John 1). They walked with Him, talked with Him, and looked into His eyes. They heard His voice, they smelled His scent, they touched His hands and He touched them.
Yet, the word “Hosanna” is a Hebrew word of the Old Testament. It truly means “Help [us]” or “Save [us]”. The people were chanting “Help us; Save us. Help us; Save us”.
Usually these are words you shout when you are in distress. But the people were also waving palm branches. These were symbols of celebration. They used palm branches in other festivals, such as the Feast of Tabernacles. The palm branches were used to build temporary shelters as they celebrated and remembered their 40 years in the wilderness [Feast of Tabernacles].
In some ways it must have felt as if they were still wandering in the wilderness. Even though they were no longer in exile; even though they were living in their own land again, it was not their home. The Romans were in charge and sat on the throne. The Jews had no official army or way of reclaiming their land from their enemies. The best they could do was cooperate and live peaceful lives to the best of their ability.
The palm branches were also a Roman symbol of celebration and victory. The Romans used them in celebrating military successes. The crowd waved the branches as a premature sign of victory. Jesus was coming as their King. He would bring them success. He would save them from their enemies. And they began to chant, “Help us; Save us. Help us; Save us”!
It is a paradoxical proclamation. They were shouting words of desperation while waving branches of celebration. In a few short chapters (and less than five days) they will chant words of condemnation. They will shout, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him”.
So often we are living in the same state of paradox. We want Jesus to save us. We want God to arrive on the scene and help us. We are jumping and shouting and waving branches of celebration. Yet, when God reveals Himself, we are ready to crucify Him. We only want God involved in our time, at our convenience, in the manor of our choosing. But we have to decide. We cannot have it both ways.
God desires to save us. God truly wants to help us. And, truthfully, we really need His help. We really need Him to save us. But God is willing to allow us our own free will. He will let us cry out, “crucify Him” as He willingly lays down His life. He will even let us go our own way.
On Palm Sunday, will you be one of the crowd who shouts, “Hosanna. Save us.”? Or will we hear your voice on Good Friday shouting, “crucify Him”? This Palm Sunday, instead of laying your palm branches at His feet, it may be time to lay your heart at the foot of the cross.
Happy and Blessed Palm Sunday!