Palm Sunday :: God’s Hesed

“God’s steadfast love endures forever!”

Palm Sunday A.gif

Hosanna! Lord. Hosanna!

This day we are not mere passive recipients of Christian Worship. Truth be told, for a Eucharistic community as ours, we can never fully be passive recipients in worship. But today, we are invited to go all out. To let our hair down. To act even a bit crazy by waving Palm fronds high overhead as we greet the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

[Other actions of the congregation during Holy Week and Easter…]

Feet washing

Altar stripping

Cross venerating

I used to get paid pretty good money for playing in Easter extravaganzas in the 1970s and 80s equivalent of today's mega churches. I somewhat enjoyed those no-holds-barred events, but I felt kinda bad for the congregations, which were like much more of an audience at an off-off Broadway Musical than a worshipping congregation. They had no part to play. Oh they clapped and cheered at all the right places, but in terms of really being present, part of the action, they were not. Just passive recipients of a religious spectacle ala the mystery plays of Medieval Europe.

But we, today and all week, are invited to take on the flesh and bones of that last week in the life of our Lord. We are in fact invited to participate in some quite subversive acts of street theatre.

Subversive? you may ask. Yes indeed! Here’s what I mean. Jesus planned his entry in great detail. He knows what he is doing:

Coming from the Mount of Olives, traditionally viewed as the place from which the conquering king would come

He rides on a donkey [a young one at that], rather than on a stallion fit for a king

People strew branches and cloaks along the way, as they would for a conqueror

Shouts of Hosanna! Save us! Blessed is our new king from David's line!

Rather comical scene this: poking fun at more worthy kings and conquerors? Rather subversive too, wouldn’t you say. Subversive enough to get a man killed!

And we are playing our part today. Branches of Palm, shouts of Hosanna! Yea King! We are being asked to join in on this act of announcing a new type of king for a new type of reign.

And, if you think about it, the actions of which we are a part the rest of this week are actions which upset the normal order of things:

Washing one another’s feet as a supreme sign of humility and service dedicated to following the command of Jesus

Kneeling and praying at the foot of the Cross, the extreme instrument of torture and death reserved for political prisoners

Keeping watch at the tomb of the man whom we greeted only a week earlier with shouts of joy

Re-hearing the story of salvation history whereby God, the Creator of all, reminds us of the steadfast love given to us through Jesus

And, each day, lining up at the altar of God to receive Christ’s Body and Blood, remembering that steadfast love which still strengthens and saves

It is that steadfast love of God which the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 118 today that really permeates our entire week:

"O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,

'His steadfast love endures forever.'”

It is too bad that our BCP translation uses “mercy” instead of “steadfast love”. The Hebrew for this steadfast love of God is hesed and it comes from the same root as the word for womb. The psalmist is giving thanks to God for that love which has sustained and nourished the people of Israel through the ages. Such is the depth of thanksgiving to God that the psalmist calls for the gates of righteousness, the gates of God, to be opened, that the righteous may enter, waving branches of victory palms and shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” at the top of their lungs. The image is one of joy and praise for God who desires to save God’s people.

And so today, we join with the righteous in active shouts of praise and joy and thanksgiving, as the psalmist and the congregation of Israel did those many, many years ago, and, indeed, as did those who greeted Jesus upon his entry into the great city. Yet, at the risk of sounding proud, we have more to be thankful for don’t we? For we know how the story ends. Or rather, how the story of death ended and God’s new story of steadfast love and new life in Christ began. So we are at an advantage here today. We can wave our palm fronds and raise our songs of joy and cry out Hosanna! Save us! because we know we have been saved.

But this active act of worship mustn’t end here. We must go form this place today and tomorrow and next week and forever to actively work to bring the news of God’s steadfast love—God’s “hesed”—to all with whom we come in contact. Our act of worship must translate into acts of service and proclamation to a world in dire need of what God offers. Steadfast love that endures forever.

Now that’s something to shout “Hosanna!" about!

Link to RCL Lectionary for Palm Sunday, Year B

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