They were right in ways that they could not begin to anticipate, and if that is not an expression of just how strange it is to be human, then I guess I just don’t know what is. To say something that you don’t fully understand, and then to watch on as circumstances go ahead and spin wildly out of control, and then that first thing you said, that “blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” well, that begins to mean something you couldn’t have begun to anticipate. Man, oh man, words that were once safe and secure, they can explode into something else entirely. No doubt, it is different to say “I love you” at the altar, all fragrant breathe and bursting flowers than to utter those words from a chair in a hospital bed. Because, yes, they were absolutely right to praise him for his deeds of power. To call upon him as the King who will restore God’s kingdom on this earth. I mean, really, the evidence was all there. Had they not watched him bind up the broken-hearted, forgive the proud and the lonely alike, heal the sick, cure the blind, restore those afflicted by demonic forces? Who in their right mind would not praise such things? Yes, this carpenter from the sticks up north, he of questionable background, somehow, it was in him that this awesome power of God dwelt. And to watch him approach Jerusalem, serene, in control, accepting their praises and with cool defiance refusing those Pharisees, well, this was to be part of something. Something that could turn around a life full of disappointment, something that could take of you out of your anonymity and make you part of a movement, in a word, could make you visible. This was one of those moments that you could tell the grandkids about and they would look in appreciation and ask for every last detail, in their eyes you suddenly transformed into a hero. Those hosannas that brought down the Empire, how had they first sounded?
And so we, we from our privileged vantage point outside of this story, we must not look on them with so much cruelty. Yes, as we watch this crowd throughout the week, as we see them first shout praises and then later shout for blood, as we watch the disciples move from loyalty to self-preservation, we can certainly scorn them as though we were somehow different sort of creatures. Yes, that because we know the ending, we would have fared somehow better during the previous parts of the story. But that’s just self-serving delusion. We ourselves must not pretend as though we can escape that first crowd’s fate. Who, indeed, understands the weight of their own words? “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” we will soon sing, which means that we are them. We sing the same praises with the same mixture of confusion and clarity. We ask of Jesus things like healing and salvation, and perhaps, just perhaps, we might not know exactly what we are saying. These are big words. And so when we say these words, just what do we expect from them? What did that first crowd expect with their own hosannas?
Back to that first crowd then. What did they believe they were saying? How did their own sense of these words betray them in the coming days? Yes, no doubt, to see this Jesus accept their praises, to see him orchestrate this scene quite literally fit for royalty, this was to believe that at last their King had come. That Jesus was to be a political Messiah, one who go to battle, and God-willing to victory, against this people’s Roman occupiers and those slick religious elites that had jumped into bed with them. All those years of being ground down by foreigners, all that money paid to corrupt tax-collectors, all those years of housing soldiers who thanklessly ate your bread and leered at your wife and daugthers, at long last all of that would be brought to an end. God’s justice would be visited on Israel’s enemies, and that great lineage of David at last restored. And if you are going to topple power like that, you certainly couldn’t ask for a better leader than this Jesus, could you? And wasn’t the fact that he already had a few zealots amongst his followers more than a little suspicious? And what of his accepting of their praises? Didn’t that signal that, yes, he was on board with their mission?
And here is where things get oh so complicated. Because this crowd will get that for which it deeply yearns. God’s justice will be made manifest; God will again be reconciled to God’s people. The righteousness of God will indeed be poured out on all flesh. This crowd’s words are not in vain. But how all of this will be accomplished, yes, that is a reality that will surprise, offend and shock them to the core. Talk about getting more than you could possibly ask for. They will, in the end, come to realize the incredible weight of their praises; they will come to see in their simple and straightforward adulations a world and a God that is infinitely more complex and gracious than they could have ever anticipated.
And what, then, of us? If those first witnesses of Jesus’ entry are to be surprised, how do we expect to fare any differently? Though we might have more of an idea of how this story moves forward, that does mean it is any less unsettling to our sense of how this world functions, any less of a disruption to the way we carve up insiders and outsiders, the righteous and the destitute. I mean, what if, in our desperate cries for forgiveness, what if we were to find ourselves reconciled to those who have caused us trouble in the past? When we ask for salvation, we were to get a God who asks us to stand-by while God accomplishes all things with and for us? How offensive and strange to our sense of agency and self-worth! When we ask for healing that we then might be asked to let go of those resentments and anger that have somehow fueled us in the past? When we ask for purpose and meaning in this life, what if were to receive a God who gives us not wealth, ease or even recognition, but a life of service to our neighbors? Yes, have we any real idea of what we are asking in this all of this? Of what it might mean should our cries be answered? Like I said, in a few short minutes, we will join our voices to that ancient chorus of “Hosanna in the Highest;” that is, if we dare.