When I was a child growing up in the church, Palm Sunday was one of my favorite days. All of the kids would receive a palm branch upon arriving for worship, and we would get to parade around the sanctuary waving our branches. We would shout out “Hosanna!” at the appropriate time, and I remember feeling so proud as I waved my palm branch. In the Bible, the people who had waved their branches and shouted out “Hosanna!” were welcoming Jesus as King. To be asked to do the same thing seemed like a very important ask. It wasn’t a job to take lightly. We got to bring our palm branches home after church, and I remember wanting to hang onto it forever. I’d wave my branch throughout the day, and remember to myself, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
On that first Palm Sunday, for a brief moment, Jesus received the welcome of a king. The crowds thronged around him and his disciples shouted out that he was the promised one they had all been waiting for. We know the rest of the story: that the praise turned quickly to shouts of, “Crucify.” We know that the people soon became angry rather than filled with celebration because Jesus was not the kind of king they expected. He didn’t come with military might. He didn’t come to wage a war. He came on the back of a young donkey, and he submitted himself to death at the hands of the empire the people had wanted him to overthrow.
Jesus was not the king they were seeking.
This week, as I was studying this passage, I couldn’t help but notice what Luke includes right before this. Jesus told the people a parable about a man of royal birth who went to another place to get power for himself. Before he went away, he called together ten of his servants and asked them to do business with his money while he was away. He was hated by the citizens, and they sent someone to say they did not want him to be their king. The man did receive a kingdom while he was away, and when he returned he had the servants give account of the way they had managed his money. Three servants give account, two of them doing well with their master’s money. The third was afraid, and wrapped the money up in a scarf until the master returned. The master tells this one that he should have invested the money at the very least instead of hiding it in fear. Many of us know a version of this same story as “the parable of the talents.” But, what I find interesting about Luke placing this parable right before the story of the first Palm Sunday is that Jesus, just like the master who went to the distant land to receive his kingdom, found himself hated by the people who didn’t want the kind of kingdom he was bringing.
I find two things interesting about the way Luke tells the story of Palm Sunday: first, Luke does not include the word “Hosanna!” like Matthew does. “Hosanna!” always seemed like a shout of praise to me when I was a kid waving my palm branch on Palm Sunday. It sounded joyful, and because we never used the word on any other occasion, I believed it was a shout of praise for years after that. It wasn’t until I was studying the passage for a sermon years ago that I realized the word was actually a cry of desperation. “Hosanna!” means “Save us, please!” The people knew they needed saving, and they believe Jesus was the one who was able to set them free from their oppression. They did not understand that Jesus would be saving them in a different way – from the oppression of their sin – but they knew they needed saving all the same.
That shout of “Hosanna!” as a cry for help has become tremendously important to me over time. I remember one Palm Sunday, when the pain of loss was fresh for me, I clung to that word “Hosanna” like a promise. I cried out to God to save me during that time. That meaning of the word has been important to me this week, too, and maybe it has been for you, too. This is not a typical, joyful Palm Sunday spent together as a church. We are missing the in-person palm parade of children. Some of us might be feeling exhausted, or worn thin. Others of us might be feeling impatient or stir crazy. Others of us might be doing a bit better, but are longing for a return to normalcy. “Hosanna – save us!” meets us where we are, and promises that Jesus is listening and is able to save us.
I think it’s interesting that Luke doesn’t include the word in “Hosanna!” telling. But, the second thing I find interesting is something he includes that other accounts do not. As the disciples shouted out their praises while Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, some of the Pharisees told Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” And Jesus answered, “I tell you if they were silent, the stones would shout.”
Right now, our buildings may be silent. But rest assured, the stones are going to continue shouting out – the living stones, each one of us. As it says in 1 Peter 2, “Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine). That’s all of us. Even though the situation in our world right now has silenced our buildings, the stones will keep shouting out the praises of God. I wonder if, in this time of separation, if we will each find ways to worship God that will reverberate even more loudly around our town, our communities, and our world.
The truth is, the coronavirus has stolen a lot of things from us – our normalcy, our routines, our feelings of safety and security, our jobs, and being able to see people we love – and all of those losses hurt. But nothing can steal God’s love from us. Nothing can steal the glory and honor that are due to God. If the disciples hadn’t shouted out God’s praise, the stones would’ve cried out, because even now, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” Psalm 19 says it this way: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
This Palm Sunday, two things are rising to the surface from this story in Luke: the first is that nothing will stop the worship of God. The leaders couldn’t silence the disciples, but even if they had been able to, they could not have silenced the worship and praise. Today, as we are separated from one another, and as we are thrust into a time when we have to rethink the way we do most everything in our lives, we can rest assured that one thing hasn’t changed: who God is. God is still loving us. God is still guiding us and caring for us. And God is still worthy of our praise. Whether we are all gathered in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning or whether we are all sitting on couches or chairs in our own homes on a Sunday, God is still being worshiped.
But, the second thing that rises up out of this text for me is that even if we are unable to worship for whatever reason, God will still be glorified. The situation we are in is one that none of us have ever been in before. The uncertainties, the questions, the struggles may be unlike any we have ever experienced. Some of us may be feeling anxious. Others of us are afraid. Some of us may be angry. And some of us may be grieving. We may feel unable to open our mouths and praise. If that is you, if you are finding your heart hurting and yourself unable to sing praises, even if you are silent, the stones will shout. Whether your heart is full and overflowing with worship this morning, or you are struggling to whisper to God, the stones are shouting out today.
If you are able to do so safely today, I invite you to spend some time outside. Or, if you cannot be outside, open a window and listen. Close your eyes. Allow your breathing to slow down. And listen. And you will hear it. Jesus, our Savior, is drawing near, and creation is giving him all the praise and glory. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Let’s wave our branches and shout out our praises to God. He is drawing near, and he will never leave us nor forsake us. Amen.