Lent 6 – Palm Sunday March 25, 2018
Text: Ps.118:25-26 His Mercy Endures Forever: The Savior in the Psalms
Theme: Hosanna in the Highest! 18:2061
When people experience deeply emotional events or face sudden and desperate situations, there are some specific words that often escape their lips. Sometimes they are cries of fear; at other times they are expressions of gratitude.
For example, when men take on intense enemy fire in battle and fall mortally wounded, for whom do they often cry? In fear and agony, when life is slipping away, often the cry for “mother” comes pouring from the lips of grown men. In less desperate situations, yet still dangerous and emotional, the cry of “Help!” goes out. Or, in contrast, when people are reunited after a long time of separation, a loving embrace matched with the cry, “I love you,” are expressed. Specific words are often used in highly emotional situations.
Such was the case with the opening words of our text. Our English Bibles give us an extended sentence: “O LORD, save us now!” But in the original Hebrew language that sentence consists of just one word. It is a word which is very familiar to you. We sing it several times a month in our worship services: “Hosanna!” It means, “O LORD, save us now.” Hosanna!
It was sung by the Jews every year at the Passover. It was shouted by the crowds as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It has been sung for centuries by Christians just before they receive the Lord’s Supper. Hosanna in the Highest! It has a two-fold sense to it.
I. It is first an intense plea in time of distress. It is a plea for God’s rescue: “O LORD, save us now; O LORD, grant us success!” And maybe we just can’t capture the passion, the emotion, the intense desperation that the Hebrew expresses in that one word.
You must imagine yourself trapped in a corner, squeezed tightly on all sides with no avenue of escape. Danger and evil press closer and closer until, smothered by fear, it feels like fingers are wrapped around your neck, squeezing the breath from you. You are desperate to get away, to escape. You long for physical and emotional relief. You long to be saved – not just protected but saved, freed from the threat. “Hosanna. O LORD, save us now!” It is an intense plea in time of distress. And it fit the Passover perfectly.
In the Old Testament, at the time of the first Passover, pharaoh in
Egypt made Israel’s slavery under him most painful. He kept tightening his grip on their necks until God intervened with His plagues. After Israel fled, pharaoh chased them down with his chariots, pinning them against the Red Sea and threatening to slaughter them, scattering their bodies across the desert. Israel felt helpless. The desperate cry, “Hosanna!” was their only hope. It shouldn’t surprise you then that this psalm was sung as a part of their yearly Passover remembrance to mark their time of deep distress when the Lord came to their rescue.
In the New Testament, “Hosanna” fits the time of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, too, though not for the same reason. Israel once again felt the iron grip of a foreign power’s control over them. They longed to be free from the tyranny of Rome. But Rome was not their most punishing enemy. Sin and unbelief were. Those evils had caught not only Israel but the whole world in a stranglehold from which only Jesus could release them. The crowds cried Hosanna as Jesus entered Jerusalem. And you see it as a happy cry, which it was. But for those who were truly aware of their desperate situation, this was an intense plea to Jesus for help in time of distress.
Do you see “Hosanna” that way? Is there reason for us to utter such a fervent plea? Perhaps we aren’t inclined to sense such intense danger in our present-day struggles as Israel did. But we are in no less a time of distress than they were. Our eyes, at times, are just not open enough to see it, or we easily delude ourselves.
But then I watch as young people dabble with drugs and watch their dabbling progress to a fight with addiction. It robs them of their youth and threatens to take away their lives so prematurely.
I watch others whose earthly ambitions or failure to trust God to provide drive them towards an early heart-attack, neglect of their children, and an end to their marriage.
I see families whose obsession with recreation or sports threaten to become a rival god, which slowly drains their connection with God from them and they don’t even realize it.
I see a nation of people bickering among themselves as to their politics and their social needs, only thinking about their own situation, invoking the name of God, but having hearts that are far from Him.
Then I look at myself, and with David cry, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD, O LORD, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy…. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me…. Save me from guilt, O God, the God who saves
me” (Ps.130:1-2; 51:3,14).)
Hosanna. O LORD, save us now ought to be everyone’s intense plea in our time of distress. But that plea becomes more, for when God answers the plea, it no longer is a cry of desperation. Instead it takes on…
II. …a joyful cry of blessing in time of rescue.
Imagine yourself lost in a forest. Panic stricken, you begin to run. But in your terror and confusion, you have no idea which way to go. Frantically you run this way and that way. You reverse your direction constantly, all the time crying, “Help! Help!” But there is no one to hear.
Now imagine that a rescue effort has been organized and that a team is on their way. A helicopter circling overhead gives you the first hint that help is on the way. Soon the bellowing of dogs and the sound of people thrashing through the underbrush alert you to the fact that help is arriving. You may still shout, “Help! Help! Over here!” But now there is less of fear and more of anticipation in your heart.
That’s the way it now turns with the song: Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! It starts as an intense plea in distress. But when help is on the way, it becomes a joyful cry of blessing in time of rescue.
That’s what really took place on Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The rescue team had arrived, made up of one person, the only one who could go to the cross and save us from our plight. He was “coming in the Lord’s name,” coming to do the work that God had long revealed would rescue us from the Fall into sin. Finally, after long years of waiting, the hour of deliverance was at hand. And those who believed and understood in Jerusalem shouted in great anticipation of the eternal “success” God would accomplish through Christ. So, as He approached they sang, “Hosanna in the Highest!” In Him the Lord answered our cries for forgiveness.
Now you can begin to see more fully the significance of this song on Palm Sunday. Here came the real Passover Lamb, chosen by God to shed His blood so that the angel of eternal death would pass over us and bring us no harm.
You know, this is the song you sing every communion Sunday just before you come up here to receive the Sacrament. That is not by accident. It was no arbitrary decision that led our Christian forefathers, already centuries ago, to bring these words into the service leading to the Lord’s Supper. Hosanna in the Highest! “Lord, save us now!”
At first it is a plea as we confess our sins. But then, in the assurance of Christ’s forgiveness, the very reason for which He came to Jerusalem that Palm Sunday so many years ago, it becomes our joyful cry of blessing in the rescue over sin, death, and hell that He won for us.
So, as we celebrate it again, we will come to this altar as sinners, dragging our transgressions with us. We cry, “Hosanna!” And then what do we see? You won’t see the body of our Savior seated on a donkey riding through the streets of Jerusalem, but you will see the body and blood of our Savior, in, with, and under the bread and the wine coming to us in the Sacrament. This is the body given for you. This is the blood shed for you. And this is the pronouncement you hear: “Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.”
He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. He comes with the full authority of heaven behind Him. If He tells you here that your sins are forgiven, then they are forgiven. If He tells you here that God loves you with an everlasting love, then God loves you in such a way. If He claims you here as His own, then you are His own. These are joyful blessings to receive, blessings of His rescue. And for that we sing, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest.”
God grant you these blessed thoughts this Palm Sunday and throughout the Holy Week that lies ahead, for this week we see our fervent plea in our time of sin’s distress answered, and our joyful blessing begin in the rescue Christ has won. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.