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Sermon for 25 March

 

Palm Sunday

Mark 11:1-11


There are plenty of phrases in everyday use that come from the bible - Can a leopard change his spots is from Jeremiah, To be Broken hearted is from Psalm 34 and The twinkling of an eye first appears in 1 Corinthians. Somehow though ‘Hosanna’ never quite made the leap from bible to ordinary, everyday English. 

I’m assuming that nobody has ever shouted it out when your team scored the winning goal or try in the match you were watching - ‘Get in! Hosanna!’. Nor when you opened that perfect present that you’d been hoping and hoping you’d be given for your birthday’ - ‘Oh, Hosanna, thank you!’. 

Hosanna is a Palm Sunday word. 

It’s the word that opens the door to this holiest of weeks. The week that starts today and which will, for many of us, shape our time, our thoughts and our prayers for the next 7 days. And I want to spend a few minutes with this word - ‘Hosanna!’

The word is used just once in the Old Testament. It’s in Psalm 118. And it’s Psalm 118 that the crowds are quoting when they shout out to Jesus as he rides the donkey into Jerusalem. Hosanna in the highest.

And it means ‘Save us’. It’s a shout of desperate pleading - ‘help, save us’ - it’s what you would shout if you fell into the sea, as you struggled to keep your head above water. ‘Save me’. 

In fact Psalm 118 says almost exactly that - ‘Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.’ - I was drowning, cried, screamed for help, and God saved me and put me back on dry land. 

But as that makes clear, it’s not quite the shout of someone who’s drowning and who knows they’re doomed - it’s the shout of someone who needs help very urgently, and can see that it’s available. It’s shouting to the person you can see on the land nearby. ‘Hosanna’ is both desperate and hopeful. It knows there is a terrible problem, and it holds on to the hope that a solution is at hand. 

So today is the day we hear the crowd shout ‘Save us, please, please God, save us!’ And they’re shouting it at Jesus, in whom they have seen something hopeful. They are desperate for help, and they know that help is within reach. 

And that’s how Holy Week starts. And it should start for us today as well. ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven.’ Save us Lord, please, please, come from heaven and save us. We need help, and we know you can provide it.

And of course the question is - what do we need to be saved from? What do you need to be saved from? Really. Because that’s what this whole week is about. This week we are invited to engage at the very deepest level with that question - what do I need to be saved from? What do we need to be saved from?


So what do you need to be saved from?


I heard a story about a priest who went into a Secondary School to do a kind of ‘Quiz the vicar’ session. The kids had been invited to write questions for him on cards. He had 12 cards and four of them said ‘Is Jesus the only way to salvation?’

Being an annoying priest, before answering that question, he asked one in return - ‘Since salvation implies being saved from something, what do you need to be saved from?’ Answers came back from the teenagers, but they were all trying to give the right answers - trying to give the kind of answer that a priest would want to hear. So he tried a different tack - ‘if God really knew what he was doing, what would he save you from?’ And that got the conversation going. One said "Death."  Another that God could really help him out by saving him from an upcoming maths test.  Then one of the kids said, "Pressure."  And another, "My parents' expectations."  Then another, shy individual, almost in a whisper said, "Fear. I want God to save me from my fears.”

And I imagine that range of answers was also there in the crowd as Jesus rode into town and they shouted out ‘Hosanna, help me Lord, Save me’ They wanted to be saved from their practical sufferings; hunger and grinding poverty; their violent neighbour and the risk of unemployment; from ill health and anxiety. And they wanted to be saved from those deeper things that suck us down into the dark waters - the fear of death and an un-nameable sense of shame; that thing we once did which we can’t be forgiven for; they wanted to be saved from themselves, from their sins and from their estrangement from God. All of that was true then, and all of it is true now.

What do you need to be saved from?

What are the very real, day to day worries and fears?

What are the deep down, un-nameable fears?

What do you need to be saved from?


And here’s the wonderful thing about Holy Week. It offers us both diagnosis of and deliverance from those fears. 

The next 7 days, as we watch Jesus breaking bread, washing feet, facing brutality and torture, being found guilty despite his innocence, receiving a crown of thorns and a wooden cross, having nails forced through his flesh before being lifted up to die a horrific death, being buried in a stone tomb before the wonder and astonishment of Easter Day, as we walk with Jesus through this next week, we are offered the chance to face our deepest fears and to hear God’s response. This week we get to cry out honestly and from the depths of our being - ‘please, please Lord, save me’ and we get to hear the response - ‘I was dead, and am alive’, ‘peace be with you’, ‘do not be afraid’, ‘Father forgive’. 


So here’s a suggestion - a challenge - for this week. 

Don’t let it just be another week, one with a couple more church services than usual and some chocolate at the end. Let this week be different - let it be holy and set aside. Make time and space for that question - what do you need to be saved from? What is your cry of Hosanna? The very practical challenges that face you, and the really deep down fears that you rarely acknowledge. And bring those things to Thursday as your feet are washed and Jesus declares bread and wine to be his body and blood. Bring them to the cross, as he is crucified and dies. Bring them to the empty waiting of Saturday. Bring them to the foolish joy of the empty tomb on Sunday.

This week, let the Holy Spirit do deep-down work with you, in those places you don’t go very often, and where you don’t want others to go; let God in, hear him ask the question ‘what do you need to be saved from?’ and find yourself saying to Him ‘Hosanna, Save me Lord. Save me’

Amen

 

Going Deeper

  1. What does the word 'Hosanna' make you think of?
  2. Read Psalm 118, where the word 'Hosanna' first appears. What do you notice? What strikes you?
  3. In so far as you feel ready, share what you need to be saved from with each other.
  4. In so far as you feel ready, share any experiences you have had of being 'saved' by God
  5. Share your experience of Holy Week. 
Posted: 27-03-2018 at 13:18
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