Singing Hosanna; Screaming Crucify – Br. James Koester

James Koester SSJEIt’s spring after a long, cold, raw winter. Things are finally beginning to warm up. The flowers are blooming. People are beginning to emerge and the shops and markets are doing a booming business ahead of the holiday that is just around the corner. The city is filling up with visitors and there is a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air as folks look forward to seeing friends and family that they haven’t see in months. But mixed with this excitement is a foreboding dread of what might happen. Each year it is the same: excitement mixed with dread; dread mixed with excitement.

I could be talking about Boston as we approach this year’s Marathon Weekend, but I am actually talking about Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. The city was filling up with pilgrims and tourists ahead of the Passover holy days. Things were getting busy in the shops. And in all directions pens of lambs ready for the slaughter could be seen. What was troubling however, were the armed soldiers. They were everywhere. And more were on the way.

It was into this scene that Jesus and his followers arrive that first Palm Sunday, coming down the Mount of Olives towards the city. Some of us here have walked that same route, beginning at Bethpage and ending at Gethsemane at the foot of the mountain. Right across the valley is the Temple Mount where once stood the Temple in all its glory. Even today you cannot but have a sense of awe and excitement as you follow the route that Jesus took so long ago.

But just a then, so now; the armed presence in Jerusalem is nothing less than foreboding. Some days they seem to be everywhere. And just as Jesus and his band of followers approached the city from the east, somewhere towards the west more reinforcements were on the way, in the form of the Roman army.

The contrast could not be clearer. From the east came a ragtag band of women and men, following a charismatic leader riding a donkey, praying one of the pilgrim psalms: Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them, I will offer thanks to the Lord. … Hosanna, Lord, Hosanna! Lord, send us now success. Coming from the other direction was rank upon rank of highly trained, professional and no doubt experienced Roman soldiers in perfect formation, lead, not by a charismatic leader on a donkey, but a hardened military commander on an immense charger. Even without drawing weapons, the scene was meant to intimidate. Caught between the donkey and charger and all that they represented was the city of Jerusalem.

The events of this week will play out the tension between these two scenes. The whole city will be caught between Jesus and the Roman authorities. Hosanna will be on the lips of some; while others will scream out: We have no king but Caesar and Let him be crucified! Let him be crucified! No doubt there were some, caught up in the excitement of the moment, who cried out both that bleak, black week.

We see this scene acted out in the gospels and even now we can feel the tension between the excitement of Jesus and the dread of Rome. We hear the echoes of Hosanna and Crucify reverberating in the air to our own day, and sometimes to our utter shock and horror we hear the same voice crying out both, and the voice is ours. The voice is ours.

Like the residents of Jerusalem so long ago we too are caught up in cries of Hosanna and screams of Crucify. Like the residents of Jerusalem we too are fickle in our loyalty following first one and then the other.

This week of all weeks is an exhausting journey because it lays bare for all to see how, even today, we are torn between choices. Sometimes our choices are good, and right and just and in them we hear the echo of that long ago Hosanna. Sometimes our choices are wrong, and selfish and just plain sinful and in them we hear the echo of that long ago Crucify.

But we cannot know the power of the Empty Tomb without first knowing the fear of Good Friday. We cannot know the power of Father forgive, without first knowing the ugliness of Crucify. And we cannot know our need of a saviour, both ours and the worlds, without first walking the path that leads from the palm strewn road of Palm Sunday to the fear filled road of Good Friday.

This week is not an easy week because in it we will discover once more all that is within us, both light and dark, both good and evil. But all who seek the Garden of the Resurrection must walk this way. We must hear ourselves sing out Hosanna and we must listen as we scream Crucify. And today we have done just that. We have done just that: singing hosanna and screaming crucify.

Our journey to the Garden has begun. May God grant us all the courage and grace to continue it, so that we may know the power of God’s love which removes from our lips the stain of crucify and places upon them the bloom of hosanna.  Our journey to the Garden of the Resurrection must pass this way, so let us begin. Let us begin.

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  1. Ruth West on March 28, 2018 at 23:07

    Christianity is truly a religion of contrasts. You have spelled that out so clearly in this sermon. Jesus was so opposite of what was expected by the people, the non-believers. Even up to his last minutes on the cross when they said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” We might have expected that, as God, he would simply strike them dead in their tracks. But no, He was and IS the God of compassion. Most of all, the God of love, who came to set us free. just as he saved the thief on the cross.

  2. Marta Engdahl on March 27, 2018 at 16:56

    I think that every day, and maybe every moment, we are faced, as Christians, with the backgrounds of the hope of Hosannas as well as the fears of “Crucify”. The world is such a busy place of temptations, and we are so fragile and tempted to the evils that promote the fears of crucify. I pray the psalms . I recently read of a technique of learning to become more quiet; that is, for the first phrase of a stanza in a Psalm, pray the first phrase on inspiration of breathe, and then on the second half of that stanza (or the phrase), exhale. It is a way to bond the words of the Psalm on one’s body, and leads to a habit of prayer, quiet and calmness.
    May each have a blessed Holy Week and a Joyous Easter!

  3. Margaret Dungan on March 26, 2018 at 10:31

    Thank you Br. James

    You have made the road that we are on very clear. There is no escaping it’s gravity and no escaping how difficulty
    a road it is. May we always here the word of our Lord ” Low I am with you always to the end of time”.


  4. David Hollingsworth on April 14, 2014 at 02:42

    I have visited the Garden of Gethsemani and it is probably the MOST impressive and spiritually moving of all the holy places that I visited there. You could just feel the agony but also a certain peace and presence. Words cannot describe it. Oh, and during this time the cops are kept busy because of all the religious orders that fight wrangle and raise hell to get into the different churches. Thank God the Orthodox Christians do their Easter thing by the Julian calendar; helps relieve the hassle a bit – but I believe this year their Easter comes at about the same time as ours.

  5. Diane Barnhill on April 13, 2014 at 20:26

    You can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.

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