The journey from 'Hosanna' to 'Crucify Him'- a talk given to Ruah Prayer Group

This talk was given to Ruah Prayer Group on the 27th of March 2015 in the Chapel of Adoration, Divine Master Convent, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.

Hard as it to believe, our Lenten journey is coming to an end. This Sunday, we celebrate Palm Sunday, a celebration observed by virtually all Christians -- Protestant, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox.  But for the Roman Catholic Church it is also Passion Sunday, known because during the Mass on Sunday, we will read the whole account of the Passion of our Lord. This year, we read the Gospel of St. Mark for both the entrance Gospel and the account of the Passion. In Mark’s fast-paced style, we see three different days of Holy Week in chapter 11 alone. The first eleven verses are what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. In a way, this feast has a bitter sweet taste.  Though it celebrates our King's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the procession leads straight to the Lord’s suffering and death on Calvary.

This procession down to Jerusalem is one of those very public moments in Jesus’ ministry.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were jammed into the holiest of holy cities, into those narrow little streets. Think of something like the St. Patrick’s Day parade being held on the cobblestones streets in Temple Bar here in Dublin!Jesus was approaching Jerusalem from the east.  Bethany and Bethphage are just to the east of Jerusalem.  The Mount of Olives is just east of the Temple.  The reason this is significant is because there were two processions into Jerusalem during the time of Passover.  One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class. Jesus came with no sword in his hand or crown on his head. On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor entered the city with his cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate's proclaimed the power of empire. With thousands of people pouring into Jerusalem, it would have been easy for Jesus to arrive inconspicuously. However he chose differently.

The first question we can ask ourselves is: “which procession are we in and who are we following?” We are part of the crowd. In the New Testament the crowd is always an ambiguous mob! Sometimes it is all the people. Sometimes it really is a mob. In a society which continues to become more and more secular, we are called to make very conscious choices for Christ. To leave behind the seduction of money, power, prestige, crowd mentality.

Some of the crowd will shout "Crucify him!" But some of the crowd who are in Mark’s Gospel are those who are with him on the Way as his followers. Imagine,the crowd was chanting at the top of their lungs, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the King.” And slowly, and gradually, the Hosannas became quieter and quieter and quieter. Then nothing.  By afternoon, another chant had begun, almost in a whisper, “crucify him,” softly, softly, louder, louder and finally bursting with power, “Crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify that man. Yes, one minute, we are singing Hosanna and then in almost the next breath, we are saying ‘Crucify him’.
But why were the crowd singing ‘Hosanna’ in the first place? The key lies in the word Hosanna which originally comes from Psalm 118:25 and the verse “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!”. By the time of Jesus this Psalm verse had found its way into common parlance as a greeting and blessing. When one looks into the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the word for Hosanna in Psalm 118:25 is translated σῶσον δή (soson dei) which means “save us”. I suppose it would be close to the Irish common usage, “God help us.
But want do we want Jesus to save us from? We can ask ourselves: "What does God save us from? We might say , God saves us from hell by gifting us with Heaven. I don't believe that the people lining the streets of Jerusalem were concerned really about "hell" when they were shouting out to Jesus.  If the Gospels hint at the crowd's motivation, it was that the people wanted to be "saved" from the Romans.  They wanted deliverance from an occupying army.
Can we dip down into our souls and be as honest with ourselves? When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from?  Save me from anger.  Save me from cancer.  Save me from depression.  Save me from debt.  Save me from conflict in my family.  Save me from boredom.  Save me from getting fired from my work.  Save me from the endless cycle of violence.  Save me from humiliation.  Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist.  Save me from bitterness.  Save me from arrogance.  Save me from loneliness.  Save me, God, save me from my fears.
Next question, how does God save us and do we want this gift even if we have to turn around our lives completely? The challenge for us on Palm Sunday is whether afterwards we are willing to walk in another procession along the Calvary Way, to Golgotha, or whether we are those stay and line the streets and mock as passerbys. Very few stayed with him at the foot of the cross, and even then, they stayed at "a distance." (Mark 15:40), except for John, Mary of Cleopas and Mary our Blessed Mother.
These are crucial inquiries for those of us who cling to the Christian faith. The answer to these questions (to the extent that there is any "answer" that makes sense at all) is embedded in the mystery of this coming week.  In other words, of Holy Week through to Good Friday and finally to Easter is the closest thing to an answer that we Christians have.  The answer is in the Cross. On that Cross, God makes a promise that in His Son, He will be with us to the end of time. God is not asking you to make a promise you cannot keep. God is asking you to believe a promise that only He can keep.
On the day of crucifixion the Crowd is Everyone because we all struggle with being faithful to the end. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in the encyclical ‘Deus Caritas Est’, that God's passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. God didn't just say he loved you, he showed it. The Scriptures tell us: God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners! Before we even knew God, before I even knew I needed God in my life, Jesus died for me. We might feel, Wait, there are a few things I've got to get right in my life first, and then I'll come to God." No! You come to God with your problems—the good, the bad, and the ugly. He takes us where we are at but doesn’t leave us where we are at.
God's love is very personal toward you. It doesn't matter where you've been, it doesn't matter what you've done, it doesn't matter what you've experienced — God loves you. It doesn't matter what you have thought about yourself or what other people may have said about you —God loves you. The cross is God's statement of just how much He loves you. When you think of the immensity of God's love, the first thing the Bible often asks us to do is to consider the price that was paid.
Together with his love for each one of us, his passion for justice and his anger at injustice — a passion and anger he inherited from the Hebrew prophets before him — led him to take increasingly large risks to show the contrast between the status quo (where Herod was king) and the kingdom of God. This contrast became evident for his followers on this celebration of the entrance into Jerusalem.
Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey. Sometimes people try to make personal statements by their choice of car. We have built an entire industrial complex around the notion that our cars somehow reflect who we are or who we want to be. There are so many stereotypical attitudes out there. A guy might want to think he is cool but flying around on a Harley Davidson and not on a Vespa scooter. A BMW as a transport choice might want to indicate that someone is rich or successful. Often people hire out a limo, because ‘I’m worth it’. The bigger the better.
But Jesus chose a young colt. Remember also that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for the census, on a donkey! Jesus intentionally chooses an unridden, untrained colt. Perhaps the unridden colt is a symbol that Jesus is trying something new that’s never been done before. This way isn’t safe, it hasn’t been test-driven and it is anything but tame. Jesus is preparing a new way, because He is the Way, the way that leads to the Father.
The Gospel tells us that the people brought the colt to Jesus and they threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. Other people spread their cloaks into the road, but others cut off leafy branches out of the fields and laid them down. So why did people put down their cloaks at the side of the road? In the Second Book of Kings, we are told that to place cloaks onto the path was a sign of royal homage."Cloaks" had just been referred to in the episode previous, the one in which Jesus heals a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Bartimaeus becomes a model disciple--he follows Jesus "on the way", he throws off his cloak. Those who are received into the Church through the sacraments of Christian Initiation wear a white garment to symbolise the newness of life. Jesus didn't own very much--just the tunic on his body and the sandals on his feet. After he was arrested and condemned, the soldiers tossed dice to see who would take his clothing. Even in death, they continued to strip him of his dignity.
Jesus didn’t have much but Jesus was a borrower. Jesus was born in a borrowed place and laid in a borrowed manger. As he travelled, he had no place of his own to spend the night. He rode into the city on a borrowed donkey. He ate his final meal in a borrowed room. He was crucified on a borrowed cross, wearing a borrowed crown that soldiers stuck upon his head. And when he died, somebody placed his body in a borrowed tomb.

Strangely so, all the excitement of the procession, the crowds chanting, the road strewn with coats and branches – it all leads up to, well, nothing. Jesus looks around, and then turns around and returns to Bethany. Whatever the disciples expected to happen, and whatever the crowds expected, just didn’t happen. Their expectations and Jesus’ agenda are worlds apart. It’s fine to have great expectations. But what happens when your expectations go unmet? We can be like the disciples, easily disillusioned when Jesus our King chooses another path. Perhaps we forget that inside every one of us resides aspects of each disciple: fear, confusion,betrayal;  mistrust;  denial;  doubt; intellect;  ego and so many more. However, “Hosanna”,and “Crucify him” screamed from the deepest core of my being, and screamed with absolutely no real understanding of what I am asking for, becomes the miraculous vocabulary with which God teaches me the meaning of unconditional love, mercy and salvation.
So yes, we are about to start the journey of the Passion. Of Jesus’ passion for each one of us. Jesus loved life passionately. What does it mean to be passionate? What are you passionate about? Often this is something that one might get asked in a job interview. Passion’ is a word so excessively used and almost always blindingly paired with work. Are you passionate about life? Passion gives us purpose, but more than that, it make us feel that we have purpose in our lives, that we are orientated towards a goal, that of our holiness and eternal life.
The road of following Jesus is not easy. People like St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day followed Jesus in radical, controversial ways and died of at ripe old ages. But there are also those like Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi who — like Jesus — were killed when they risked following Jesus’ way.

God steps out of grandeur to stand with us in awkward places at awful times to experience life and death.  Jesus entered Jerusalem in humility but was welcomed as a king.God answers our cries of "Hosanna" in ways so utterly unexpected that we look again to see if they can possibly be true. Is there any better way to commence Holy Week than with palms in our hands and "Hosannas" on our lips?  Is there any more faithful way to embark on this sacred journey than to ask God, out of the deep, honest places inside of us, to "Save us... please, save us"?
When Pope Francis inaugurated the Year of Consecrated Life, he set down as the aims: “to have grateful remembrance for the past, live the present with passion and embrace the future with hope.’ As we continue on this week of Passion, may we look at our Lenten journey with gratitude for the progress we have made. May the Gospel of Mark that we read and the Passion story which we will hear continue to haunt us, to challenge us, and to inspire us as we discern how God is calling us — today, in our time and place — to follow Jesus’ risky way of challenging the comfortable but done so with loving-kindness and gracious compassion. The Cross will be the tree of victory and salvation for all.    AMEN.
(Sr. M. Louise O' Rourke, pddm).