There’s always something new to discover in every biblical story.
For the longest time, I’ve never asked an important question about today’s passage from Mark 11:1-11: what does hosanna actually mean? I’ve always assumed that hosanna was a word about rejoicing, sort of like a biblical version of the word “hooray!” That words seems to fit this context. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and there is a crowd (of uncertain size) following him. They are waving branches and shouting as he rode into the city. They keep shouting that this whole scene and event is blessed. Hooray is the right word for this context. But hosanna isn’t just a shout of joy. It’s actually a prayer. And it’s saying, “Lord, save!”
Another translation, using the Hebrew words the greek words in this passage are based on, might be “I beg you to save” or “deliver us!” This are pretty forceful prayers. They are the prayers we say when we are under extreme duress. When we are suffering from anxiety, fear, oppression, or illness, we want to be saved. We pray that God will show up immediately. The crowd is doing more than just celebrating Jesus showing up. They are praying, and expecting, Jesus to save and deliver them. They expected Jesus to act.
But what did they expect him to do? Jesus is entering the city around the time of the Passover. The city of Jerusalem might have double or tripled in size with tourists and pilgrims. The Roman governors would re-establish their physical presence in the city. Religious and civil authorities would do whatever they could to keep the crowds under control. And as the story of Passover was retold, and the people re-experienced their release from the oppressive role of the Pharaoh, many wanted to make that story a reality by overthrowing the oppressive rule of Rome. On one level, everyone was expecting some kind of action to take place. What they didn’t expect was for someone to just be acted on.
But being acted on is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was arrested. He was put on trial. He was convicted. He was hung on the Cross. A prayer for saving is a prayer asking for God to act. Yet it was the Jesus who refused to act in the ways we expect that ended up saving everyone.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings/other readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Palm & Passion Sunday, 3/25/2018.