Have you ever been in a parade? I’d never intended to be, but one year when I was in high school I was drafted to walk in Greensboro’s Fourth of July parade when my sister’s middle school cheerleading squad needed extra people to carry a banner while they performed. Even though I wasn’t part of the team the excitement was infectious, the cheers from those gathered on the streets of downtown were electrifying as people celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. Parades fill us with joy and excitement. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is something I look forward to watching every year with my family while starting to cook. The second time I was in a parade was a bit different. It was in my first year of teaching, while waiting for a call. On May 16, 2018 I and about 18,000 other educators, parents, and students paraded through the streets of the state capitol in the March for Students and Rally for Respect where we pleaded with lawmakers to increase educational funding in the state. There were fewer bystanders for that particular parade, but there was a feeling of determination in the air from those gathered, hoping that by speaking up together, rather than individually we would better be able to advocate for our students so they would get the resources they deserved.
When we imagine Palm Sunday processions we imagine something that looks quite a bit like a celebratory 4th of July parade. There’s shouts and music and the waiving of bright green palm branches filling the church and shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ filling the air. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is certainly something to be celebrated but if that’s all we’re looking at in our Gospel reading this morning we’re only getting a fraction of the story. You see, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and colt is more than just a parade.
As Jesus rides through the city, Matthew tells us that the people shouted ‘Hosanna!’ just as many churches often do during Palm Sunday. Until fairly recently I thought that the word Hosanna was an acclamation of praise, celebration, and adoration, a way of honoring the one who comes in the name of the Lord. It turns out the word Hosanna holds much more meaning than that. While Hosanna does indeed mean all of those things the word is most accurately translated “Save us!” That knowledge absolutely revolutionized how I see our Gospel reading this morning.
While Jesus is the figure on whom the Gospel focuses he is by no means the only one with a role to play, the crowds gathered were poor, oppressed, and lived under occupation by the Roman government. In spite of the danger they could put themselves in by their actions, they paraded to the sides of the road in the city, But the people gathered together as Jesus entered the city weren’t there to celebrate. They were asking for help and they knew the one who could save them was Jesus! They gathered together to amplify their voices to be heard louder than any one of them could be independently. It was an act of resistance to the injustice they were experiencing. It was an act of defiance against their oppressors and an act of hope that together their cries would be heard. And the one they cry out to is not the Emperor of Rome, the very essence of power and might, but to Jesus, God in human form, who humbly entered the city on the backs of pack animals.
This Palm Sunday looks and feels quite a bit different, doesn’t it? And we know that Holy Week will too. Yet, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic the cries of Hosanna echo with the same spark of resistance that they held all those years ago. We cry Hosanna for our City, we cry Hosanna for our country, we cry Hosanna for our world, and we cry Hosanna for those who aren’t able to cry out for themselves.
The New York Times wrote two pieces this week that caught my attention the first talked about how many of New York’s biggest Coronavirus hotspots are in some of the City’s poorest areas, with some of our most oppressed neighbors and also that the Pandemic has united researchers in collaboration on a single topic on a scale unrivaled in human history. And so together this Palm Sunday we cry out Hosanna in resistance, in defiance, and in hope, knowing that God is with us. Hosanna in the Highest!