All the kids marched into church today, holding palm branches and singing the first verse of "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna." They do that every year, and it's a fun way to give them a special part in our Holy Week celebrations. I co-teach the toddler Sunday School class, and every year, we have a little rehearsal for our toddlers where we give them pretend palm branches and practice walking in a line around our classroom and not whacking each other with the branches. This is very important for 2- and 3-year-olds to remember. For them, singing is optional, but not-whacking is mandatory.
As I was walking through the sanctuary this morning, herding toddlers in an orderly and non-violent fashion while singing the first verse of the hymn myself, I realized something.
We're not singing "Hooray for Jesus."
When we go to a parade and see someone we think is important, we make noise. We might clap, we might cheer. We might yell, "Hooray!" I once hollered, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Keach!" at a Christmas parade. Stacy Keach smiled in my direction and called back something like "Thanks!" or maybe even "Merry Christmas!" That certainly made me want to shout, "Hooray!"
But we're not singing "Hooray for Jesus!" on Palm Sunday. We're singing, "Hosanna, loud hosanna." After all, that's what the crowd was chanting when Jesus entered Jerusalem the Sunday before he died. But 'hosanna' does not mean 'hooray.'
It means, "Save us."
The Jerusalem crowd didn't know it, but that's exactly what Jesus intended to do. Not save them from the Roman invaders. Not save them from hunger. Not save them from having to pay taxes. That might be what they wanted him to save them from, but it's not what they really needed. What they needed was someone who could save them from death. From spending eternity in the abject, incomprehensible agony that is separation from God. Which is what they deserved. What you and I deserve. Every one of us, whether we want to believe it or not.
And the only way Jesus could save them -- and us -- from that eternal death was by... dying. And then coming back to life. Those people were all in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast, to sacrifice lambs and consume them. Jesus was there to be sacrificed, to allow his body to be consumed by the grave. But he was there to do more than that -- he was there to save. Only he could, and only he did.