Rev. Bob Maddox
The crowd of friends who cheered Jesus as he made his way into Jerusalem that fateful Sunday morning cried out as they waved their palms: ”Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hosanna-”Save us now, Yahweh.”
According to many traditions in Western Christianity, we are constrained from crying out Alleluia until after next Sunday. Frankly, I had planned to title my sermon “Now we can say Alleluia.” My learned colleagues on the staff, newer from seminary than me, emphatically said, “No. You cannot say ‘Alleluia’ meaning ‘Christ is risen’ until next Sunday.” I knew that next Sunday is the day we declare that “Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed” but not wishing to throw my learned colleagues into a rigor, I changed the title and a actually like it better to “On the Road From Hosanna to Alleluia.”
We are then between, in the meantime between, on the road from Hosanna to Alleluia.
We all live in some iteration of the meantime: between birth and death, hope and despair, robust health and declining vigor, work and retirement, between kindergarten and graduate school. You get my point. It occurs to me as I contemplate this text, this Palm Sunday memory from Mark, we also live between hosanna and alleluia.
Hosanna. It is a rich and oft-used word from the Hebrew Scriptures. It can be a prayer, plea, an imperative.
Alleluia, though not used in the Mark text is an affirmation, a celebration, a shouted sense of relief, of completion, a resounding Yes!
The turnout on that memorable day included laborers, peasants, women, maybe a few children along with perhaps a sprinkling of people like the aristocratic Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Their eagerness to welcome Jesus came from the deep recesses of cautiously joyful hearts and burdened spirits. At least some of them had trekked around after Jesus while he spent months, maybe years serving in the tiny villages of Galilee, his home territory. Jesus’ words and ways had fired long banked hopes and dreams that indeed their God had not forgotten them, after all. As God declared the Holy One had not forgotten their enslaved ancestors in imperial Egypt, maybe Jesus represented a new, modern day Moses whom God had called to lead the troubled people of Judea into a new promised land.
They desperately needed saving. They lived and labored under a double domination system: religious and military. They needed saving from grinding poverty. They needed saving from a family system that left little room for creativity and individual expression. They needed saving from an onerous Temple tax and Imperial tax that kept them on the brink of disaster. They needed saving from the terrors of the Roman lash and cross that choked off any real measure of freedom. Saving for heaven? Maybe. But who could worry about heaven when daily life proved so uncertain and often fraught with sheer terror.
That Sunday hope abounded. They had no idea how that story would end. They could only hope it all turned out well.
What did Jesus know about the week? I have long surmised that Jesus knew people like him who clashed with the system did not often get to die as old men in their own beds. Crosses were everywhere, ubiquitous reminders on many prominent hills: Don’t mess with the Rome. I doubt he had a crystal ball that showed him exactly what was about to happen.
Why Jesus? What could this man, albeit gifted and godly, offer them? Did they imagine he could wave some version of magic wand and suddenly make life better, easier for them? I don’t think so. Word had flowed steadily from up north, from Galilee where he had been serving, of his unusual abilities. He could heal. He did not hesitate to touch sick people. He honored women and children. He chipped away at suffocating caste barriers. Rumors flew that he pointed dispossessed farmers how to make a living in new ways even though they had lost their farms to venal creditors. And most of all he empowered them to take charge of their own lives more fully. In all this and more He totally reframed the classic Jewish notion of life in the presence of God.
Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of God emphasized the immanence of God in the daily lives of the people. The kingdom of God invoked a new level of human creativity. With God as an abiding presence the creativity gifted to all humans became more real by that in-dwelling presence. A fresh awareness of themselves in the image of God opened vast new frontiers of human possibilities. Those possibilities continue today.
On Friday of that week, however all the hopes and dreams of Sunday would get snatched away. To their profound dismay, their wonderful friend writhed in agony on one of those unspeakably cruel testimonies to our ability as humans to destroy other humans.
As far as that hearty band of followers knew on Friday, their Hosanna road had come to a total and irrevocable Dead End. No Exit. For them there would be no Alleluia.
But you and I, these two millennia down the road know the end of that story at least the beginning of the end of the story. The road between Hosanna Sunday and Easter Sunday ended in a glorious and resounding Alleluia. And Alleluia is at the end of our stories.
In our own time, we all are on the path from Hosanna to Alleluia.
This metaphor for human life works for me. On this Sunday, April 1, 2012 we start, in earnest, on the road beginning with Hosanna and head through this most sacred and pathos-fraught week to next Sunday when we can shout “Alleluia”-”Yes,” an eternally reverberating “Yes!”
Today and every day I am in that crowd shouting, pleading, demanding: “Jesus, save me now!”
What is salvation?
I long ago moved to the place in life where I fret little about what’s out there beyond this life. I can hope for more. I can hope for a there there. I am assured by the grace of God conveyed through Jesus and two thousand years of Christian tradition that where Jesus is today, there will I be when my time comes to cross over from this life to whatever is next.
So from what to what does my spirit cry out for salvation? I have a few parts of life that I need special help on that only God and I talk about. That may be the case with you also.
Confessionally, I used to need help with ambition. As a young minister, I equated success with a larger, more prestigious church. If only I could go to First Baptist Church, Marietta, Georgia or First Baptist Church, Corsicana, Texas I would have arrived. I agonized when the call to those churches did not come.
I have long wanted to be a head-turning author, to walk into the McDonald’s up here on River Road or Ledo’s or Cactus Cantina and have people whisper to their table mates, “Look, there goes Bob Maddox. He was on the “Today” show last week talking about his novel on Jesus.”
I no longer fret over place. When you’ve worked at the White House, Briggs and Westmoreland, what more could you want? I have not given up on the novel but I doubt too many heads will turn when I walk into Tastee Diner.
I pray that I will and you will be saved from choked off creativity. John Sanford says the essence of life in the kingdom of God is not so much obedience but liberated creativity. Jesus exercised that grand measure of creativity. Jesus evidently took the second and third look at what was happening and asked “Why not?
Creativity and living in terms of God’s presence in the world have to go hand in hand. At strategic points in our 125-year history as a church, pivotally placed members and ministers took the second and third look and asked themselves “Why not?” As this next era unfolds you will have to engage in second and third looks. We must find and follow that quality of leadership in our new minister. With you I dream that Westmoreland will become a true lighthouse for God and justice. I believe God shares that same dream. It will happen on the basis of spirit-led creativity and courage. Important cultural, maybe even, theological rummage sales will occur.
As these next months unfold for you and me, I give myself anew to this spirit-led creativity. I need to be saved from a measure of grief that I will not be a systemic part of that new era for the church. At the same time I shout my own “Alleluia” in advance for God’s new Easter day for Linda and me.
Save us from the prison of self. (Myers) We can get so locked in ourselves that we wither and die. We need constantly to be asking ourselves: What makes me tick? Why do you react like you do when that desperate housewife in the BMW cuts in front of you on Massachusetts Avenue? When your daughter returns to Macy’s the Christmas gift you so carefully picked out for her? When someone else gets the promotion and you do not? When your son muffs the ball at Sunday’s little league game? When your doctor gives you grim news about yourself or your mother or child?
Liberation comes not from not feeling. Salvation from self starts with an honest and growing self understanding. Jesus did not suppress what he saw and felt when he served among his beset people. In ways we can only imagine he used sight and feelings, creativity and energy to make a difference. As he sorted through his interior life he could more freely turn himself to the needs he saw around him.
Save us now to full humanity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from the Nazi prison that God calls us to full humanity. In ways that I am yet working on, our fullness of humanity becomes all the more complete in terms of the fullness of God within us. Jesus then becomes the most liberated of human beings because he was a man in whom God dwelt so fully. Bonhoeffer could face the prison and ultimately the gallows with more grace than despair, more peace than fear as he became liberated to fullness of humanity because of the fullness of God within himself.
What is the Alleluia we can declare in advance of next Sunday? It is God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings in concert with the One who made us. This level of humanity moves us toward the ultimate fulfillment of our destiny. This Alleluia is not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom. (Bonhoeffer 446) This is Jesus’ life. This is the Jesus way for us. This is Hosanna and Alleluia!