Save us, please!
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Mark 11:1-10: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’ They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
It used to be that anyone could show up at the White House, present his card, and expect to get in to see the President. Some presidents even had public parties where anyone in town could come and get a moment with the President. Does that still happen today? Do you really think that the President of the United States really has the time to hear YOUR problem? Do you think he even knows who you are?
I’m certainly not saying that the President doesn’t care about the people. He does. But, let’s face it, between the globalization of the world, the increase in security since 9/11, and the intense media scrutiny politicians undergo, it’s tough for everyday citizens to get face time with the President. Think about it, how many so-called town meetings are legitimate, honest, give and take conversations of total spontaneity? More often than not questions are pre-selected, screened, and sometimes even planted. And then the answers are so vague, general, and sound-bitish that you sometimes wonder if the question was even heard.
And the nature of our system makes it pretty hard to appeal to our government sometimes. Even this current economic crisis, which politicians told us required immediate, drastic, sudden, and overwhelming solutions, took days, weeks, and months of wrangling, compromising, discussing, committee meeting and studying before anything got done. And even that resulted in a bill where much of the stimulus comes years later.
But, we say, that’s understandable. A national government moves slowly. It’s the nature of our system. The bigger the organization, the slower you respond to certain forms of crisis. So, let’s consider a place meant to handle crisis – an emergency room. You would imagine that an emergency room is prepared to meet needs immediately. You would imagine that, until you hear horror stories about waits lasting hours, even overnight, for treatment. There are even stories of people dying while waiting for treatment, or dying because they were refused treatment. I’ve occasionally counseled people to take ketchup packets and lists of heart attack symptoms to emergency rooms to assure prompt response. I was kidding, but they weren’t always laughing.
In both cases we know that there are extenuating circumstances: underfunding, understaffing, overwhelming need, overwhelming trouble, millions of people to take care of and satisfy, and more. For the most part, we understand that the government and hospitals aren’t always able to be responsive to our immediate, urgent, and emergency needs. We hope they will be. We hope they’ll try. But we know that they can’t, don’t, and won’t always. It doesn’t stop us from crying out “Help me! Save me!” But it does temper our optimism.
Even more so do some think this way about God. God has so much on His plate: a universe to organize and run, billions of people living, dying, and being born, trillions of prayers coming in each day, assaults by enemies like the Devil, to name the big ones. If I can’t get a meeting with the President, whose salary I pay with my taxes, and I can’t get a doctor in my local emergency room, how will I get any attention from God? He’s so big, and I’m so infinitesimally little. He’s God, and I’m not. He’s holy, and I’m a worm, not a man.
So overwhelming do the odds appear, that perhaps, even Christians like us get cynical. We fail to call upon Him, as He asks us to – Call upon me in the day of trouble, Ask, Seek, Knock – whether because we don’t want to bother Him, we don’t think it’s a big enough deal, or it’s too big a deal. Or perhaps there’s even a part of us that doesn’t believe it. “Call upon Him in the day of trouble? He will deliver? When did He deliver me last? He isn’t delivering me now!” To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, we yell, “God, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!” And maybe we do pray, but only half-heartedly, because we know we should. Or perhaps our prayers have become pretty blah. “Ah, Lord, your God, I’m not, do your thing, Amen.” Maybe we have a hard time coming to grips with reality, “Call upon me. Do it! For anything!”
Maybe, to approach it from another angle, we have a hard time coming to grips with the reality that we need help and saving. To admit that, requires that there’s a problem. To admit that, requires that the problem is with me. To admit that, requires that I acknowledge that there is a greater authority and power than me and what I like, love, crave, and desire. Why would I go to the emergency room if I’m not hurt? Why do I need a president if I can take care of myself? Why do I need God if I’m god?
Which is why we wrestle with praying the crowds’ Palm Sunday prayer: “Hosanna!” That beautiful Hebrew word has a simple meaning, “Save us, please!” The crowd sees Jesus, entering Jerusalem on a donkey, and their first words are, “Save us, please!” Possibly they were using that word in a merely liturgical way, as a form of respect, welcome, affirmation, or address, similar to how “God be with you” became simply “Good-bye.” But whether they knew it or not, they were speaking to the King of the Universe and they said the only thing that mattered. “Save us, please!”
And Jesus turns everything you know about kings, presidents, emergency rooms, and bureaucracies on its head. Because He hears. And He answers. This king has time for you. This king hears your prayers. And He answers. He doesn’t make you take a number. He doesn’t make you wait in line. He doesn’t make an appointment that He’s already triple-booked. In fact, He doesn’t even wait for you to ask. Because you wouldn’t and you didn’t. God, of His own initiative did this. God said, “These people need saving.” And He saved. That’s the attitude of the ruler of the sin-enslaved universe. That’s the attitude Paul referred to in Philippians: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!
This King has time. He had time for the sick, the lame, the mute, the deaf, the dying, the dead. He had time for reckless Peter, thieving Judas, and brash Sons of Thunder. He had time for infants and children. He had time for Pharisees and Sadducees. He had time for tax collectors and sinners. He had the time. He took the time. And so we say it, “Hosanna! Save us, please!”, praying that He has time for us too. And He does. He wasn’t afraid to use all the chips and markers at His disposal. He used up all His political capital. He rides into Jerusalem, into the lion’s den. He rode on…to die. He rode on to answer that great Hosanna cry. ”Save you? I’d be pleased to.” And save you He did. He rode on to finish the job. He rode on and gave His body and blood for you, the same body and blood He gives to you in His holy sacrament. He rode on to suffer the pain and torment of the sins you committed. He rode on to death, with pierced side, pouring out watery blood, so like the waters that washed you clean in Baptism. He rode on to Joseph’s tomb. He rode on to live again. It beggars belief: this is God’s agenda. This is God’s platform. This is God’s biggest job.
So thorough a job did He do, that for us Palm Sunday is no mere historical event. It’s not just something we commemorate each year in the life of our Savior that happened 2,000 years ago. Because Christ came and saved, because Hosanna is not some empty, meaningless phrase we utter, but one that continually calls to mind what Christ did in dying and rising for us, we look forward now to the eternal Palm Sunday of heaven. Hear John describe it in Revelation: After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes-who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Hosanna! Save us! Please! With Jesus it’s not a wish. It is finished. May God be praised through Jesus Christ! Amen.