“Hosanna – Save Us”

Palm Sunday

Philippians 2.5-11

Mark 11.1-11; 14.1-15.27

Sunday 24 March 2024

                                                                                                ©Lauren Martin

Today we are walking through the doorway from Lent into Holy Week, as we remember Jesus’ joyful and triumphal entry into Jerusalem, reminiscent of the triumphal imperial processions of the Roman Empire. As Jesus enter the city, the crowds shout out ‘Hosanna’ and wave palms.

Originally, ‘Hosanna’ was used as an invocation addressed to God, meaning ‘save us’ or ‘save now’. Later – but still in the times of the in Old Testament – hosanna became a shout of joy or welcome. A cry for help became also a cry for joy.

The Messiah, mounted on a borrowed donkey, mirrored the triumphal and victorious processions of the empire. The one riding on a donkey, was also the one who comes to non-violently bring peace, riding a lowly beast of burden instead of powerful warhorse. The opposite of any other historical triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Much like riding a dented, squeaky old bicycle, instead of a fancy expensive luxury car.

Jesus’ triumphal procession does not end with a grand ritual or sacrifice, or former vestiges of power being expelled, there is no banquet. Instead, Jesus goes to the Temple, and then with the twelve to Bethany.

Some scholars such as Brian Zahnd suggests that there are two processions or parades, one from the west and one from the east. One procession is where Caesar’s Prefect of Judea rides a warhorse. Where the military project the power the Empire, and where power is derived from crucifying its enemies and perpetuating the dominant systems of empire.

In the other procession, God’s anointed Messiah rides a donkey. The procession is prophetic and announces the arrival of an alternative empire – the kingdom of God.[1] Here power comes from embracing the cross and forgiving enemies, it is the only hope the world has for true liberation.[2]

It is in this alternative procession, of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, that the voice of the oppressed and outcast is heard. Those who had ‘nothing but palms, blankets, and a borrowed mule’.[3] It is this crowd that shout ‘Hosanna!’. This crowd that sees Jesus alive and well riding on a donkey, but as we know, this will change all too soon. Instead of triumphant joy there will be scapegoating and violence, agony, and pain. But for now, we watch the joyful entry into Jerusalem, before the Passover meal – a celebration in itself of liberation.

Before we sit in the harsh brutality of the nightmare that is the cross, we stand with the crowds shouting ‘Hosanna,’ ‘Save Us,’ perhaps as both a cry of joy and a cry of pleading. For the agony and pain we bear. For a broken world. For areas and people waking up to yet another day of violence, oppression, and war. For the paradox of our faith, ‘where in the heart of darkness, darkness turns to light.’[4] The paradox of joy and pain, tragedy and hope found in our faith that can sustain us. Holding us as we process, with Jesus, into Jerusalem in joy and celebration with the knowledge of the tragedies happening in the world around us. For the continuing conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan. For those without safety, food, or shelter.

The salvation cried for in the shouts of ‘hosanna’, is met in the tragedy of the cross as God the Divine Parent, takes the destructive forces of scapegoating and violence as the very process of redemption. This is not done through a militaristic triumphalism, steeped in oppression and domination. Instead, this redemption is brought about through God’s acts of nonviolent resistance and true liberation. Through the unleashing of God’s Spirit into the world, our minds are shaped in love, including love of the other, the outcast and the oppressed, to suffer violence, rather and inflicting it, to stand in solidarity with the Other.

As a church we cry, Hosanna both in joy, celebration and welcome, and also in prayer and invocation. As we hold the amazing paradoxes of our faith this coming Holy Week, both the abounding joy and the unmentionable pain, as we too cry Hosanna! Save us!


[1] Fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9.9

[2] Brian Zahnd, 2019, Postcards for Babylon: the American Church in Exile, p. 92

[3] Rev. John Allen, 2012, Politics of Scripture, Hosanna! | Political Theology Network

[4] Rev. Dr. Christoph Keller III, 2015, God Is Dead, God Is Dead | Day 1