WelCom April 2020:
HOSANNA! It is a dramatic cry of welcome and honour. It is a shout of sheer delight. It expresses pride, expectation and hope in one amazing word: HOSANNA!
That’s exactly how people reacted when they recognised Jesus of Nazareth entering Jerusalem. ‘Hosanna!’ said it all!
There was speculation over whether this increasingly popular wonderworker and preacher would come to the great festival week of Passover, and now here he was. There was fuel here for a popular uprising and the authorities were very concerned. Something had to be done, and quickly, before the Romans stepped in and punished the whole city.
The week now unfolds as a political and religious drama that could have only one outcome: Jesus of Nazareth had to be discredited and, if necessary, killed. As the High Priest would prophetically declare: Better for one man to die, than for the whole nation to suffer. [John 11:49]
Christians know the drama well, including the unexpected conclusion that denies death the last word. But perhaps we know it too well, with the danger that we miss its impact and fail to grasp its life-changing message.
Holy Week is best lived with open-mouthed wonder at God’s redeeming love in Jesus. A difficult stance, because this is the week that tests the mystery of faith to the limit. For believers, it is hard to accept that God would ask such a sacrifice; for unbelievers, the situation is utter madness.
“Holy Week is best lived with open-mouthed wonder at God’s redeeming love in Jesus.”
St Paul confronts the difficulty head on, acknowledging the ‘foolishness of the cross’, but showing it to be an expression of the ‘power and the wisdom’ of God. [1Corinthians 1:18-23]
This Palm Sunday, 5 April, picture yourself in a Palm Sunday procession; picture yourself present in the ‘Hosanna Crowd’ as it follows the events of this amazing week. Find your position in the gathering outside Pilate’s palace where the cry ‘Hosanna!’ changes to ‘Crucify him!’.
Now take the road to Calvary. Are you a curious bystander as the climax nears, or are you offering support to those grieving? Afterwards, what do you do? Where do you go?
The often-sung spiritual asks, Were you there when they rolled away the stone? This was when a new cry went up: ALLELUIA! A cry of jubilation, of victory, of speechless joy. The empty tomb remains the ultimate sign that death has disappeared, defeated by love.
Alleluia! Resurrection! Jesus lives! Life is not ended by death!
Ponder these questions and images as another Easter dawns. They help focus on the drama, observing its details, catching its flavours of joy and sadness, fear and terror, wonder and awe. They will propel you to a quiet but resolute appreciation of the story ever old and ever new, one that transformed society of long ago and can do the same again.
James Lyons is a priest of the Archdiocese of Wellington.