Matthew 21:1-11 and Think Not All Is Over by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Sunday April 2nd, 2023
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche
I invite you now to take some deeper breaths as we come to this part of our worship together, tune into our heartbeats and let ourselves arrive a bit more fully… I offer this prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
She says that when she returned to worship, when she brought herself back inside the building of a sacred space of a church for the first time, in a long time, she was still so hungover, that she couldn’t remain standing for the hymns. That is except for the last one, the final song together, from that, she could not hide.
As Anne Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, “The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape.” She says, “It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me.” She said, “I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and …walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams,” and she says she “opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “[Forget] it: I quit.” She “took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.”
I read this story and it reminded me how it seems like for many of us human beings, we have to go all the way to the bottom before we can ask for help. We have to be rocked and shaken before we can see it, and believe it. She says it was as if she had to be cracked open, found sitting in the dirt or at the dockside alone but somehow wide awake before she could be her own help and seek help that she needed.
And in that place that can feel like dark earth is as Harriett Beecher Stowe wrote to us, “Think not all is over… here Sleep the blossoms of a future flower…”
From knowing we need help, from knowing it is not just us, that is when things start to change or so it seems… and it turns out that is just what the word Hosanna means… Hosanna in Hebrew like we heard it in the earlier poetry of the Psalms, it is really basically a cry for help. Or more specifically, it means something like a prayer to be saved from what is.
Much of Christian tradition misses this underlying meaning, this intentional twist, when we sing out Hosanna, we mean it as a praise, a celebration. We get this in Matthew, and also in Mark and John, but not Luke. I will need to investigate that further!
But in these stories, Hosanna is an expression of jubilation directed at him, at Jesus, the one riding on the donkey, on that day, in that parade. And also it’s really as if a bunch of them are gathering to say Hosanna, help! Save us, rescue us, salvage us! Hosanna!
And I don’t know about you, but for me the story looks quite different with that framing. When I was growing up we told the story as if they were all coming around to celebrate. But that doesn’t make sense if he is on his way to his death. It actually makes more sense that they would come from near and far to the Messenger of Love to ask for help.
Because while we have made this day into a party with palms, as we send Jesus off on a mission, this procession is just as much, a crowd of us coming to ask for help. Maybe they saw Jesus as a First Century Fixer?
He heals relationships and restores histories and includes those whom others have excluded. So maybe he can fix us? Hosanna! Help!
And they were in many ways desperate because their lives were gripped by the Empire, they were held captive by the Roman government and economic systems that exploited their bodies and their dreams. They were oppressed by scarcity and violence, thirsty from a society that treated some bodies differently, held down by the pain of patriarchal structures. (Thank goodness that we are not living with any of these things now still…) ha ha..
So all who had been touched by his vision for what could be and healed by his compassion for what is, all of them, gathered in Jerusalem to pray and sing a poetic first century version of help! Save us, rescue us, salvage us!
As Adam Erickson writes, “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem…he was revealing that the reign of God is in stark contrast to the reign of Rome and every other political system that seeks triumphant victory by influencing people through violence and coercion.”
Jesus, hosanna, help, help us live the vision that you cast!
And what I noticed this year, when I read this story again, while the crowd might be there right now, while they might be singing Jesus off now, the days that are to come, are ones when the vast majority of them are not willing to go with him.
Even though they come to him now for help and he gives it, few of them get what he is saying, few of them understand that part of the point is the path, is being willing to live love all the way to the end, even when it is uncomfortable, being willing to go beyond the party. We know that few of them are willing to move through the week with him. Few of them can get beyond cries for Help!
When it gets hard or confusing or frightening and uncomfortable, they leave. When it gets clear that this part, at least, isn’t going to be good for a time, that it will be uncomfortable for a while, they leave the procession.
They call him a prophet today as he arrives in Jerusalem, but then, at the end of this part of the story, we know most of them won’t be there. They won’t be with him by his side when he was in pain. But what if that was part of his point? What if that was his invitation?
I am guessing that most of us would hope to be among those who hang on, who hear it, who get that the willingness to live it all the way is the thing, but the truth is that we are more likely to be among those who just want the good part and the fun part only. And I bet most of us would also be in the category of the crowd looking to someone else to help or fix or save? Are you with me?
So this year, I wonder if part of the message in this story of this procession, is an invitation for all of us to come to the party and still ask Jesus for help and then hear him when he gives it. And when he says come with me, the kin-dom of heaven is at hand…sometimes we just have to hang on through the hard…when it seems like we have dropped all the way to the bottom and all we can say is help and then maybe we can see and be our help for one another.
We can weep if we need and hang on and maybe even knowing that God’s own dream for us is right there and sometimes all we need to do is look around and say “All right. You can come in.”
I think this story invites us to be willing to be honest about the help that we need, that our Hosannas are holy reminders that we need each other and the energy between us, whatever name we have for it. And we are invited to stay with the whole procession, even when it gets clear that this part, at least, isn’t going to be good for a time, what if this part isn’t the end? What if in the very places where it seems like all we can do is ask for help, the places that feel a bit like the bottom, or the dark earth, or an emptiness, or an end, “Think not all is over… here sleep the blossoms of a future flower…” It’s not the end. May it be so. Amen.
© Rev. Nicole Lamarche