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Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord

Sermon preached on 5 April 2020: Palm Sunday by Carol Kidd
Psalm 118 / Liturgy of the Palms Matthew 21:1-11

When we began our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday little did we imagine that congregations would
be locked out of church buildings on Palm Sunday. As we remembered that we are but dust and to dust we shall return, we never expected to hear night after night news reports of the latest number of recorded deaths for each 24 hours. Lent study groups halted – truly our Lenten journey became far more of a time of wilderness than we ever imagined – of social distancing and self-isolation, of fear and anxiety as implications of Covid-19 moved from threat to reality.

Of course, there is great sadness that in 2020 we are unable to stand together in the churchyard raising high Palm Crosses to be blessed before hearing the Passion Gospel. Yet we must not forget that Holy Week is before us. We will not walk into church, following the choir, led by the processional cross singing the well-known chorus ‘All glory laud and honour to thee Redeemer King’. Importantly that does not mean that Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday have been cancelled. Through written liturgy, via social media, internet or phone – alone or in company with those with whom
we share our homes – it is essential that we strive to stay strong in faith ever walking with Jesus on his
journey to the Cross.

Singing, saying or even shouting ‘Hosanna’ is needed today, even more than ever, because the message of Easter – that Jesus truly is our Lord and Saviour – is God’s reply to the Palm Sunday cry that has echoed down the centuries: ‘Hosanna’: ‘Lord save us.’

All four gospels retell eye witness accounts of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the day a large crowd gathered to spread cloaks and branches on the road to welcome the man they had heard so much about: Jesus, the friend of fishermen, women and outcasts, the parable preacher, the miracle worker who not only healed but had just raised his friend Lazarus from death.

In Jerusalem each year at Passover, ‘Hosannas’ rang out in remembrance of freedom – freedom from oppression and slavery – as a call for God’s promised Messiah to come to redeem his people. In anticipation that the long-awaited Messiah had indeed come in the person of Jesus, the cry Hosanna became not only the hope of a saviour but a shout of triumph!

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord

The same words from psalm 118, meaning ‘O Lord save us!’ that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, are used at every Eucharist in remembrance of his passion and resurrection. As we follow this service of Spiritual Communion how relevant then, that we share the psalmist’s cry of ‘Hosanna’: for Hosanna means ‘save now’: Save us now O God, save us from enemies, from suffering, from all that threatens even from death.

Today we are the people who cry to Jesus as our freedom is curtailed, human contact restricted, simple things we have taken for granted not available. Lord, save us and all your world from the pandemic and its consequences.

The crowds pinned their hopes on Jesus as the one who came to save, yet, we must never forget they soon turned against him and cried ‘Crucify!’ When Jesus did not act according to their desires, they chose Barabbas. We too are given a choice. To accept God’s invitation, or to decline because we are afraid of the trials and difficulties of discipleship. Jesus said following him would not be easy.

Circumstances threatening our lives, and of those we love, do challenge our faith. Cause us to cry out: ‘Lord save us!’ As in the words of the beautiful hymn ‘Lord Jesus, think on me’ we can ask for support when we are in pain and misery, for direction through darkness and perplexity.

The good news is we can be assured that he will hear us. Jesus is holding fast our past, present and future. He is the one who saves. There is no short cut to Easter from Palm Sunday – to walk with Christ means to follow his call, accept his gift of forgiveness – to hear his words of love as he washes the disciples’ feet – to watch and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane – and to wait at the foot of the Cross.

Today and throughout Holy Week let us pray for grace, guidance and strength for all God’s people throughout the world.
As we cry out ‘Jesus, save us!’ courage and hope will be ours. Good news can be seen in those who are working together in new ways to help society and individuals to cope as the pandemic continues. Although temporarily separated from worshipping together in person, we can communicate and share Jesus’ love through our actions, care and prayer. ‘For the foreseeable future’ has become a tag-line for the current crisis. As Christians let us keep our eyes fixed on being held in Jesus’ love – not just for the future we might think we are able to see or think we can predict – but even to eternity!

Though Palm Crosses have not been blessed and distributed, recalling the crowds greeting Jesus as the ‘Son of David’, their prophesied messiah – we too can welcome him again into our hearts and into our lives and gain strength for whatever path lies ahead.

The journey of Lent ends – a new journey begins.

In faith we can confidently declare ‘Hosanna’: ‘Jesus, save us.’

As the Easter story unfolds anew, we have the promise that his mercy endures for ever!

Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Amen.