Holy Week is upon us. This Sunday we begin our sacred journey. We will stand at the gates of Jerusalem, cheer with an exuberant crowd, and wave palms as a humble man rides by on a donkey. “Hosanna!” we will sing.
It is not a term that comes up in everyday conversation. If you are like me, the last time you uttered “Hosanna” was… well, a year ago on Palm Sunday.
Scholars tell us it is a difficult word to define. Their best guess is that “hosanna” is a contraction of two Hebrew terms: yaw-shah, meaning to save or deliver, and naw, meaning to beseech or pray. So you might translate the shouts of the Palm Sunday crowd as: “We beseech you to deliver us.”
The people cheered. They carpeted the street with greenery. They called out, “Hosanna!” They studied the face of the one rumored to be the Messiah; and they cried, “Save us!”
The meaning of Palm Sunday hangs on those two words, on that simple plea: “Save us.” From what?
Good question. To some, “save us” conjures fears of damnation. Save us from the fires of hell! It is not a terrible request, but it is doubtful that the crowds in Jerusalem had this in mind. They wanted to be saved from Roman occupation. They wanted a messiah to free them.
Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from fighting with my sister. Save me from humiliation at work. Save me from pain. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God — save me from my fears.
Shall we stand along the road together, my friends? Waving palms … reaching deep … risking honesty… shouting, “Hosanna!”