Palm Sunday - Hosanna in excelsis!
There is something lyrically beautiful and majestically timeless about the Latin rendering of this supreme moment of joy. And as we enter this Holy Week - the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian calendar – it is important to remember that it does indeed begin with supreme joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel.
As Cranmer held his blessed palm this morning, and gazed at an altar bedecked with palm branches, he reflected that palms to the Romans were a symbol of victory and of military prowess. The Jewish people simply echoed this practice, perhaps drawing on 1 Maccabees where it is recorded that the people waved palm branches to celebrate the independence of Jerusalem and Judea.
And as the ancient hymn Gloria Laus was echoing in Cranmer’s mind, he reflected upon his palm cross – the sign of Christ's grace which simultaneously fuses the joy of his triumph with the profound sorrow of his death. The Passion Gospel is forever in the background of the Hosannas of the people – a people who could never have foreseen what would befall their Messiah just a week later. They yearned for a king who would proclaim Israel’s independence from Rome; they wanted a Messiah who would be their religio-political hero; they wanted a Jesus who would fulfil their religious expectations and affirm their political agendas.
On this final Sunday of Lent, Cranmer wishes to pause from temporal matters religio-political and reflect on the fact that little has changed in two millennia. Even today, those who believe in Christ want a certain kind of Jesus; a certain type of Messiah – one who will bless our politics, bless our wars and battles, and will be ‘on our side’ against all our enemies, foreign and domestic. We seek a Messiah who will affirm out notion of truth, our interpretation of Scripture, our spiritual pilgrimage through this temporal existence.
Today is a day for humility, reflecting on the fact that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem riding a fine chariot, or the equivalent of a armoured vehicle or a Rolls Royce: he rode in on a donkey, like a humble peasant on a mission of peace.
And let us not forget that these same people who today shouted ‘Hosanna!’ are the same people who cried out ‘Crucify him!’ just five days later. And all because they realised that the Jesus who rode in on a donkey was not the Jesus they had invented in their minds, for he had objectives which were not remotely in line with their own.