As the priest mentioned this morning, Palm Sunday is a little schizophrenic. It starts with joyful waving of palms, but we don’t get to dwell on Jesus’ donkey ride into Jerusalem. We sing, “Hosanna!” But then we immediately turn to the passion and cry, “Crucify him!” There is a reason to the contrast. Everything is happening too fast; it’s confusing and jarring and uncomfortable. And it’s supposed to be. How quickly the crowd turned from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him.”
The reading of the passion is done dramatically, with a reader representing Pilate, the priest representing Jesus, and the congregation representing the crowd. We participate in yelling “Crucify him.” The words fall out of my mouth, and there is no denying my culpability. We are all guilty in the passion. Humanity is guilty. We are all responsible for the arrest and death of Jesus. How do we get from praising Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to calling for his death in less than a week?
The word “hosanna” means “save us” or “save now.” It is a request for salvation. The Jews believed the Messiah would be a royal warrior, a triumphant leader who would liberate them from Roman rule. But he wasn’t that kind of leader. He was a humble pacifist who rode in on a donkey and upset the religious leaders. He promised liberation from death but not liberation from Rome. He wasn’t what they expected or wanted. So “hosanna” turns to “crucify him.”
Jesus fulfilled the “hosanna” request. He did save us, through his death and resurrection. We called for his death, and he saved us anyway. We have guilt on our lips, and he forgives us. Palm Sunday is the beginning of the confusing, chaotic, uncomfortable time that is Holy Week. It’s dark and solemn, but it begins and ends in beautiful triumph.