Faith Presbyterian Church, Baltimore
April 2, 2023
To the Streets!
Hosanna! Hosanna! It is ringing in my ears from our joyful parade this morning. Let’s say it again – Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! You probably know that Hosanna is an old Aramaic word that means, “Save us!” or Help us, we pray!
I usually think of parades as joyful events – community convergences, with music and street food, marching bands and kids on shoulders and dogs. We went to the lantern parade at Patterson Park last fall, and it was happy mayhem – people were carrying lanterns of all shapes and sizes, some purchased but many handmade, interspersed with giant glowing puppets, and people fluttering beautiful lighted butterfly wings, mariachis, kids in wagons, and guys on stilts. The parade is a celebration of twinkling lights, pushing back at the darkness as the days grew cold and short moving into winter.
But parades aren’t always festive. Sometimes people go out to the streets to march for change, or to draw attention to a problem that needs collective action. Sometimes they are public demonstrations of anger, or collective outpourings of grief. Sometimes, a parade is performance art, or a protest.
Two Fridays ago, the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting went to Washington, D.C. They weren’t there to see the cherry blossoms, or the memorials or to visit the Smithsonian. They went to set up a display on the National Mall – 1100 body bags, black on the lawn under overcast skies. They were protesting the impasse in Congress around gun control – the refusal of Republican legislators to even consider common sense gun laws, despite the fact that firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and youth in this country. The 1100 body bags, lined up on the grass, spell out “Thoughts and Prayers” – Each bag standing for more than 150 people killed by gun violence, so 170,000 total, in the four years since they started their work to call for national gun laws. Hosanna.
Two years ago, I preached about the March for Our Lives on Palm Sunday, remembering Emma Gonzales holding seven minutes of silence for their fallen classmates. Hosanna.
Today, they’re on my mind and in my heart again. Because six people, we know, were shot and killed just last Monday at a private school in Nashville: two teachers, the principal, and three students – one of them a third grader, just the same age as Maddie – 9 years old – a preacher’s kid, too. That tragedy caught national attention, but there were ten people killed on the mean streets of Baltimore in the past two weeks alone. Hosanna.
The body bag installation calls our attention to the ongoing heartache caused by gun violence in our country. A largely preventable massacre that demands more than just thoughts and prayers, it demands public action. Hosanna.
Fred Craddock says that we can understand the Palm Sunday procession, with Jesus making his way into Jerusalem on a donkey, streets lined with cheering peasants, throwing their cloaks and branches into the road- we can understand it in three ways: as a parade, a protest, and a funeral procession.
When a Roman general returned from war, he would charge through the city gates in a chariot led by prancing white horses. He would lead his garrison of soldiers through the city, directly to the temple to sacrifice to the gods – it was a victory parade that flaunted the military power of Rome in the face of the peasants who were forced to fund it. Hosanna.
Jesus’s procession turns this tradition upside down. He enters the city like a conquering hero, and the crowds call him their King… but he arrives on a donkey, just as the prophet Zechariah predicted the savior would come. When he arrives in Jerusalem he goes straight to the temple – but not to make a sacrifice. Instead, he goes to throw out the merchants and moneylenders, to protest those who were preying on poor people at the very heart and home of the Jewish community. Hosanna. This victory parade is a stunt that provokes the religious leaders, who are already looking for a way to have him killed.
It’s hard to say if this is what his disciples, the ones who called him king, expected him to do. It’s hard to say if that is what the crowds expected from him, either. Can you picture them, lining the streets, waiting in the sun to catch a glimpse of him? I’m sure some came out of curiosity – they’d heard of his miracles and wanted to see who had raised a man from the dead. Some came for healing, because rumor was he could cast out evil with just a word. Some came for revolution, because he was the anointed one, who would conquer their oppressors once and for all. Some came because they’d met him, they’d heard him preach, and they knew he was the savior they’d been waiting for. They all looked at the man on the donkey and shouted, HOSANNA! Save us!
This week we remember that their palms and cheers turned to taunts and jeers and a call for crucifixion by Friday. Hosanna.
It’s not so hard to believe, given how quickly public opinion changes these days. It’s not so hard to believe, as we live in a Good Friday world, where death is unavoidable. Where schools aren’t safe, where life is all too fragile, where thoughts and prayers are offered instead of policy and change. Hosanna.
But friends, look around. Take heart in all those gathered here this morning. Our witness is important. Because in the midst of the violence and the pain and the brokenness of our world, Christ came! Christ came with a parade, a protest, a procession, with happy mayhem. Christ came and shared the love of God our creator; Christ came, and showed us the way out of the graves that we dig for ourselves and into new life. This week, I invite you to join us as we follow Jesus. We will see his love made real around a table with friends and remember his love even unto death in our service on Thursday night. The testimony of this holy week is that Jesus does whatever it takes to heal, to save, and to free us from the powers of sin and death.
So I hope today, as we celebrate Bill’s 100 years of life and look back at 100 years of Faith Church’s work and witness, as we move into this holiest of weeks, we’ll ask, what do we expect? Is our witness a parade? A celebration of our savior? Is it a protest, a public demonstration for love and justice in a hurting world? I hope it’s not a funeral procession for the church that was, but rather a parade heralding the church we are becoming. Today, may we all shout Hosanna: blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna!