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Hosanna! Save us now!

Saturday 28th March 2015

The Archbishop of York writes in today's Times on the importance of our domestic, local, national, and international relationships that we must rediscover our common humanity and work together as members of the one race – the human race. His article follows in full:

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, commemorating the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey. The city was in uproar as it welcomed him. Waving Palm branches in the air the crowds called out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one that cometh in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel’ (John 12:13). 

They were shouting and reciting words from Psalm 118, verses 25-26.

The word ‘Hosanna’ is a Jewish shout of joy.  It is like Nelson Mandela’s ‘Amandla!’ with a clenched fist punching the air, or the German ‘Heil!’ (sadly corrupted by the Third Reich by adding ‘Hitler’ after it).

This shout of joy is a cry of, ‘Save us now!’ In their crying out, the crowds were asserting that in Jesus they were welcoming a long-awaited Mighty Deliverer (The Anointed Saviour).  At last he was here. The prophecies could now be fulfilled: God was on their side.

‘Hosanna’ was also a cry of release from the heavy yoke, burdens and hardships long-endured by the Jewish people because of the Roman occupation.  They were longing for the Messiah to set them free.  ‘Save us now’ had long been their prayer of hope. The same prayer that echoes round the world today.  But this is a prayer with a health warning.  It is costly.

Religious people have often assumed that God could be enlisted to the service of their particular cause, project, nation, or culture.  But as Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.’  

The followers of the one who rode into Jerusalem that day are called to a grander allegiance than that of tribe or nation – we must seek the ‘Kingdom of God and his righteousness.’  Transcending loyalties of blood and statehood, we are enlisted for God’s agenda of justice, peace, and the common life of friendship. This is the way of love. In the face of this we must, as another book title once put it, ‘Give up our small ambitions.’

In the intractably tangled troublespots of our world, the yearning for someone to end injustice and deliver the people from oppression, remains strong today as ever. ‘Save us now!’ is on the lips of so many in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and many parts of Africa.

Even in privileged UK the injustice of extreme differentials between top executive pay and bonuses and the incomes of those paid below a ‘living wage’ cause many of us to pray like this. ‘Hosanna! Save us now!’ In my own Diocese of York I think of those whom the local Food Bank is the source of their next meal.

Our response to the ‘Hosanna’ cry of others may be to try and ignore them.  After all they may be a long way away, there is little I can do, and besides, surely ‘God helps those who help themselves…’ 

Alternatively we make the mistake of trying to impose solutions that show little understanding of the real need. 

Yet, in the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (the city of peace), we see a new way altogether. Jesus subverts all expectations and offers Himself as Emmanuel, God with us. Both saviour and victim, his passion, death, and resurrection turn the hearts of his followers to forgiveness and to love.

Jesus challenges our response to the ‘Hosanna’ cry of so many across our global village. To respond in a Christ-like manner is to recognise that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. He is crucified in solidarity with sinners like all of us, between two thieves.

So how are we to respond? We must stand with the dispossessed as brothers and sisters: as our friends.   In our domestic, local, national, and international relationships, we must rediscover our common humanity and work together as members of the one race – the human race. Jesus’ arms stretched out are for the whole world. He raises our hopes, not to dash them, but to energise us with new life and transforming love.

Stirred up by the authorities, the Palm waving crowd would soon be shouting ‘Crucify him!’

As for me, today, I make this prayer my own: ‘Hosanna! Save us now!’

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