By Rev. Dileep Kumar Kandula, Mission Secretary, CWM General Secretariat and Mission Secretary – Communications (Interim)
Palm Sunday is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. It is the Sunday before Easter and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week of events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. On this day, churches around the world commemorate the Triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. This is the first time in all the gospel narratives that Jesus elevates Himself.
On Palm Sunday, we remember the joyful shouts of the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, “Hosanna; blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 21:9, Mk. 11:9-10, Lk. 19: 38 and Jn. 12:13). Even as we celebrate today, we shout joyfully, saying ‘Hosanna’, which means, “(Lord) Please, Save us.” Hosanna is not only a joyous shout but a cry for deliverance from their socio, political and religious bondage; it is a cry of hope for salvation from their vulnerabilities.
The theme, “Hosanna: Lord Save us”, is taken from the Church of South India (CSI) almanac. It is, indeed, fitting in today’s context as the world has been inflicted with the Covid-19 pandemic and other challenges like social, political, religious, and economic oppressions, armed conflicts, border disputes, migrations, racism, and casteism endangering millions of vulnerable people.
It is in this context we prepare to welcome Jesus into our towns, churches, and communities. Therefore, as we celebrate Palm Sunday, our joyous shouts of Hosanna must be a cry for peace in this world of conflicts, a cry for liberation in this society that neglects, alienates, and oppresses the weak and vulnerable, and a cry for spiritual renewal in this world where the religion has been politicised and commercialised.
Hosanna: Lord, save us from the world of war and conflicts (Zechariah 9: 1-12)
The world today is wreaked with civil unrests, armed conflicts and military occupations. Countries like Myanmar, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and Ukraine are some of the examples where the common people are forced to live under constant threats fleeing for their lives and hiding as their homes are destroyed.
The book of Zechariah was written during the efforts of the returned Jews to rebuild the temple, which the Babylonians had destroyed. People were living in conditions where there was no peace. Despite the exile ending and people returning to Jerusalem, things were not restored to their original stage. The reminiscences of war and captivity were still a reality.
Zechariah prophesied to such a postexilic community to display that the Lord will establish Lord’s kingdom by bringing out judgment upon the aggressive nations and peace in Jerusalem. Despite the nation’s lowly position, a redeemer will bring a time of ultimate blessing of salvation. This salvation will be achieved not by war or conflicts
Zechariah’s promise goes on to say that all the apparatus of war will be removed; Messiah’s rule will not be established by physical force or maintained by military defences. Instead, he will extend this peace to the entire world, teaching the nations to receive his spiritual rule, to unite their differences, to lay aside their arms, and live as one united family.
These people of Jerusalem were also perturbed by the constant hostilities between Romans and the radical groups of Israel, mostly the Zealots. As they were welcoming the Messiah with shouts of Hosanna, it was their inward cry to be saved from the world of war and conflicts and to have a life filled with peace and salvation. As we welcome Jesus today, it should be our cry too. Hosanna, Lord, save us.
Hosanna: Lord, save us from the Oppressive Structures of the society (St. Luke 19:29-40)
Undoubtedly, the Covid 19 has exposed every form of social, political, and economic oppressive systems of our societies. It also revealed how fragile our systems are and how vulnerable our lives are. Nations need righteous governments and transparent social and political order with equal economic opportunities for everyone. This was what the people of Jerusalem were anticipating when they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, holding the palm branches.
A palm branch in Jewish culture is a symbol of joy and, in Roman culture, a symbol of victory. The early Christians used the palm branches to symbolise the victory of the faithful over evil. Christian martyrs were usually shown holding a palm branch/leaf as a holy attribute, representing the victory of spirit over the flesh.
The crowd who welcomed Jesus was well acquainted with Jesus’ words and deeds. They were the people living as colonial prisoners of the Roman Empire. Many of them were being oppressed, alienated and outcasted by the socio-political and religious structures of that day. They were seeking a saviour who, according to their understanding, would bring them political freedom from centuries of foreign oppression and currently from the Roman Empire.
When they found Jesus to be their messiah, they welcomed Him with shouts of Joy holding the branches of palms which is the symbol of their anticipated victory. Even as we celebrate Palm Sunday today, we shout “Hosanna” joyfully with a hope to be delivered and to be victorious from all forms of oppressive structures that made us vulnerable. Hosanna, Lord, save us.
Hosanna: Lord, Save us from Spiritual Deprivation
Today, faith/religion has been extremely politicised as well as commercialised. Religion has been used as a tool for political gain. The growing trends of religious extremist groups and religiously rooted political manifestos are deeply polarising the communities and creating unbridgeable valleys. Such trends, however, are not just in our times, but during the time of Jesus as well.
The people who welcomed Jesus were not only his disciples, the villagers from Bethany and the citizens of Jerusalem, there were also many pilgrims who came to the feast from different parts of the Roman Empire and had participated in this procession of welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem.
Those were the people who came to worship the Lord in the Temple. But they were utterly disappointed by the religious practices that were made by the so-called religious leaders of that time. Religion was completely materialised. Access to God was made possible only on the basis of the sacrifices and coins that were exchanged and offered in the temple. God already told them that He is not pleased with their sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11&12, Jeremiah 7:21). It was almost difficult for a poor family to offer the annual sacrifices.
The people who welcomed Jesus anticipated that He would come and bring a spiritual renewal by reforming the defiled religion and building a spiritual temple. And it should be the expectation of the church that we may be raised from spiritual deprivation and revived in spirit as we celebrate Palm Sunday. Hosanna!!! Lord, save us.
Celebrating Palm Sunday is not just about shouting with joy and enthusiasm, but it has something to do with the inward cry of the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. Their shouts of
Hosanna were the shouts of appeal for holistic Salvation.
Even as we welcome Jesus into our churches and lives, may His triumphal entry give us Peace in lives filled with conflicts, deliverance from the oppressive structures, and renewal in spiritual deprivation. As we shout
Hosanna, we make our appeal to Him, “Lord, save us”.
Rev. Dileep Kumar Kandula is an ordained Pastor of the Church of South India (CSI) Krishna-Godavari (Coastal Andhra) Diocese and served as an Ecumenical co-worker with the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) before moving to CWM.
This article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of INSiGHT. Access more articles and past issues at: https://www.cwmission.org/insight/