Hosanna: Save Us
“The Ten Commandments” was broadcast last weekend, and will be again on Easter eve. It must be a law that at least one of the networks is obligated to do so every year at this time. It is quite a production, the very definition of ‘epic.’
It solidified Charlton Heston’s career; he got to play Moses and God (he voiced God when God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush; there’s some disagreement about who voiced God when Moses was given the Ten Commandments.) It saved Edward G. Robinson’s career; this was his first big role back after he’d been blacklisted under the McCarthy hearings. It was Yul Brynner’s favorite movie role, and, according Heston, his best work. Anne Baxter and Yvonne DeCarlo were paid very little for the work, but didn’t mind; they wanted nothing more than to appear in Cecil B. DeMille movie. Same for Vincent Price, who felt you weren’t truly a movie star until you appeared in a DeMille movie.
I watched it multiple times as a child, and even saw a re-release in a local theater. It is a great adventure story, especially with the liberties taken by the screenwriters and director. I was always, and still am, quite horrified by the depiction of the death of the Egyptian children by the Angel of Death, the final plague that convinces the Pharaoh to let Moses take the Hebrew people out from under slavery in Egypt. It’s one thing to read it; it’s another thing to see it portrayed in all its mercilessness on the big screen.
But that is the origin of the annual celebration of Passover, when observant Jews today remember their ancestors being brought out from slavery to freedom as the Angel of Death “passed over” their homes, sparing their lives, demonstrating the power of God and prompting the Pharaoh’s change of heart. That’s why Jesus was in Jerusalem when he was arrested before his execution, to celebrate Passover. It was a time of Pilgrimage, when faithful Jews from all over came together to celebrate in the city and at the temple that gave them their identity as the people of God. The Passover meal at the heart of their celebration is the very meal we remember when we celebrate communion, what we have come to call the Lord’s Supper.
The annual pilgrimage for the Feast of the Passover was why there was such a crowd when Jesus rode into town on what we now know as Palm Sunday. Yes, his reputation preceded him, but only to a point. The fact that he rode in on a donkey was a bit of street theatre that even those who did not know him would have recognized. Kings and triumphant warriors would ride into town dressed in the most impressive robes or military uniforms, in a triumphant display of power. Jesus came in on a lowly beast of burden, dusty from the road. The people, resentful of the heavy-handed rule of Rome, would have understood the mockery of Rome’s power Jesus was making.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan say it this way: What we often call the triumphal entry was actually an anti-imperial, anti-triumphal one, a deliberate lampoon of the conquering emperor entering a city on horseback through gates opened in abject submission….the most unthreatening, most un-military mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.
The crowd was shouting “Hosanna,” as they waved their palms, the Gospels tell us. Hosanna does not mean, “Hooray for Jesus! Our team is winning!” Hosanna actually means, “Save us!” It’s a cry for help, a prayer for holy intervention.
Most of Jerusalem had had enough. The people in from the countryside for Passover had had enough. In Moses’ day, those laboring under the oppressive Egyptian regime had had enough. They were all ready for release from captivity – release from economic insecurity, from religious tyranny, from the loss of their freedom and their identity as a people. Hosanna! Save us!
It’s been a strange season for us already. Maybe our observance of Holy Week can give us a new perspective on the events of Palm Sunday and these days and hours before Easter. That parade was a lark, an adventure. But then it got serious, very fast. Things changed quickly, from laughter and shouting to an arrest and then a crucifixion. We are faced with isolation, uncertainty, and loss – and a growing number of deaths, even among these we might know. I’m just saying things do change quickly when the public health is at risk from a virus we don’t fully understand, some don’t still believe is real, and those we should be able to trust don’t agree with each other. So we do our best. We want to, and should, join in that prayer, Hosanna! Save us! And then find ways to join in God’s answer to our own prayer.
So let’s see what lies ahead. What Easter will mean for us this year, as we celebrate in a different way? Let’s look for signs of hope and resurrection, where God is among us, how the Spirit is present in saving acts, where the Risen Christ is being made known. It may not be celebrated in a family meal or the joyful choruses of our morning worship together. But God is present. Always. There’s no stopping resurrection. We just need to look for it in new places, nurturing it new ways. Opening our hearts to it in new ways.