Friday, March 30, 2012

Save Me, Save Us: Digging Behind Tepid Hosannas

Let me share with you some observed themes about the Sunday before Easter in congregational life.

1. Children process and shout "Hosanna!" We can get our kids to say almost anything, can't we? This procession says more about what we don't want to say than anything else. If you don't have many kids in your congregation, you will likely have a tepid shouting of Hosanna at your church for Palm Sunday.
2. Palm branches. There have to be palm branches. Why?

I don't see many debates about the True Meaning of Palm Sunday. I find the story behind Hosanna fascinating. The cry "save us" draws attention. These days, I look to skip the real palms, and save the Passion story for later during Holy Week.

The closest thing to a contemporary and widespread public hosanna is when a football team with high expectations finds themselves in a losing situation in the second half of a game. Down 2-3 touchdowns (a challenging gap, but not completely insurmountable), the starting quarterback has thrown at least 2 interceptions, but probably more. On interception number three, 70,000 people become restless and start shouting the name of the back up quarterback. Sometimes it's the new kid on the block (Tebow?).

Football history is filled with stories of an underdog situation coming into what seems to be an uncrossable crevasse of defeat, then someone comes off the bench as the crowd beseeches the coach to put in the budding star. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

We'll also see large public hosanna in the presidential election year, but looking at approval ratings and general cynicism about government, it won't feel like a real hosanna directed at a candidate this time around.

For a culture that can walk into a purveyor of food, say a single number, and receive nourishment, a cry to "save us" feels overblown. Save me from hunger! Give me a number 7! It even feels overblown in the church talk of "have you been SAAAAAVED, brother?" It seems disingenuous to turn people into a commodity of the "saved."

If we can get beyond trying to talk about being saved apart from telling somebody else (particularly a pastor) what they want to hear, then how do we understand "saved?" What is it from which I desire to be saved?

The first thing that comes to mind: what absolutely takes the life out of me? Stuff. Literally. Things. Stuff comes into our home too fast, and I can't keep it out. Sometimes I bring it home. My kids insidiously bring stuff home in their backpacks from their travels. Stuff shows up in the mail, on our porch, at church, and I dish it out at Christmas, rationalizing it with Jesus' birthday.

Stuff is a metaphor for ourselves. I'm doubt Jesus is returning to get rid of the stuff I really don't need out of my garage. Even for someone or something that is good for me or for the collective, I can find a way to kill it. You probably can, too. We're even more skilled at killing when we do it together and get an institution to rationalize the behavior. If we know the savior we identify in our own lives will eventually let us down, why even bother putting hope in a savior in the first place?

The difference maker? Jesus doesn't respond like people placed in the position of savior do. He doesn't make an obvious display of power, nor does he run from the situation. He takes our worst, and dies in the wake of our destruction.

And then, Jesus lives.

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