Thursday, February 11, 2016

They sang hosanna?

One paragraph in David Overbye's excellent article on the discovery of gravitational waves, confirming a piece of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, cracked me up:
Word of LIGO’s success was met by hosannas in the scientific community, albeit with the requisite admonishments of the need for confirmation or replication.
It's understandable how the word hosanna has come to designate celebration in popular usage. 

The most famed instance in which this Hebrew word is recorded is in the New Testament Gospels' accounts of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before He was crucified. On the face of it, that day, which we today commemorate as Palm Sunday, seems unambiguously celebratory.

Matthew 21:9 says:
The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,“Hosanna to the Son of David!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
John 12:13 says:
They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,“Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Blessed is the king of Israel!
But Palm Sunday is filled with ambivalence, although few then knew it. Many still don't perceive it. (Including me, when I'm feeling full of myself, which is too often for my own good or anybody else's.)

To most of the people who welcomed Jesus, Palm Sunday seemed like a triumphal entry of a new king, the one many hoped would be the instrument of Judea's liberation from Roman rule.

The word Hosanna means Save! Or, Have mercy! While the word may have been said with jubilant relief, a feeling akin to what the scientific community felt when word that gravitational waves had been validated, it is essentially an imploring word.

"Please, Jesus," the crowds were saying, "be the one to save us."

Hosanna was uttered with as much helplessness as triumph.

But the real ambivalence of Palm Sunday rests in the fact that Jesus did come to save people, though not from the problems they saw in their lives.

Like the rest of the human race, including me, the Judean crowds saw themselves as the innocent victims of economic and political forces beyond their control.

Otherwise, they deemed themselves as virtuous and deserving people. They thought that all they needed to be saved from things like their Roman overlords and their lack of economic opportunity. And they were intent on making Jesus the instrument of their collective will.

But what the God we meet in Jesus Christ knows is that even if we have all our earthly needs (and/or wants) met, we still won't be saved. That won't save us from sin, death, or futility.

Jesus came into the world to die and rise so that He could upset and destroy all that consigns this cosmos to death and decay.

But when you think only in the short-term, like the Palm Sunday crowds did, you're not interested in a Savior Who wants to save you to live with purpose and joy forever. Jesus disappointed the people of first-century Judea. His approval rating sank.

And within days, it was politically possible for the leaders of the Judean version of Church and State to have Jesus crucified, the leaders not knowing that in putting Christ in the cross, they were really playing into God's hands. Through cross and resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for the Hosanna prayers of the Palm Sunday crowd to be answered.

Even today, all who turn from sin and entrust their lives to Christ are saved from sin, death, and futility, today and for eternity. Jesus answered the Hosanna prayer, though few may have appreciated it.

I well imagine that the scientific community is jubilant. And well it should be! It seems to have resolved a question raised by Einstein's mathematical speculations a century ago. Many scientists have worked and thought hard to get to this point, though I will point out that even the truest and most cutting-edge scientific advancement is the result of nothing more than thinking God's thoughts after Him.

But I wonder if the jubilation felt by so many, described by Overbye as hosannas, contained the true and simple plea of the word: Save! Have mercy, Lord!

Probably not.

And why should we expect the scientific community to have such a reverential attitude toward this discovery?

Even most churches are incapable or unwilling to commemorate Palm Sunday as a day with a whiff of Good Friday in it or as a day to cry out for God's mercy for ourselves and the whole human race. Instead, Palm Sunday's Hosannas are often trivialized in our churches, the day turned into a parade or a party.

God knows that Christians have plenty to celebrate. Every Sunday affords us the chance to celebrate God's triumph over our worst enemies, sin and death, through Christ's death and resurrection.

But acknowledgement of our need of a Savior, One Who can save us from our sins and our death, is often missing in the modern Church.

My guess is that presidential candidate Donald Trump, a professed Christian, is not alone in the Christian culture when he says that he's never asked God for forgiveness. (That boggles my mind!)

The Judeans aren't alone then, to have thought that the only things from which they really need saving are the threats of would-be earthly overlords or a lack of economic opportunity. Even if presidents were able to magically wave their hands and save us from these earthly problems, it wouldn't give us the salvation only Jesus can give. We would still be dead in our trespasses.

Because we can be so short-sighted, every day is a good day to call out to Christ, not with a sense of triumph or entitlement, but with humility and faith, "Hosanna! Save us, God! Have mercy on us, Christ!" and then let Jesus provide us with the salvation we really need.


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