by Julie Seymour—
When I see a painting of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the colt, sometimes it looks to me as if he has indigestion. It’s a strange look for someone who is receiving a parade in his honor. Or maybe it’s not so strange, if we think about the message Jesus has been preaching and the upside-down and backwards expectations people have of him.
The crowd is shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” It sounds like it might be happy, but it isn’t. Hosanna doesn’t mean “Hooray” or “Cheers” or anything we imagine yelling in a parade. In both Hebrew and the equivalent Greek, hosanna means “help us” or “save us.” The people waving leafy branches are calling for Jesus to deliver them. They want salvation from Roman oppression, from physical ailments, from the unbalanced legal system of the time.
And why is Jesus’ parade vehicle a “colt that had never been ridden”? It’s probably not
the smoothest ride he could find. To explain this, many people point to a verse from the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Since Jesus knows the Hebrew Scriptures, he could be fulfilling this prophetic verse.
Yet something a little further back in history might also be a factor. This history goes hand in hand with understanding that Jesus is a very different kind of king. Here it is: When Solomon was crowned king, he rode to his anointing on his father David’s mule (1 Kings 1:38-39). This symbolized Solomon’s succession to his father’s throne. Frequently when new kings took over, they did so by refitting or reclaiming the symbols, possessions, wives and residences of their predecessors—as if to clearly establish who was now king and who was not.
People are greeting Jesus as a king in the line of David. But is he? Is it possible to be in the family of David but to be a king in an entirely different way?
Jesus rides on a colt that has never had a rider. He is coming into a kingship that has no predecessor. As we sing in the Advent hymn “Prepare the Royal Highway”:
His is no earthly kingdom;
he comes from heaven above.
His rule is peace and freedom
and justice, truth, and love. (ELW #264)
By riding a colt with no previous rider, Jesus is revealing (perhaps too subtly) that what he brings is very different from what previous rulers have offered. The crowds miss it. Most of his disciples don’t understand it. The people are too busy calling for salvation, and they know exactly what they want that to look like.
THE DYING PART
This is one of the greatest challenges of Holy Week: letting go of what we want salvation to be and allowing ourselves to be open to what it is. Once, in a conversation about favorite moments of Holy Week, a person shared with me the thought that Easter is supposed to help us not to be afraid of death. Someone else responded, “I’m not afraid of death. It’s the dying part that I don’t like.”
That’s true for most of us. It’s the dying that we’re afraid of. And Holy Week has a lot of dying. Remembering the betrayal, the false accusations and the crucifixion causes us to tremble. But the dying actually begins as we enter the week with shouts of “Hosanna” and palm branches in our hands.
Dying well takes honesty. How honest are we prepared to be? Are we prepared to be honest with the emotions we feel this week? The discomfort and uncertainty we feel with the story of the crucifixion? Our sense of being overwhelmed (or maybe even underwhelmed) by the story that’s been told so many times? The fact that Jesus isn’t the king we’re expecting, and sometimes … we don’t like that?
This year during Holy Week, are we ready to let die any notion that our goodness, our right behavior, can save us or make us right with God? Are we prepared to honestly admit that we don’t always look for Jesus in other people, and we don’t always let people see Jesus in us? Are we ready to die within ourselves and in our actions, die to our prejudices, blind spots, fears and insecurities? Are we prepared to crucify injustice, anger, judgment and mistrust? Will we cry out, “Hosanna to the King of Kings!” and mean “Save us, Jesus! Save us from ourselves, our possessions and our efforts to control”?
Something must die to make way for rebirth.
And the dying is scary.
But Holy Week is all about dying… in particular, dying so that we might live. Who can help us with that? To whom shall we cry: “Hosanna! Save us!”?
To Jesus. Jesus, who comes to us at the table. Jesus, whose death brings the possibility of resurrection. Jesus, whose resurrection brings the promise of new life.
The Rev. Julie Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church in Big Timber, Montana. She enjoys her flannel-and-denim-clad life with her husband, Rob, and their two children, Daniel and Victoria, plus a dog and a rabbit.