Palm Sunday – Shouting Shallow Hosannas

palmsunday-Damiana-Monastery-icon-Palm-2

MP3 Audio: WS330343_Dn-Joseph_Shouting-Shallow-Hosannas.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 13, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.

Traditionally, Palm Sunday is looked at as somewhat of a joyous occasion. We enter the final week of Lent looking forward to Easter, we have these festive palm trees, everybody has their palm branches that they wave as we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a king not riding a horse as going to war, but riding on a donkey as in times of peace, people laying down their garments in front of him, people waving palm branches and calling out, “Hosanna, hosanna to God in the highest!” It’s supposed to be very joyous, but I confess – for me myself – I have difficulty rejoicing in that picture, as glorious as it may look.

Let’s go to another picture:  Jesus wrapped in a robe, and the crown of a king being placed upon his head, and a scepter in his hand. It sounds glorious, until you’re told that the scepter is a reed, and that the crown on his head is made of thorns. He is being condemned to death, and those who call him “King” only do so mocking him, spitting upon him with contempt. Calling Jesus “King” while you spit on him and wound him and bruise him: that’s not honor.

Palm Sunday, in some ways, reminds me of this picture of Jesus being mocked, spit upon, crowned with thorns, beaten – because I look at this grand picture, I look at all the calls of “Hosanna in the highest”, I look at all the waving of palm branches, I look at all the outward beauty of it, and I cannot forget the fact that five days later these same people would be screaming at the top of their lungs, “Crucify him! Crucify him! His blood be upon us and on our children.” For me, that takes just a little bit of oomph out of the “Hosanna in the highest”, and the waving of palm branches.

Now, to be fair, there are those who would say, “Well, it wasn’t all of them. Some of them really meant it. It wasn’t all of them that were yelling, ‘Crucify him!’ After all, those yelling, ‘Crucify him,’ maybe they just weren’t there when the ‘Hosanna in the highest’ thing was going on. Maybe it was a different group of people.”

Very well. Then I have another question to ask: Five days later, when this glorious king, the Son of God, this innocent man, was being condemned to death in a kangaroo court, a mockery of a trial, when people were screaming, “Crucify him! Give us Barabbas, not Jesus”, where were all those people who were saying, “Hosanna in the highest”? Were they hiding under a rock somewhere? Were they hiding for fear? Why didn’t they speak up that day? Why did they not become this great and terrifying mob that struck fear into the heart of Pontius Pilot, the moment he even thought of sending Jesus away to be crucified? Even if their only sin was a sin of silence, it was silence at the most crucial moment, when an innocent man was being condemned to death. And silence at such a crucial moment, once again, takes just a little bit of the oomph out of it for me when those people are saying, “Hosanna, hosanna to God in the highest”, on Palm Sunday.

What a blasphemy it would be – we would not even think of participating – if we had a liturgical play during Holy Week with a little statue of Jesus, that you could come and put a crown of thorns on his head and spit on it and beat it. Is there any way you’d take part in anything like that? Absolutely not! And one thing, to be fair, that makes it a little different – when the people were saying, “Hosanna in the highest”, when they were waving the palm branches – I don’t think it was premeditated that they would do a full 180 five days later. I don’t think they were thinking that far ahead. So that is an important difference.  On Palm Sunday, I don’t think that people were saying, “Oh, hosanna to God in the highest, we’re going to kill you on Friday!” I don’t think it was premeditated for most of those people, but I still think it shows the shallowness of man and the shallowness of what passes for faith with most men.

To be fair, the crowd wasn’t alone; it wasn’t only they who bolted. Even Christ’s twelve closest disciples abandoned him. One of the twelve betrayed him into the hands of the sinners. One of them publicly denied him three times. Do you realize it is easy to say, “Hosanna in the highest”? It is easy to say, “Jesus is King”, when you’re going along with the crowd and it costs you nothing. The moment it gets hard, the moment it gets inconvenient, the moment it becomes unpopular, the moment you have to bear any personal suffering or sacrifice, how quickly do we become like those that waved the palm branches on Sunday and yelled, “Crucify him!”, just five days later.

Waving the palm branches, saying, “Hosanna in the highest”, it’s good! There’s nothing wrong with it. As far as it goes, it is a beautiful gesture. It’s the two-thousand-year-old equivalent of putting a fish on your car, or wearing a t-shirt that says, “Jesus is King”, or hanging up a cross in your living room, or putting up a picture of the “Lord’s Supper” in your dining room. It’s good as far as it goes, but if that’s all the farther that it goes, it is far too shallow. Whatever level of faith it takes to publicly holler, “Hosanna in the highest” on Sunday, and then to yell, “Crucify him” before the week is up – whatever level of faith that is – I want something deeper, something more substantial, something more real.

In our culture there are so many who are openly profane, so many who blaspheme the name of Christ, that we pat ourselves on the back and we start to feel pretty good about ourselves, because at least we miss a little sleep on Sunday morning and we show up.  That’s a good start. We pat ourselves on the back, because unlike the people that are flipping off Christ or worshiping some pagan god, at least we openly confess that we love Jesus. At least the Scriptures that we read are from the Bible and not the Koran. But with our lives, how often do we ourselves deserve to be waving these palm branches like we do today, not because of the depth of our faith, but because of the shallowness of it?

Do we come in Sunday morning and say, “Hosanna in the highest” during the Liturgy, and then Sunday evening before the day has even ended, flip on our television, sit down with our families, and enjoy a whole show on the television that only includes “maybe two or three acts of fornication, maybe adultery happens once but they didn’t show anything, and, well, most of the rest of the show was good, so . . .” Don’t you realize that those kinds of sins are the very things that crucified Christ, the very reasons for which he died? And we’re going to go rejoice in them the same day we just took the Eucharist? [We are] waving the palm branches on Sunday, and yelling, “Crucify him” by the end of the week.

Do we come in here Sunday morning and say, “Hosanna in the highest” during the Liturgy, and by about Tuesday or Wednesday we’re thinking about getting together for daily family prayer that morning and again that evening, and “We’re just too tired” or “Somebody’s just too grumpy” or “We have too many other important things to do”, and it just doesn’t happen? Without a single word, [we are] sending our children the message that, “Really, this daily prayer thing – it’s nice if you have time.” [We are] waving our palm branches Sunday morning, and yelling “Crucify him” by the end of the week.

With our mouths we yell, “Hosanna in the highest, Jesus is my King!” But then you look at our checkbooks and we have more fear of the IRS than we have of God. You want to know where somebody’s heart is? In many cases, follow the money, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We come once or twice a week, and during the Liturgy we say, “Hosanna in the highest, Jesus is my King!” But then you go get your calendar at home or your daily planner. How many times does Jesus get a spot in there except for the weekend? Well, you’ve got to go to your job, you’ve got to get some sleep, you’ve got to eat. And then, obviously, if you only have a few hours left, the most important thing you can possibly do with those precious few hours is get some God-earned entertainment. You can’t live without that. And obviously, once we’ve got my two or three favorite TV shows in, and my Facebook time in, and once we went outside and had a little fun shooting guns and playing with the dogs and cats and rabbits . . . “Well, I have every good intention to spend time with the Lord and to pray and to read the Scriptures and to learn more, but there are just only so many hours in a day. Obviously, I’m not going to miss this TV show.  I mean, you don’t expect every hour of the day to be for God, do you?” We wave the palm branches on Sunday and we yell, “Crucify him!” by the end of the week.

In every service book that you have in front of you, whether it is green or yellow, you’re going to have Psalm 51. So either get a yellow book or a green book and turn to Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me, O God; after thy great goodness, according to the multitude of thy mercies, do away mine offences. Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my faults and my sin is ever before thee. Against thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight that though mightiest be justified in thy saying and clear when thou shalt judge.

Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.  But, lo, thou requires truth in the inward parts and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly. Thou shalt purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, thou shalt wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Turn thy face from my sins and put out all my misdeeds. Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. O give me the comfort of thy help again, and stablish me with thy free spirit. Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health, and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness. Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall show thy praise. For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee. But thou delightest not in burnt offerings; the sacrifice is a troubled spirit – a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou shalt not despise. O be favorable and gracious unto Zion and build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

Now, notice in verses 16 and 17:

People that hate Liturgy, people that hate big, elaborate displays of worship, love verses 16 and 17: “For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee. But thou delightest not in burnt offerings; the sacrifice is a troubled spirit – a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou shalt not despise.” And they say, “See, even in the Old Testament, God didn’t care about all that sacrifice and temple worship and incense and all this stuff. All he cares is about the heart.”

Well, is God split-brained; does he have multiple personalities? I’ve checked elsewhere in Scripture, and who was it that set up the entire sacrificial system? God.
Who commanded the incense and the chanting of Psalms? God.
Who commanded that the priests have robes for glory and for beauty? God.
Who commanded the building of the tabernacle and the temple? God.
Who came up with this idea of a liturgical calendar? God.

So why does it say in Psalm 51 that God desires no sacrifice, he “delightest not in burnt offerings,” but that “the sacrifice of God is a trouble spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou shalt not despise”? Why does it say that?

You can turn elsewhere in Scripture: You can go to the book of Isaiah, you can go to multiple places where God comes right out and says, “I despise your new moons and your Sabbaths, your holy convocations. They’re a stench in my nostrils.” – They stink! – “Not only do they not please me, they are offensive to me.” When God hates the elaborate worship, or honestly, any worship at all, is when you offer it from a hard, rebellious and unrepentant heart.

You see, it’s not just the sacrifices that he hates; it’s not just the worship services that he hates. You can find passages of Scripture where God says, “I don’t even want to hear your prayers. My ears are closed. I’m not even listening to your prayers.” We’re all guilty of sin. But do we grieve over it? Do we mourn over it? Are we trying with every fiber of our being to conquer sin, and to grow in holiness and virtue every day of our lives, in every area of our lives? Or do we think the church is just a really cool hangout for people that sin and don’t have to do anything about it? If you’re deeply into sin and you have absolutely no desire to change, there is absolutely no worship you can give God which he will be interested in receiving.

I told you that when people hate Liturgy, when people hate elaborate worship, they love verses 16 and 17 in Psalm 51. What the people need to do is simply finish reading the Psalm. You see, this is a whole Psalm full of repentance. This is the ultimate penitential Psalm. David had committed adultery. David had committed murder. And this “man after God’s own heart” repents. He ceases from his sin. He weeps over his sin. He prays for God to forgive his sin. He turns his life around and he lives a holy life. He does not continue to commit adultery and to murder.

And what happens when you do repent? What happens when you have a broken and a contrite heart that God does not despise? What happens when you do have that troubled spirit? “O be favorable and gracious unto Zion. Build thou the walls of Jerusalem” – and then verse 19, the very last verse of this Psalm – “then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt offerings and oblations. Then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.” Just two verses later, after having just said that God doesn’t care about all that stuff, just a couple verses later it says now God will be pleased with the sacrifices. Now he will be pleased with the burnt offerings and oblations. Now he will be pleased for them to offer young bullocks upon his altar.

If your heart is not right with God, if you refuse to repent, then your very prayers are a stench in his nostrils. Your very worship, your very liturgy, is an abomination to God. But once you do repent, once your heart is troubled before him, once you do come to him in holiness and righteousness, putting your sins behind you, then he is pleased with your prayers. Then he is pleased with the elaborate worship. Then he is pleased for you to participate in the very type of worship that he designed.

If all you want to do is wave the palm branches and say, “Hosanna in the highest”,  “There’s a fish on my car, there’s a cross hanging in my living room,” and then you want to spend the rest of your week in unrepentant sin in your marriage, in the way you raise your children, in the way you spend your money, in the way you handle your time, in the way you speak to one another within your family, then you might as well not go to church.  You might as well not read the Bible. You might as well take the cross off your wall. You might as well take the fish off your car, because it’s all a stench to God.

But if you repent, if on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there is no immoral filth coming through your TV screen, there is no unclean or unkind speech coming out of your mouth, your checkbook and your calendar both reflect that Christ is a daily priority for you above everything else, if you are diligently, daily, hourly raising up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord just as he has commanded, then, on Sunday, God will hear your prayers. God will be pleased with this sacrifice of righteousness that you participate in, in the Eucharist. God will participate and listen with joy as you sing, “Hosanna in the highest”.

So let us wave the palm branches. Let us say, “Hosanna in the highest!” Let us publicly proclaim that Jesus is King. But do not let it shallowly stop there. Make sure that all the rest of the week, every morning, every evening, every day, every moment that your eyes are open or shut, that you are completely given over to building the Kingdom of Christ, to glorifying Christ as your God and as your King, and treating him like he really is the King of your life in every way. “Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna in the highest!”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 13, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Psalm 51. Bookmark the permalink.

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