Choose hope

Our scripture reading is 1 Peter 1:3-7.

            Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

            By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

            You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish that is presently kept safe for you in heaven.

            Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

            You rejoice in this hope now, even though you are distressed for a short time by various trials.

            Just as the purity of gold is tested by fire, these trials are necessary to prove the value of your faith and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

*  *  *  *

            The story of Easter and the story of Jesus and the whole story of Christianity is a story of hope. It’s a story of hope born from despair and from the death of hope.

            Jesus’ disciples “had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, CEB). Their hope died when he was nailed to a Roman cross.

            Two days later, the women went to his tomb expecting to anoint a corpse. They had seen Jesus die, and with his last breath their hope died, too.

            The last thing they expected was to be told: “He is not here. He is risen.” The last thing anyone expected was to see him alive again. His Resurrection gave birth to a new hope, born of a renewed faith. It is hope reborn.

            It’s that hope and that faith that I want to talk about this morning and over the next few weeks in a new series of messages titled “Hope.”

            It’s inspired by a series now unfolding at Church of the Resurrection. I appreciate them sharing the series outline and supporting material. And I appreciate the wisdom of focusing on hope at this time in our lives.

            Because we sure do need some hope right now, don’t we?

            Last week we marked the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. I wanted to say that we “celebrated” the 50th anniversary, but there is little to celebrate right now. The current administration in Washington is systematically rolling back every environmental safeguard erected since 1970. Soon we’ll be back to the good old days when a haze of smog covered the sun in cities like Denver and Los Angeles, and rivers were so polluted that they caught on fire.  

            Soon we’ll be wearing masks to protect us not from a virus but from air pollution. If the pollution doesn’t kill us, the cascading effects of global warming might. Rising ocean levels will drive us away from the coasts, but many places inland won’t be habitable. Those amber waves of grain will be a distant memory. The fruited plain will be a baked desert. O for spacious skies clear enough that we can see those purple mountain majesties!

            That’s the distant future – maybe not even 20 years distant, if we don’t do something fast. But it’s far enough away that the current crisis absorbs all our attention today. If you’re not tired of cocooning at home, you are probably worried sick about your immediate future because you’ve lost your job or enough income that you’re anxious about tomorrow – even though, as Jesus said, today has enough troubles of its own (Matthew 6:34).

            We sure do need a little hope right now, don’t we?

            The feckless leadership we’ve gotten from Washington won’t get us very far in fighting the coronavirus, or much of anything else. Don’t put your hope in states or municipalities, either. Some will relax their shelter-in-place orders too soon, and the epidemic will likely come roaring in to fill the vacuum, killing thousands more. Other states will wait longer and suffer from the civil unrest that’s being orchestrated by rich right-wingers.

            Some religious leaders still claim it’s all a hoax. Some seem to think that the Holy Spirit makes them immune from germs. The rest of us – I hope most of us – cling to the genuine promises of God conveyed to us in Scripture and confirmed by the voices of tradition, experience, and reason.

            Those promises anchor the hope we proclaim today. The Psalmist tells us, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7 NIV).

            There’s nothing magic here. Hope based on trust in the Lord is more than Pollyanish optimism. Hope is not born from wishful thinking. Rather, hope is born from the depths of the pit of despair. Hope is born from the death of hope. Hope comes to us from above.

We don’t often read from the book of Lamentations. It’s a small book you’ll find nestled between Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the heart of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Some think Jeremiah is the author. Whoever wrote it vividly expresses the desolation the people of Israel felt after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.

            “I remember my affliction and my wandering,” the writer says, “and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:19-23 NIV).

            If we were together physically today, we would sing that old hymn inspired by this passage. “Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

            We might sing a couple of other songs as well, such as “Only Trust Him” and “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” That one ends with those haunting words, “O for grace to trust him more.”

            The music and some of the lyrics to these hymns are just a little too syrupy for my taste, and yet I can’t keep them out of my head. They are part of that storehouse of remembered grace that keeps me counting on still more grace.

            Just as the author of Lamentations could remember God’s great love in the face of previously unthinkable destruction, so we today can call to mind all the good things we have received from God throughout our lives, and we can find hope for tomorrow.

            The speed with which the coronavirus has utterly changed our lives is simply amazing. How quickly it showed us just how fragile our lives are, just how tenuous our social connections are, and just how childish our partisan bickering really is – especially when it endangers lives.

            When we’re isolated at home by shelter-in-place orders, it’s easy to become disoriented – that is, to lose focus on what we should be about, and to lose our sense of purpose. Who am I? Why am I here? We need constant reinforcement of our identity from others and from God as well, because when we forget who we are in Christ, we lose all sense of location in the world.

            Ironically, it appears that we do not develop a sense of identity and hope in good times but rather in bad times.

            We “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” the Apostle Paul tells the churches in Rome. “Not only that, he says, “but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5 NRSV).”

            Bad times can lead us to hope, Paul says, and hope does not disappoint because it comes from God. It’s a sign that God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Yes, hope is a sign from God.

            We may be distressed by the trials of life, the Apostle Peter says in the letter we read earlier. But we can rejoice now in the hope we have through the Resurrection of Jesus. Whatever trials we face now, the Resurrection gives us a new birth into a living hope.

            It’s truly a living and active hope that is anchored in trust in God. In Psalm 40, David testifies: “I put all my hope in the Lord. He leaned down to me. He listened to my cry for help. He lifted me out of the pit of death, out of the mud and filth, and set my feet on solid rock. He steadied my legs. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise for our God” (Psalm 40.1-3a CEB).

            Commenting on this passage, Adam Hamilton notes an interesting difference in the ways this verse is translated. Most translations say, “I waited patiently for the Lord,” but the Common English Bible words it, “I put all my hope in the Lord.”

            Waiting and hoping are related in the Hebrew language and in our theology and our experience as well. Trust in the Lord is commonly born of waiting.

            Sometimes we wait patiently, as we try to do now while sheltering in place, not knowing what else we can do. Sometimes, following the example of the prophets and many of the psalm writers, we cry out to the Lord in our pain. We impatiently demand that God come to our aid in concrete ways that we can see and feel and touch, and that God does it now.

            And sometimes we spring into action to help make our hope a reality. Hope is not only trusting that God is working to fashion a better day for us. Hope also is working to make that better day a reality.

            Hope also is being the hands and feet of Christ for others and in our loving actions proclaiming the good news that Christ is alive in the world. Christ is alive in us because God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, giving us a living hope that we just have to share with others.

            Be the change you want to see, Gandhi said. Be the hope you want to live and share. Whatever hopes have been dashed in your life, the Resurrection of Jesus and the promises of God offer newness of life and hope for your future. Remember, our hope is a hope born from despair. It’s a hope reborn through the grace of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.

            In the next week and for the rest of your life, embrace that hope! Count on it! In all you do, choose hope!


This message was delivered via Facebook and YouTube on April 26, 2020, for Edgerton United Methodist Church.

A critical moment

People are starting to go stir crazy, and it’s more serious than really wanting to run out for a chocolate malt. Enough is enough, some say. We’ve had enough of social distancing. It’s time to open up the country again. Freedom demands it.

There are dangers here. If we try to “get back to normal” too soon, we’ll only inflame the situation. We may have “flattened the curve” of the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s not trending downward yet. Act too soon, and we could incite an even worse epidemic.

Still, some say we must “return to normal” as soon as possible. “The cure can’t be worse than the disease,” says one White House official. “The economic cost to individuals is just too great.”

If you’ve lost income or your livelihood because of anti-viral sanctions, you must yearn for better days. They can’t come soon enough. You fear that the damage to your finances is so great that you may not recover. We need to hear and act on those concerns.

But the way some politicians are phrasing it is simply ghastly. Sure, we take a chance in opening up too soon, they say, but that’s “the lesser of two evils.” Is it really?

In effect, some are saying: “Somebody has to take a bullet here. I nominate you.” Which of your family or friends are you willing to sacrifice? Are you ready to die to save the economy?

As for those already pushing back against the sanctions, I ask: Who among us has the right to endanger others by our behavior? Is it acceptable to go around without a face mask? Is it OK to sneeze on produce in the supermarket? What are the limits of personal freedom? And to the churches playing the martyr game: By staying open, how many people will you kill in the name of Jesus?

For some people, the attitude seems to be, “The parachute has slowed our descent. We can take it off now.” Is it really expedient to kill some so we can spare others hardship? Or have we failed to think this through?

New federal guidelines announced Thursday change nothing. It will be weeks before there is significant thawing of social distancing rules. Yes, our “new normal” stinks. But carefully consider the alternatives.

Whatever the secular debate, there is always a deeper religious dimension. Let’s change the terms of the discussion. What are the loving things to do now? WWJD?

This message also will appear on the Facebook and YouTube pages of Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas.

This is not God’s will

The usual bunch of clowns are saying that the coronavirus is God’s will. They say this kind of thing anytime something bad happens. It’s always God punishing somebody for something, and it’s always something that they’re against – homosexuality, abortion, vaccinations, you name it.

It’s truly amazing how God shares the same prejudices they do. (What, me bigoted? No, I just hate the things God hates.) You might think that this kind of theological malpractice was passé, but a lot of people lap it up because, sadly, it confirms their prejudices, too.

When I encounter these folks, I often say: “I don’t think God is half the jerk you think he is.” (Normally, I use inclusive language for God, but the sort of deity we’re dealing with here is always male. And, for shock value, I use a more colorful word than “jerk.”)

In reality, of course, God is not a jerk at all. God is not the cause of this pandemic. It is not God’s will. Those who say it is God’s will are liars, and I’m tired of them giving God a bad name by blaming God for all the bad stuff that happens in our world.

Inevitably, they’ll defend themselves by pointing to some verse in the Old Testament. Especially when quoted out of context, the Old Testament is a gold mine for violent and hateful ideas about God. But Jesus is the full revelation of God, and the testimony of Jesus is that God does not hurt people because they’ve broken some rule.

God does not toss thunderbolts at miscreants. (That’s Zeus, don’t you know.) If God did try to fry people with thunderbolts (or tornadoes or hurricanes or whatever), you’d think God would have better aim and there would be much less collateral damage.

Want to know more? Read chapter 9 of the gospel of John. In Jesus’ day, as in ours, it was commonly believed that if something bad happened to you, God must be punishing you for some sin. Not so, Jesus says.

Here’s an example. What about all those people who died in tornadoes in the South on Easter? Were they more sinful than folks in Oklahoma or Delaware or Oregon, or is God just sloppy in handing out justice? The whole notion is garbage.

A lot of things happen in this world that are not God’s will. That’s why we pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If God got God’s way, ours would be a much different world! And someday it will be! Meantime, take comfort in knowing that God does not want this virus to kill you, and that God is with you in all things good and bad.

This message also appeared in a “Midweek Update” from Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas, and will appear on Facebook and YouTube as a “Midweek Message.”

War over Easter

On the one hand are those nurses who are willing to travel from Kansas to New York, separating from their families and exposing themselves to great risk as they lend aid in one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

On the other hand, we have the weekend fiasco that the Kansas City Star described as a “War over Easter.”

Clearly, pandemics bring out the best and the worst in people. The nurses represent the best. The Easter war represents the worst.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly largely exempted churches from the statewide ban on large gatherings. Then, on Tuesday of Holy Week, she announced that the ban would apply to churches, too.

A handful of grandstanding Republican legislators blocked her order, triggering an outcry across the state. She appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which upheld her order on a technicality.

Still, several churches held services on Easter, deliberately defying the order. They claimed religious freedom, but the language they used sounded purely political to me.

Republicans who tried to block the order said they agreed that people should stay home on Easter; they merely wanted to assure that no one was arrested for disobeying it. As if anybody thought that was a real possibility!

Some call Kelly’s order unconstitutional. That’s baloney. The Constitution grants no absolute rights. The First Amendment safeguard freedom of speech and religion. But the protection of free speech does not cover shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Nor does it cover human sacrifice in a religious rite.

An order for the public good that does not target religion does not violate First Amendment protection of religion. If all are prohibited from gathering, churches are not automatically exempt.

We see this pattern of defiance in other churches, especially fundamentalist bastions in the South. With false bravado and spiritual arrogance, these churches vow to remain open, come what may.

At best, these prideful proclamations of faith are disgusting tests of God’s faithfulness. “Don’t test the Lord your God,” Jesus said, quoting scripture (Luke 4.12, Deuteronomy 6:16). At worse, such defiance is based on simple idolatry. Some people value their tradition so highly that they mistake it for God.

United Methodists value the health of all people. We are mindful of that first rule of Methodism: “Do no harm.” We will not endanger the lives of others by parading our piety in public.

These pastors who insist on keeping their churches open are endangering not only members of their own congregations but all those who might have contact with them. They may not be deliberately trying to kill people, but they may do it nonetheless. Their form of Christian “witness” is toxic and dangerous. No wonder people are fleeing churches today!

It is a pity that these churches chose to celebrate their apostasy on the day that most Christians celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. God raised Jesus from his tomb. These churches remain in theirs. Pray for the resurrection of all – and pray for those brave nurses who are doing far more for Christ than those loudmouth preachers who are so proud of their obstinacy.

He’s alive!

I was once trapped in a hospital waiting room with a woman who insisted on telling me about all of her negative experiences with other pastors. The latest and gravest insult was the ending of a tradition she loved. The choir in her church had always sung Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus on Easter morning, but the church’s young new whippersnapper of a pastor had decreed that this year they would do something different.

To her, Easter was just not Easter without the “Hallelujah” chorus. It was as if Jesus could not get out of his tomb until he heard it. Presumably he remained tomb-bound until the following Easter, when tradition would surely re-assert itself and the choir again would sing Handel’s “Hallelujah.”

On this Easter morning, which is so unlike previous Easter mornings that we have shared, I want to ask you two questions.

First, what makes Easter Easter? Is there a tradition that makes or breaks Easter for you? Is there something you must do to properly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus?

Second, what do you do to keep Jesus stuck in his tomb? What do you do to keep the joy of resurrection life bottled up where it can’t affect the rest of your life?

Think of the many traditions we often observe at Easter. Which of these are necessary for you?

How about meeting face to face, in person, physically present to each other? I know that’s a big one, but if it’s necessary, then obviously what we’re doing right now is not acceptable. Online worship is just not the same thing as being together in the same space. But in these perilous times, it is for the best that we are not together physically.

What about a sanctuary made festive with white banners and Easter lilies? Not this year.

You can forget about a sunrise service, too.

What about singing some good ol’ Easter hymns? Sorry, only one hymn today. And when we’re not singing as a group, singing is an entirely different experience, isn’t it? Many of us rightfully cringe at hearing ourselves sing – especially if we’re wearing a face mask.

A stirring choral anthem? Only on our YouTube playlist.

The children’s Easter egg hunt with chocolate bunnies and candy eggs? Only if you hold it in your own backyard, for a limited number of kids.

A family feast featuring ham and all the popular side dishes? Maybe a feast, if you can afford one this year, but probably with fewer family members than usual, so probably not so festive.

Pastors and worship leaders also are fond of the Easter afternoon nap because it’s the first time in weeks that they can really relax. Anyone can participate; you don’t have to work in the church to get involved. It’s pleasant down time, but it’s hardly necessary.

We do a lot of things to celebrate the day, but none of these things make Easter Easter. Only one thing makes Easter Easter, and that is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If that didn’t happen, none of our traditions makes a bit of sense and some of them – like the Easter bunny – seem even more ridiculous than usual. And if it did happen, then none of our traditions come close to celebrating it properly.

If Jesus really was dead on Friday night and alive on Sunday morning, nothing before or after compares in significance to what happened in that tomb. It changes everything. And if it doesn’t, something is wrong.

Mark’s gospel gives the most spare account of the event, and the most mysterious, because it seemingly cuts off in the middle of the story. Having found the tomb empty and encountered a man in white – surely an angel – the women run from the tomb in terror and dread. They’re so frightened that they don’t tell anybody what they saw.

Well, obviously they do tell somebody, eventually, or we wouldn’t be here today. They return to the place where the other disciples of Jesus are hiding, and by that time their minds have cleared sufficiently that they can tell their story. And the male disciples don’t believe a word they say.

Even after a couple of the men run out to the tomb and see for themselves that it’s empty, nobody is quite sure what to make of it. It’s only when the risen Jesus starts appearing to people, very much alive, that realization starts to set in. It really has happened. Christ is risen!

That’s what makes Easter Easter. That’s the part we must never lose sight of. Jesus is risen. Nothing we do can add to the magnificence of this event. But a lot we do can detract from it.

If we fail to live out the resurrection in our own lives, it might for us never have happened. If it’s not a life-changing event, if we aren’t visibly different after we have patterned our lives around it, then it is like that proverbial tree that falls in the forest and no one hears. An earth-shattering event has occurred, and we have missed it.

Notice that I said we have to pattern our lives around this event. Normally, we think of incorporating an event into our lives. But that’s impossible here. The idea of a person coming back from the dead is so far out of our range of experience that it cannot be incorporated into our worldview. Our worldview has to change. We have to change. We have to adopt an entirely new way of thinking. We have to literally change the pattern that our lives are built around.

Tom Wright, the British theologian, says we have to learn to “think resurrectionally.” That’s a little awkward to say, but maybe it’s even more awkward to do.

If Jesus has been raised from the dead, you can be, too. That’s part of the personal payoff here. Many people call it heaven, though it’s actually more than that. It’s resurrection life, life to the fullest degree in all dimensions of time and space.

But enough about after you die. What about now? Can’t you experience resurrection life today? You’d better believe it! The Apostle Paul says that becoming a follower of Jesus is like dying and rising with him. (Romans 6.3-5, Colossians 2.12) Something happens, and we’re changed by that experience. We’re different people now. We’ve not reached a state where we love others perfectly, as God loves us. But maybe we’re getting closer day by day.

And maybe we feel the presence of Jesus with us, day by day. Jesus is not just some figure of ancient history. As the hymn says, he’s not bound to distant years in Palestine. He’s alive! He is with us right here and now. He is with us today as surely as he was with his disciples those many years ago. He is a living presence in us, and throughout the world.

Sadly, sometimes we who say we believe that fail utterly to behave as if we believed it. It’s all about loving. Jesus gives us precious few commands to live by. They coalesce around one command: Love one another.

If our actions fail to show love, Jesus has never risen for us. When our actions fail to show love, we shove Jesus back in his tomb and cement the door shut. There’s only one way to let him out of his tomb, and that’s to start loving the way he told us to and shows us how to do.

What does the love of Jesus demand of us? What’s the loving thing to do? Those are the key questions of our lives. Maybe they especially apply today, when we are in the grip of a global catastrophe. Some people want to use it to enrich themselves, either financially or politically. Some people want to find a way to help others. When you look at it that way, it’s not hard to tell the difference between those who think conventionally and those who “think resurrectionally.”

Two thousand years ago, God did a thing beyond our imagination. God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is alive today, and he does not observe any six-foot distancing rule. He’s close by each and every one of us. He’s able and eager to resurrect us, too. And he will, if we let him. If we let him out of the tomb we have built for him, he’ll let us out of the tomb we have built for ourselves.

This is a crisis moment. Thousands of people are dying of this virus every day. Even with all our prayers, Jesus is not going to swoop down and make it all go away. Jesus is looking at our response to the virus as well as our response to him.

I imagine him saying: Listen to the experts. Don’t be foolhardy and meet together right now. Don’t be spiritually haughty. Don’t test God. Only trust God. For certain, he says this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have conquered the world!” (John 16.:33)

No pandemic can stop the flow of God’s grace to us. Nothing can keep Jesus in that tomb. Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death! On this Easter Sunday, we declare: Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Glory, hallelujah! Amen!

This message was delivered online on Easter, April 12, 2020, for Edgerton United Methodist Church. To find a video version, search Facebook for YouTube for the church’s channel.


When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples ahead and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.

“If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ “

They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


In churches, we often stage the Palm Sunday procession as a children’s parade – and what a joyful parade it can be! Children love waving palms and prancing around and being the center of attention, and we adults encourage them to wave those palms madly, if only because that relieves us from having to do it.

If it were a Chiefs or a Royals game, we’d be happy to wave some red or blue banner, but wave a leafy green plant in church?

One Palm Sunday I had a brief confrontation with a woman who sang in the choir. She refused to even hold a palm branch in her hand. It was so undignified, she said. I wanted to reply, “So Jesus dying on a cross was dignified?” Happily, I kept my mouth shut.

We want to make Palm Sunday a harmless children’s parade, but Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was neither harmless nor a children’s parade. It was a joyful but potentially dangerous political demonstration. It was one of those events that gets people clubbed down, gassed down, shot down with a water cannon, shot down with bullets, or ground down by any of the many brutal ways that oppressive rulers use to quash political demonstrations.

Jesus entered Jerusalem claiming to be the ruler of Israel, its king and its high priest, and because he made such an audacious claim, the secular and religious rulers conspired to kill him in the most public, most painful and most humiliating way they could imagine – by nailing him to a cross at a major intersection outside the city.

“This is the king of the Jews,” said the sign placed over his head.” Let this be an example to you.

Jesus is fully aware of the risk. Notice how carefully he stages this event. His twelve disciples – those closest to him – are clueless as to what’s happening, just as a few days later they are clueless when he takes them to a secret place to share the Passover meal.

Jesus wants both events to happen without a hitch, and he stages both events secretly. He works through people who are not widely known to be his followers. Why doesn’t he trust the twelve? Because he can’t trust them. He knows that one of them is a traitor, and if he tells any of them, the traitor may get wind of it and tip off the authorities ahead of time.

The donkey is the symbolic animal of Israel’s royal court. Other nations prefer their kings to ride a magnificent white horse. In Israel, the royal animal is a humble donkey. By riding a donkey into the Holy City on the eve of a major religious festival, Jesus proclaims himself king of Israel.

His idea of kingship is radically different from that of the authorities. He comes as the Prince of Peace. They think of power only in terms of brute force. Still, they are so stunned by his claim that it takes them five days to string him up.

We shout “Hosanna!” today because they shouted “Hosanna!” then, but what do we mean by it, and what did they mean by it? “Hosanna” is a cry of joy and a cry for help. It literally means “Save us!”

So when they shout “Hosanna” while Jesus is proclaiming himself king, the people are both accepting and acclaiming him as their king and asking him to save them, to be their liberator, their savior, those lord and master.

Some historians argue that by the time of Jesus, “Hosanna” had lost its original meaning. It no longer meant, “Save us,” they say. It was more like our modern shout of “Hooray.”

I don’t buy it. Even when we don’t know the precise historical meaning of “Hosanna,” don’t we really know, as if by some kind of deep instinct that reaches through differences of time and culture, what it means? When we shout “Hosanna,” aren’t we asking Jesus to save us?

We sure do need somebody to save us, don’t we?

Our nation is divided politically and culturally, and as we approach a major election to determine our future, we are hunkered down in our homes trying to wait out a deadly virus that is likely to kill hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world, that has already infected or killed some people we know and strikes fear in all our hearts.

We are afraid for our personal safety, and for the safety of loved ones, and for the safety of our beloved institutions and life patterns and habits and hopes.

What does Palm Sunday have to do with this?

First, let me note that it’s not just Palm Sunday. For quite a few years now, it’s been Palm & Passion Sunday because too often we want to emphasize the positive nature of the day and ignore the pain that follows. But we just can’t do that and fully appreciate the joy of next Sunday, when God refuses to take the “No” of the cross for our answer and brings Jesus back to life.

Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is a deep passion we cannot ignore. We can’t skip over it or edge around it. We have to live through it with Jesus. We have to share the pain of his betrayal and humiliation. And we have to know that he did it all for us.

If we had been there shouting “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday, we might just as well have been there on Good Friday shouting, “Crucify him!” We’re all guilty of failing to love others the way Jesus loves us. Jesus dies because of our failure to love. All our sins arise from a failure to love, and Jesus dies for our sins.

“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus says, “that he lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

Throughout Lent we’ve been studying the book Reckless Love by Tom Berlin. In his final chapter, he talks about emulating Jesus. That doesn’t necessarily mean challenging the authorities the way Jesus did. It does mean loving others the way Jesus did and does. In all situations, we ask ourselves, what does Jesus’ rule of love tell us to do? What does love demand of us? What is the loving thing to do at this moment?

Sometimes loving others can lead to great suffering. Sometimes it leads to a cross. In this next week, as we meditate on the last days of Jesus, I ask you to think not only about the suffering that Jesus endures but also why our failure to love others makes that suffering inevitable, and how emulating Jesus also can be our path through suffering to Resurrection.


This message was delivered April 5, 2020, Palm & Passion Sunday, via Facebook Live to members of Edgerton United Methodist Church and others who might find it.