On Palm Sunday my preacher talked about Jesus, Jesus riding on a donkey like a hero, King Jesus parading toward His destiny as the Savior and Deliverer of God’s people.
The crowds that day cried, “Hosanna.” And while Hosanna was proclaimed with joy at the triumphal entry, it is a joyful, hopeful desperation. Because “hosanna” is a hungry word, a dying man’s word, a slave’s word, a word on the tip of parched tongues.
Israel saw in Jesus a Savior and she wailed, “Hosanna!”
Literally: Save. Us. Now.
Palm Sunday is the moment when hopeless, tired, oppressed people catch a glimpse of salvation to come.
Oppression is defined like this: “The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.”
The Jews were certainly oppressed—oppressed by Rome, oppressed by their religious leaders, oppressed by a scheming upper class, and oppressed, most significantly, by the power of sin and death.
Jesus came to set the captives free.
And He did. And He does. And He will.
But today, some of us are still captives. Many of us, even those of us faithful to Christ and freed from the sting of sin, are a people oppressed, a people under the thumb of rulers and powers, principalities and the like—all out to eat us, to use us for parts, to steal what we have and what we might have later, too.
No, we’re not slaves to Rome…
We’re slaves to Capital One. And Apple. Target. Coca-Cola. Blue Cross, Blue Shield. Pharmaceutical companies. Monsanto. Vogue magazine. Facebook…
Just because we call America the “Land of the Free” doesn’t mean we are.
We are a people who can’t eat well even when we want to because good food is expensive and bad food is cheap.
We are a people told at every turn, “You’re too fat.” And told seconds later, “Eat more chicken.” Told “You’re beautiful as you are” by the very companies hawking products to make us more beautiful.
We are a people who can’t climb out from under the mound of debt we accumulated as child-adults, mailed candy-colored cards the minute we broke free of our parents’ supervision.
We are a people who want to be pure but can’t unsee the images forces upon us on billboards, in a magazine on a table at our best friend’s house, on the web page that was supposed to be about the White House but was actually debauchery.
We are a people who can’t make a cup of coffee for fear we’re drinking the sweat of ill-paid, mistreated workers in a faraway land. And who can’t sweeten it without fear of cancer.
We are a people who want to know the truth but don’t know where to find it. No one speaks straight—not Fox News, not CNN, not our schools, not even all our churches.
We are a people who would be happy with our small houses and old cars if we didn’t spend all day watching people on TV complain about their houses and cars, nicer than ours but not nice enough.
We are a people who will never be enough. Never have enough. Never know enough. Never do enough. Never make enough.
Here in this land of plenty, we are daily convinced there is never ever enough. We call it ambition and the pursuit of happiness, but it is oppression.
Because if there were ever enough, if for one moment we were all content, profits would stop growing and stock prices would drop and the rich people who get rich on the backs of discontented consumer cattle would be bothered.
We are a people, friends, who should cry “Hosanna!”
Because we need saving.
It seems proper to write a post like this before Easter, before the resurrection, before the whole of hope breaks loose.
But, of course I’m writing it after Easter, too, and I can’t completely make sense of that.
I think many of us need to break free today, to be reminded that Christ has broken the shackles of sin and death, to walk away from the burden of our guilt and shame, to know that salvation has come, that freedom is free.
Some of us feel oppressed by the natural consequences of our bad choices, ankle weights slowing our run to a jog when we long to sprint. We need to keep running, to pray for strength, and to make better choices, to remember that every good choice makes the run tomorrow easier.
Others of us cannot avoid the burdens we bear, heaped upon as they are by the forces of evil, reminders that the kingdom of Heaven has not fully and finally broken through.
Some of us, especially the poor and the weak, will continue to suffer under the weight of a fallen humanity.
What I suspect is this: Most of us reading this post are both oppressed and oppressors. We suffer under systematic violence, misogyny, hatred, idolatry and greed. And at the same time, we feed the system.
We keep buying cheap coffee and cheap clothes and cheap tomatoes, oppressing workers all over the world. And we do it partially because so many among us can’t make enough money to support a family and buy fair trade.
We pay for pornography, oppressing women and (yes) children, abused in an industry unconcerned with the health and well-being of its victims. And as we make slaves of them, we become enslaved ourselves.
We buy seventy inch television screens to replace our fifty inch ones and stack our rejects in landfills, 175 million tons of it each year. We oppress the land and future generations in our slavery to advertisers and professional football and our own greedy thirst for spectacular entertainment.
We starve ourselves to measure up to some arbitrary definition of beauty, a definition the beauty industry intentionally changes to discourage contentment and fuel sales, and at the same time, we enroll our daughters in beauty pageants, parading them before a panel to be judged on an appearance they cannot change.
When I look at the children of Israel on Palm Sunday, I see a people aware of their oppression, a people desperate to be saved from a life they cannot bear.
But when I look at us, a people equally burdened (although in different ways), I too often see a crowd drugged into apathy by the momentary satisfaction of a house in the suburbs, a new car, a closet full of clothes, and a yearly vacation to Disney World.
You guys. It’s bad out here—the kind of bad that makes you want to kick and scream.
Scream “Hosanna!” Yell it at the top of your lungs. Yell it in the grocery store. Yell it at the nursing home and in hospital halls and in your child’s elementary pick-up lane. Yell, “Hosanna” because you cannot save yourself and you cannot save the world.
But, people of God, Body of Christ, don’t just yell Hosanna. Be Hosanna.
Step up and step in and save the world. Be the light and the love Christ called us to be.
Fight for the poor and the weak. Fight for our children. Fight for the people in actual, literal slavery right now today.
Fight for freedom by spending only what you have on only what you need. Fight for freedom by turning off your radio and turning off your TV. Fight for freedom by feeding the hungry and feeding them well. Fight for freedom by refusing to crash diet or phototshop your wrinkles in family pictures.
Support a community garden.
Buy used clothes or fair trade clothes. Or just buy a lot less clothes.
Adopt a child through Compassion or World Vision. Teach your child that other people matter just as much as she does.
Give more money. To your church. To your friends who need it. To charities and missionaries and Bible translation committees and whoever else can find a good way to spend it.
Get rid of your stuff. You don’t need it; it’s just weighing you down, tying you to this world in which you do not belong.
On Palm Sunday, the children of God cried “Hosanna” and laid palm branches and cloaks at the feet of their Deliverer. Hopeful, expectant.
Today we echo their hope-filled cries of desperation. And we answer them with kingdom lives, our whole selves offered in the fight for freedom, our whole hearts confident the One who brings rescue has come and is coming.