It is easy to think that ‘Hosanna!’ is a word of celebration. In fact it means ‘Save us!’
When living in Egypt under terrible conditions the Israelites cried ‘Hosanna!’ as a prayer. They longed to be saved from their harsh lives. Forced to make bricks for Pharaoh it was bad enough having to meet quotas but at least the straw to keep the clay together was supplied. But then the supply of straw was no more. They had to find the straw themselves. No wonder they cried ‘Hosanna! Save us!’
Two thousand years ago Israel was occupied by the Romans. The Romans demanded taxes and imposed curfews. Once again the people were crying out in prayer ‘Hosanna! Save us!’ There had been several uprisings trying to oust the Romans but the leaders had either died fighting or been put in prison. Jesus was different from those leaders – he had not tried to raise a rebel army. Rather he had told stories, healed people and given them food.
Just before Passover Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The significance of the donkey escaped the excited crowd. A donkey symbolised gentleness and peace but it was as if the people saw a horse – symbol of strength and war. The crowd saw what they wanted to see: a man who could free them from the Roman occupation.
On a personal level what do we see when we consider this scene? Perhaps we wonder what relevance Jesus has to our lives. What is our equivalent of the Roman occupation? It may be a habit which controls us. Not necessarily an addiction like drugs or alcohol but rather an obsession with what we ‘ought’ to do. This sense of ‘ought’ is an occupation from within the self. The only way to be free of this occupation, to cease being my own worst enemy, is through the cross. Willingness to die in order that we might be free from whatever occupation afflicts us is the unique gift Jesus offers to each of us.
To see the relevance of this to the current situation in the Ukraine is difficult. We can but cry ‘Hosanna! Save us!’ on behalf of both the Ukrainian people and their Russian oppressors.