They nailed him up.

***

They nailed him up at nine o’clock in the morning. The charge against him—the king of the Jews—was printed on a poster. Along with him, they crucified two criminals, one to his right, the other to his left. People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: “You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days—so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!”

The high priests, along with the religion scholars, were right there mixing it up with the rest of them, having a great time poking fun at him: “He saved others—but he can’t save himself! Messiah, is he? King of Israel? Then let him climb down from that cross. We’ll all become believers then!” Even the men crucified alongside him joined in the mockery.

 At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o’clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

 Some of the bystanders who heard him said, “Listen, he’s calling for Elijah.” Someone ran off, soaked a sponge in sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

 But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

The Gospel of Mark, 15:25-41 (TMV)

You keep using that word…

You know the meme. (If you don’t, go watch The Princess Bride. Immediately.)


The word in question is Hosanna.

Folks all across the world are singing it this Palm Sunday morning, just as the people in Jerusalem were 2000 years ago when Jesus rode in triumphantly to Jerusalem on a donkey.

But back then, what they were shouting wasn’t a praise. 

It was a plea.

In a Palm Sunday message by John Piper, he explains:
“Our English word “hosanna” comes from a Greek word “hosanna” which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na.

And that Hebrew phrase is found one solitary place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm 118:25, where it means, ‘Save, please!’ It is a cry to God for help…’Help, save me . . . Hoshiya na!'”

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the whole world is crying, “Save me!”

The whole world is exhausted and broken and begging…

Save us.

Save me.

Hoshiya na.

Interesting that the remaining verses in Psalm 118 are spent praising the Lord and His name, thanking Him.

Anne Lamont writes,

Here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help me, help me, help me,’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ 

Two thousand years ago, palm leaves were a war cry, of sorts. Palm branches represented victory, a claiming of triumph, of peace.

Problem was, victory didn’t come in the way the people then expected it to back then.

Victory doesn’t come for us as we expect it to today, either, does it?

The victory, the triumph, of Palm Sunday isn’t that we will be saved from our worldly and temporary troubles. The triumph is that we are saved eternally and in spite of them.

In spite of our brokenness, He heals our hearts.

In spite of our sin, He forgives us.

In spite of our loneliness, He is with us.

In spite of our distrust, He comes through.

In spite of our self-indulgence, He fills us.

In spite of our pain, He comforts us.

In spite of our ugliest, nastiest, darkest places, He makes us new.

Don’t expect horses and chariots, politicians and riches today, either. In this world, we will always have trouble.

In this world, we will always have reason to cry hoshiya na

But oh, the glory when we cry hoshiya na and He comforts and fills and befriends and heals and forgives…oh the glory when we can thank Him and praise Him and wave our palm branches of hope high, because salvation is in who He is and what He did on the cross and the fact that He is alive. Now. And forever. 

Claim that, dear friends.

Hoshiya na, indeed.


“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not…But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:1-6

Dear New York Times, I don’t get religion either.

In an NPR interview last week with Terry Gross, executive editor of the New York Times Dean Baquet said this:

“I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer, but she’s all alone. We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.”

 

Well, that explains a lot.

Or does it?

Religion is a hot-button word these days. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I “get religion” either, based on how the media and even some churches define it.

Religion is liturgy and ritual, tradition and philosophy, exegesis, hermeneutics, rules and roles, which can be well and good in moderation but none of it goes very far. Folks can walk around all day long, all year long, all their lives long and say they have and do religion. They can go through the motions of ceremonies and holidays and quote great thinkers and claim to be great thinkers themselves. They can get married in and bring their kids to and attend funerals at religious places. At it’s worst, some claim religion and say G-d is why wars and sickness and natural disasters happen. Others claim religion and go on and abuse children and burn crosses and hate Jews and LGBTQ’s and say that G-d hates them, too.

But religion like that is not what Mr. Baquet and his fellow New York Times editors are missing.

If Mr. Baquet and editors at the New York Times want to understand “religion,” what they really need to understand is faith.

For whatever reason, perhaps because of the way He saved me from abominations I survived early in life, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have faith in G-d and Jesus Christ. I always believed all the stories about G-d saving people from lions and fire, floods and Pharoahs. I believed Jesus died and rose again. I believe G-d spoke to Saul on a dusty road near Damascus, used him as Paul, and that he still does that to men today.

Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing to have always had faith, to have always been aware of the fact that 1) I need saving and 2) I need a Savior. In many ways, I think it would be easier to go about life oblivious to the Cimmerian ache not only in the sunken eyes of hurting people all around us, but especially in myself. Believing social reform and government, economic policy and academia can fix this broken world would be more sagacious, after all, than believing in something that can’t be seen or explained.

Regardless, I realized faith–or at the very least, hope that can lead to faith–showed up in what Baquet said in a rather interesting way. I almost missed it myself.

We have a fabulous religion writer, but she’s all alone,” he said.

Now, I don’t know anything about who the religion writer is for the New York Times. As such, I can’t and won’t comment on whether or not she is a Christian or Jewish or Muslim or whatever. What I can comment on is the fact that Baquet says she is alone, and alone is a pretty significant place to be in lieu of the upside-down, unlikely, impossible things G-d did at Christmas.

See, one person alone and with faith has always been the way G-d works to free people from oppression and deliver them from slavery.

NoahAbraham. Moses. Joshua (Numbers 13, 14, and the Book of Joshua). Jacob (Genesis 28-32). Jochebed (Exodus 1-2; Exodus 6:20; Numbers 26:59). Rahab (Joshua 2). Queen Esther (The Book of Esther). King David (I-2 Samuel). Hannah (I Samuel 1).

The people G-d used weren’t perfect, either. (They still aren’t.) Far from it. Moses murdered a man. Rahab was a prostitute. King David was an adulterer and sent a man to his death. There were faults in all of them, just like there are faults in each of us.

And then there was Christmas.

One teenage virgin.

One baby.

One star.

One man.

One cross.

One sacrifice abrogating all others.

One Savior who came to redeem one person at a time.

One G-d who claims us.

Who restores us.

Who loves us.

And who frees us.

I don’t get religion either, Mr. Baquet.

What I do get is that we here in America are oppressed by much–obviously not things like Aleppo, but I’m not talking about that right now. Americans are oppressed by things like division and hopelessness, government overreach and unemployment, drug epidemics  and sometimes by hardships of our own doing.

What I also get is that faith, once tried, is real.

Faith doesn’t keep bad things from happening like abuse and incest, cancer and catastrophe, wars and drunk drivers and infertility, hunger, murder, or funerals at Christmastime. But faith makes it possible to survive.

Faith frees us to heal.

And faith makes it possible to fully, wholly live.

Faith doesn’t make the greatest fodder for front page news, because faith shows up in tender mercies, in hospital waiting rooms, and with a hymn and softly falling snow at a funeral. Faith shows up in the farmer who plants his crops after a year of hard drought. Faith shows up in a mother waiting in line at a food bank and in the child who leaves his change in an offering plate.

No, the New York Times probably won’t soon figure out the role that faith plays in people’s lives.

Because faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and faith is the conviction of things not seen.

Faith isn’t a beat, Mr. Baquet.

Faith is a Savior.

And faith is what holds everything together for believers.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us…
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant…
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.” ~Luke 1:68-69; 72; 78-79