(I am not preaching on Sunday — youth pageant on Palm Sunday here — so here is my Palm Sunday “sermon” for the year.)
Every year we read the story.
Every year people shout “Hosanna!” at Jesus while he entered Jerusalem.
Every year they shout “Save me! Save us!” in the presence of their religious oppressors while their governmental oppressors bring in military enforcers to keep them under control.
Every year they have a savior to shout to, a savior to lay eyes on and touch.
“Who will save us?” I imagine they had asked this over and over again. “Who will save us? Who will end our oppression? Who will end our suffering?” I imagine the sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days just praying to God in suffering silence, longing for any relief from the harm thrust upon them.
Jesus did not hide from their oppressors. Jesus did not do his work in silence or in private. Jesus stood up, spoke out, risked his life — and ultimately gave it, though the crowds did not know that, yet — to demand change and call out the sins of the powerful.
Jesus gave them the courage to shout their prayers for deliverance, their demands for saving, their simply need to not suffer anymore. He gave them the courage to shout in the presence of their oppressors.
Following Jesus did not end their oppression. Continuing to live as his followers after his death certainly increased their suffering and oppression for a time. But following Jesus and his example gave them hope it can be better, hope we can do better, hope in a better world without oppression and exploitation.
Jesus gave them hope, gave them courage, gave them voice to shout, “Hosanna! Save me! Save us!”
Recent weeks have made me pray, “Save us…please save us…” very quietly in dark corners and late nights. We live in a time where children die and politicians use their deaths to further irrelevant political culture wars. We live in a time where politicians declare “mental health” the cause of violence while defunding mental health care, defunding schools, and stoking hatred between groups.
We live in violent, hate-filled times, and the powerful scold us and tell us to stop demanding change.
Where can we find hope? I really do not know. Some days I feel like a fraud in the pulpit because I really do wonder how to have hope when exploitation, violence, and hatred grow like an unstoppable force — and we are not an immovable object.
Even in the church, where can we find hope? Recently leaders in my denomination made a very bad decision, and their response to the backlash was an offer of self-flagellation and wanting everyone to feel better but absolute resistance to actual change in the short- or long-term. They even acknowledged that no one can truly make any changes to our long ordination process or provide any oversight to regional bodies, basically making any true reform impossible.
And this is small. Like only a very small, small number of people can possibly be affected by this. How can we envision our churches reckoning with histories of violence against the marginalized and oppressed, histories of being oppressors and exploiters, when our leaders resist confessing and correcting the harm they cause insiders training to become leaders of those churches?
How can we expect our laws and politicians to serve the most vulnerable when our churches only do the bare minimum? Why do we expect secular institutions to do better than religious institutions? Why do we expect the world to listen to prophets from hypocritical churches demanding changes the churches refuse to do?
The worst part is, when I sit in observation of what happens on a large scale, those affected continue to suffer no matter how much I see and say. LGBTQ+ folks continue to have their humanity and rights denied, women lose the autonomy of their bodies and the right to medical care, children still violently die due to inaction, the powerful continue to use culture wars to divide us so we do not unite to demand the exploitation and oppression and violence stop, and the cries of suffering continue to fall on deaf ears.
And so, in a quiet voice, wanting change and feeling hopeless, I pray, “Hosanna…save us…please, God, save us…”
I do not believe we have a savior coming to give us courage right now. If Jesus comes again in my lifetime (and we believe that particular understanding of the “Second Coming”), I will swallow my words, but right now I think we need to do something. We cannot wait for a figurehead to sacrifice themselves to demand change and salvation.
We need to shout, “Hosanna!” now!
I need to shout, “Hosanna!” now!
Protests and direct action are good actions, political organization is good action, but we all have a way to shout even if our skills and minds lead in different directions.
(To my activist friends, please keep doing your work because I am not built for that work. To my organizing friends, I do not fit into your world but I support your efforts and will help when I can fit in.)
I have a pulpit, and I have this small blog. I have a small circle of influence I can use to call out demands and encourage votes for certain things:
- Stop any legislation that denies the identity or humanity of LGBTQ+ folks, including children, and provide protections so everyone has the same rights to living full lives.
- Stop trying to make the most recent (as of today) school shooting about the gender identity of the shooter. Folks that look and live like me are much more likely to do it, and you know it.
- Start studying the causes of mass shootings in the United States and pass laws based on that research that will protect everyone but especially the most vulnerable.
- Stop claiming mental health is the cause of mass shootings while, in the same breath, supporting politicians and legislation that defund mental health services.
- Restore all reproductive health rights to women in all states (trans men and nonbinary folks included), including termination of pregnancy, and stop lying about the definition of abortion to weasel out of hard questions.
And stop using the Bible to do all of this harm. It does not defend your actions, it directly preaches against harming the marginalized and vulnerable, and it certainly does not defend you against being uncomfortable or having your sins laid bare.
I still feel hopeless, I still struggle to believe we can fix the institutions with anything short of burning them to the ground, and I still do not know how to actually help, but today I say it out loud:
“Save us! Hosanna! Save us!”
“STOP HARMING US! STOP EXPLOITING US! STOP USING GOD TO DEFEND VIOLENCE! SAVE US INSTEAD OF HARMING US!”
But I do not want to confuse my place in this story. I belong with those who told Jesus to silence his followers. I live and work in their world. So, truly, my voice really does have a different purpose than the crowds. I do not live in that suffering, my life does not have the risks.
I see and feel the existential dread, but I know my circle contributes to the suffering. Today, then, I must demand something else of myself and my fellow church leaders:
- Stop bowing to political leaders. Stop participating in their partisan game. Stop pretending anyone in political power is above reproach.
- Stop refusing to confess your sins. Stop taking offense when you must face your shortcomings.
- Stop acting to maintain an institution that harms anyone. Stop acting to protect your comfort and security by maintaining the institution.
- Be very careful claiming your small part of the institution is safe for all. Be very careful claiming you are a safe spiritual leader for all.
- Listen to the cries of those harmed, and stop demanding their silence or demanding they act appropriately. Provide opportunities for those harmed to have their voices heard, and do not put up roadblocks that require their participation in your system.
- If you gain entry into a room of influence, immediately start demanding reform, even or especially if it risks your position in that room.
If we cannot make the church, the Earthly expression of the Body of Christ, the body of the strongest one who sacrificed himself for the weakest and most vulnerable, serve the most vulnerable and safe for everyone — or at least put ourselves at risk trying to make that happen — then we are false prophets demanding secular institutions do the same.
If we cannot confess our sins and repent, we are false prophets. We might as well scold those shouting, “Hosanna!” and tell them to be quiet.
The least and the lowest are crying out. The church should be crying out.
Even when we only have the smallest voice left.
God, Save Us…Hosanna…Save Us…Please…