Do you hear the people sing? It’s the song of people who will not be slaves again. It’s the song of freedom. They are singing, “Hosanna!” in the streets. “Hosanna” means “Save, Rescue, Deliver.” There is a song of revolution on people’s lips; there’s a chant of change. Their leader, the inspirer, the organizer, the one who will save them is coming into view. The long oppressed will soon be free! What joy! What excitement! A new king will bring justice!
It’s not an accident that this chorus sounds through the streets on this particular week, for a festival of freedom is taking place already. It’s Passover. Each year, the nation gathers in Jerusalem to remember their liberation from slavery generations ago. They celebrate their freedom from Pharaoh under a leader named Moses. Freedom happened in the past, when Moses came and broke their chains of slavery in Egypt. However, they have once again lost their freedom. As an occupied nation, now they live under the rule of the Roman Empire. They saw freedom once before, so they know it can happen again. Their annual ritual proclaims glory to YHWH God who liberated them before, in faith that YHWH will do so again.
When Jesus comes into Jerusalem, the people sing their liberation song in faith that he will break the chains of Roman occupation. It is a street dance, a political parade, a revolutionary victory song trusting in advance of seeing. It’s a freedom march into Jerusalem. Do you hear the people sing? Hosanna! Savior! They cry, “Glory, oh Glory! Glory!”
What happens when the oppressed get riled up? What happens when the peasants gather and sing of freedom? When the 99% occupy the market square? What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?
The powers get nervous. The powers gather up their troops as well. The powers flex their muscle and show their force. The powers put on a parade of military might—swords begin to rattle, helmets gleam in sunlight, horses stomp their feet eager at the bit. What happens when the oppressed stand up and start to sing? The ugly truth is people die. Everyone knows that. When the people sing aloud the hope of their heart to the powers-that-be, someone’s gonna die.
Jesus was no fool. He didn’t need a crystal ball, an angelic messenger, or powers of an omniscient God. He knew he would die. The gospels are clear that the powers-that-be have been growing more anxious with each miracle and story he offers. The religious leaders have become more afraid every time a crowd gathered around Jesus. He spoke to them of liberation and freedom; he showed them a different way. He began to break the laws that kept people on the margins. The religious leaders can’t let him continue. Jesus is not stupid; he sees their traps and baits. He knows they are out to stop him. Before they ever enter Jerusalem on this Freedom Day, Jesus knows how it will end, he tells his followers. Mark’s gospel builds suspense quickly as Jesus reports his impending death to his disciples three separate times. The last time he gives even greater details.
32They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, something like: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and [I] will be handed over to the [religious leaders], and they will condemn [me] to death; [but the priests can’t kill me, so] then they will hand [me] over to the [Romans]; [we know how Romans do] 34they will mock [me], and spit upon [me], and flog [me], and [then they will] kill [me]; and after three days [we] will rise again.”
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. They are on the road to Jerusalem to participate in this week-long festival of freedom remembered and to face the powers that be. Jesus walks ahead of them; he leads the way. He does not surround himself with armor or blend into the many people on the road to Jerusalem. He does not slink or sulk or drag his feet—he stands out, he stands before the crowd. He walks with purpose and courage, even knowing how it will end. Those going with him, are amazed indeed, and those following behind are afraid, for good reason. Promise and fear mingle. Hope and despair live together. Pride and sorrow fill the hearts of his followers. Loyalty and betrayal walk with them.
It’s not a suicide walk although it will end in his death. It’s not insanity or a death wish that drives him. It’s a vision that keeps him walking toward Jerusalem; it’s God’s vision. It’s about overcoming oppression; it’s about liberation of people’s spirits and their bodies; it’s about allowing those without vision of tomorrow to see again; it’s about the way of God’s kingdom. Yes, Jesus knows he will die, but he knows the Way will continue. He knows defeating the power of oppression is worth the sacrifice—oh, they will kill his body, but that’s not going to be the end. That won’t kill the movement of God’s love. They can’t stop the Way of truth and justice and mercy—even if, no, when they kill him. People will know true freedom, liberating them from the powers of this world, from the threats and the intimidation, from the fears, establishing God’s reign in the hearts and spirits of men, women, and children; Jesus walks on trusting in faith knowing that he must travel through death to get to the resurrection.
On your journey to liberation, on your road to transformation, on The Way to bringing forth the kingdom of God’s way, what amazes you about the vision of God’s way? What makes you pause in awe and wonder as you experience God leading us forward? On your journey to transformation, your journey to living God’s way, what makes you pause, a little afraid of the sacrifices you will make so that it may be so?
In amazement and in fear, have faith in the One we follow into new life. May it be so.