In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s a story that’s fascinated historians about the ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope, and the mighty emperor Alexander the Great. It goes something like this: The powerful Alexander had heard about some of the musings of Diogenes, who was constantly unimpressed with things like wealth, power, and decorum, and Alexander was intrigued. So he decided he would go to this iconoclast philosopher and offer to grant anything that Diogenes offered. Some say that he went to show that Diogenes was just as shallow as those he criticized, thinking that the philosopher would ask for wealth or some official rank in the kingdom. Others thought it was because Alexander was truly impressed with this thinker and wanted to reward him appropriately. Whatever the reason, Alexander approached Diogenes, who was sitting on the steps of the forum, basking in the sunlight. The ruler told the philosopher that he would grant him whatever he wished. Diogenes looked up at Alexander and said, “I want you to get out of my light.” So the emperor stepped aside and Diogenes went back to his basking.
No matter what reason Alexander had for offering Diogenes the desire of his heart, the answer that Diogenes offered was meant to be an insult. And it was. When a king tells you to ask whatever you want, it’s an insult to ask for something so little. It’s even more of an insult to tell him to get away from you. It’s a slap in the face to think that someone could do so little for you, especially when they can, in reality, do so very much.
Compare that account with what we have presented before us today on Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He’s immediately recognized as a king. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” the crowds shout, “even the King of Israel!” They knew that they were watching the prophecies unfold: Jesus was riding into the great capital city of Jerusalem, built on Mount Zion, sitting on a donkey’s colt, just as His great ancestor Solomon had done when he arrived to be coronated as king of Israel.
Only this King was coming to do much more than Solomon, or any other king had ever done for Israel. This King was coming to give His life. There was nothing that He would not do for His people. He’d told them as much, time and time again. He would be betrayed and handed over, beaten and mocked, even killed and then raised, all for the sake of His subjects. He would give them everything that was His. He would give them eternity.
And the faithful, those holding the palm branches in their hands, knew this. They cried out, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us!” It was a big ask. Save us! Save us from Herod’s cruelty! Save us from Pilate’s incompetence! Save us from Rome’s oppression! Save us from constantly being on the brink of being snuffed out! Save us from the sins we know we’ve committed, from the mistakes of our past, from ourselves! Hosanna! Save us now, we pray! It was an enormous request, yet they asked it.
And He granted it. He did exactly what they prayed for, if not in the way they thought it would be granted. He did save them, first and foremost from their sins. He saved them from the Pharisees’ crushing Law. He saved them from the Sadducees’ manipulation and corruption of the temple. He would show Pilate to be the coward that he was. He would expose Herod as the godless pretender to the Judean throne that he was. He showed them that the kingdom of God was not of this world, so not even the powerful Roman Empire could touch it. He said “Yes” to their cries of “Hosanna!” And even knowing that it would cost Him His life, He still granted it in His own mysterious and earth-shattering way.
What will you ask of your King today as He comes to be here with you? What will you ask of Him this Holy Week, as His life is poured out for you like an offering, all week long? Will you ask Him for money? A better car? A house? Will you ask Him for power? Influence? Getting your way? Will you ask Him for only a couple hours, for an evening, for a few minutes this entire week? Or will you be so bold as Diogenes and tell Him to get out of your way, to stop bothering you this week, to let you do what you want, to get out of your light so you can get back to your comfortable basking?
I suspect that even now you know that these are not the kinds of requests you should make. Your need is greater than the small passing things of this world: material goods, fame, fickle power, and even more fickle respect from the world. Besides, He’s already promised you daily bread, everything you need to support your body and life. And knowing that it’s a great insult to reject the offer of a king, especially a King such as this, I suspect that you’re already shying away from asking Him to move so that you can doze in the sun a few more moments.
No, your need goes deeper. You’ve felt it. You know that there’s more—that you’re meant for more. You know that the world could be better; in fact, it should be better. You know the things that haunt and terrify you. You’ve heard the haunting whispers of your sin, trying to entice you to return to them, or accusing you and tormenting your conscience with the memory of what you’ve done. You’ve felt your heart race when you consider your mortality—something we’ve all done a lot more of this last year—and it frightens you, a little or a lot. You know that you need to put in bigger requests with this King. You need rescue. You need forgiveness. You need Him to break in and burst apart the chains that keep crawling their way all over you. You need to be saved—from something. It might be different than the person sitting next to you or in front of you or behind you in the pew. But you need to be delivered. And your need is great. It’s urgent. And it’s getting greater and more urgent every day.
So the Church, in her wisdom, has taught us how to pray from that deep hunger and need, even if we haven’t realized that she’s teaching us. Hosanna. The prayer of the triumphal entry—Hosanna! Save us! We’re begging you, rescue us from all this! It’s prayed now, by us, in just a few minutes. Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Save us! Save us from our sin, from our fear, from death, from covid, from terror, from violence. Save us from evil and lies and mockery of your truth. Save us from temptation and weakness, from lust and guilt, from envy and greed. Save us from the exhaustion this fallen world has imposed on us. Save us from it all! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Our Lord is coming to you. As surely as He came to the people of Jerusalem, He’s coming to you. And as surely as He saved them, He’s saving you. He’s gone to His cross to win everything—everything—for you. He’s won the Father’s love and good graces. So ask. Whatever it is, even if it’s bigger than you thought you could ask, even if it seems impossible, ask it of Him. Ask for the Lord to forgive you, even for the big sins you commit. Ask Him to heal you, even from the most unhealable things. Ask Him for eternity. It’s yours. He fought and won all of that for you. There’s nothing He won’t give you. Yes, you can ask for daily bread, too—all the things we need to get by in this life—but don’t just stop there. Ask for forever. That’s what’s contained in this week. Ask Him for more and more and more time together with Him. He’ll grant it, gladly. Lay out all your requests, and walk with Him to where all those things will be given for you. Walk with Him this Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, in the quiet trails of prayer we’ll have here in this sanctuary. Walk with Him to Holy Thursday, where He gives you Himself in His body and blood to strengthen and keep you. Walk with Him up Golgotha on Good Friday, where He gives His life in exchange for yours, His death so that death will never be able to clench its grip around you. Walk with Him through the entire history of salvation at the great Easter Vigil, when He shows you how all history was leading up to this moment of life overcoming death, all history for your benefit. And go with Him to the empty tomb on Easter, where you see the promise of your own empty grave when you rise to be with Him forever. Pray throughout this week, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” and then, in the name of the Lord, come and be blessed in our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. In the name of Jesus, who gives us eternal life, Amen.