Just last Sunday someone pointed out that my name is a Biblical one and we don’t hear of too many Lois’ these days. My parents took great pride in the fact that they selected a Biblical name for me—Lois is the grandmother of the apostle Paul’s right hand man, Timothy—but they also loved it because they thought it was a beautiful name. I’ve enjoyed going through life with this name, both because it is Biblical and because I was rarely confused with other classmates. I did, however, grow weary of the relentless, all too obvious jokes about Lois Lane and Superman and the never-ending question, “Hey, Lois Lane, where’s Superman?”
Where is Superman, indeed? As we ponder the week ahead, a week full of betrayal, abandonment, torture, and execution, I wonder how many of us will, at some point want to turn away from the cross and raise that very same question, “Hey! Where’s Superman?”
I don’t ask this flippantly or accusingly. The journey of Holy Week is not for the faint of heart and we may be tempted to want to minimize, trivialize, or outright ignore the painful narrative in which Jesus is subjected to the worst this world has to offer.
In fact, I will be the first to confess that while I have spent a career preaching and teaching about how God’s power is made perfect in weakness—I’m hosting an Adult Education series in two weeks on the very topic—I have often felt resistant to the way of the cross in the deepest recesses of my being. Instead I have harbored unconscious fantasies of being rescued by an invincible superhero who would avenge all our losses, painlessly transform all our griefs, and whisk us away from all suffering.
I know I am not alone. In Hunting the Divine Fox, Christian writer Robert Farrar Capon writes, “The human race is, was and probably always will be deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. We don’t want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. We crucified Jesus, not because he was God, but because he blasphemed: He claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It’s not that we weren’t looking for the Messiah; it’s just that he wasn’t what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. He would carry a folding phone booth in his back pocket. He wouldn’t do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying.”
What kind of Messiah did the crowds who hailed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem really want? What were their hopes and dreams?
Did Jesus’ arrival from a place close to the Mount of Olives stir up the ancient prophecies that the Messiah would descend from the mount to set them free? They certainly treated him like a conquering hero, spreading cloaks and branches before him, evoking the triumphal entry almost two centuries earlier of the Maccabees, a group of faithful Jews who had waged a successful revolt against a brutal foreign regime.
What were they thinking when they yelled, “Hosanna,” which literally translates as “Save us?”
Most scholars agree that the crowd wanted to be saved from yet another brutal, foreign regime, this time the Roman Empire. They wanted to be vindicated by a strong leader whom they had long envisioned. As Robert Capon points out, they, we, the human race, wanted that Superman who had the phone booth in his back pocket from which he would handily burst forth in power to set things right.
Hosanna! Save us! If we stop for a moment we can hear the mix of desperation, excitement, world-weariness, and hope in the crowd’s expectations. Lest we judge their motive, let us remember the kind of cruelty and domination they had suffered at the hands of the Romans and countless oppressors through the ages. They longed for a military hero because they had been disempowered and dehumanized far too long.
Hosanna! Save us! If we were in that crowd what salvation would we be seeking?
Save us from our enemies—from the Republicans, from the Democrats, from corrupt government, from terrorists.
Save us from the unspeakable pain we feel at the death of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Michael Brown and Sandra Bland, and an unending list of people killed because of the color of their skin.
Save us from the prejudices that cause us to shut people out of our hearts and lives because they look and act differently than we do.
Save us from mean-spirited legislation and rhetoric that widens the gap between Haves and Have-nots.
Save us from the forces that fracture our lives locally and globally.
Perhaps we also need to be saved from shame, that deep sense of being hopelessly flawed that eats away at our courage and self-esteem. Perhaps we need to be saved from wounds sadly inflicted by families or institutions we should have been able to trust in an ideal world. Perhaps we need to be saved from health concerns, employment issues, and problems in our relationships.
I’d like to ask you to take a moment and think about what you would shout out to Jesus if you stood along the parade route to Jerusalem. Hosanna! Jesus, save me! What does salvation look like to you?
Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is remarkable in its ordinariness. The narrative focuses a lot of energy on Jesus’ very particular instructions for obtaining his mount—a young donkey that has never been ridden. God’s plan for salvation as Mark portrays it has been carefully thought out. When the parade is over Jesus goes into the temple, looks around at everything, and returns to Bethany. It’s sort of like you and me, arranging for a big event–a wedding, a retirement party, a fundraiser–and we go look at the venue to be sure everything is in order. This story ends up being less the stuff of military conquests and much more the stuff of careful planning. It’s as if Mark wants us to see God’s presence in the down to earth, minute details of our lives.
We know of course that the story will go badly after this, at least for a good while. Before we get to the joy of resurrection we will see Jesus abandoned, tortured, and executed. There is no phone booth from which he bursts forth in power, no spectacular escape from his cross of pain. Jesus is not a conquering hero, and for a time, may even appear to be a pathetic failure to his followers.
Yet, perhaps when our spirits are quiet, we can see in his suffering a willingness to stand with us in our suffering, and in his triumphant ride into Jerusalem a powerfully subversive love. Jesus saves us because he refuses to engage in or escalate violence. Jesus saves us because he does not return evil for evil. Jesus saves us as he refuses to give in to human agendas or ego, even his own. Jesus saves us as he rides into Jerusalem in quiet trust that God will have his back even in the midst of unimaginable evil.
When I was in college I actually knew Superman, or at least the actor who portrayed him. Christopher Reeve was as beautiful inside as he was out—a stunningly handsome young man, but more importantly, a very kind soul. When a tragic accident made him a quadriplegic, the arc of his glamorous life was forever altered. He endured endless medical treatments, fought hard to regain limited movement, and most importantly became an advocate for people with spinal cord injuries. His dignity and good cheer touched thousands of people who had been marginalized because of their disabilities.
I have heard countless testimonies of how Chris brought hope and meaning to so many who had previously felt confined to the shadows. People who thought their lives were over were encouraged by Chris’ example, but even more so by his living in solidarity with them. No longer a powerful Hollywood actor, Chris was now a wounded healer, someone whose suffering became the source of hope and healing.
Hosanna, save us, we cry to Jesus as he makes his way into Jerusalem. And in our all too human fear we are tempted to cry, “Do our will! Work your magic! Be our super hero! If you don’t fit our expectations we will be terribly disappointed, maybe even lose faith in you.”
And yet he rides on, a different kind of Messiah, a Messiah whose very wounds will become the source of our hope and healing. As he rides on to face the powers of death and hell they will lose their grip on us. There is no hell to which we can descend that Jesus cannot make holy by his presence there. There is no hatred he cannot absorb into his being and transform by the power of his love. And, wonder of wonders, even our faithlessness and doubt and questions cannot keep Jesus from loving us. As we look on this love, a love that is stronger than death, we are forever changed and enabled to cry at last, “Hosanna! Save us, Jesus! We are waiting for you!”