Here we are again. Telling this age-old story that brings us so much happiness. Shouting with joy “Christ is Risen!” and reveling in the fact that God is here, here where we gather to offer praise and prayer, here where we are with all our varied skills and arts, here where we declare that God loves us, We talk about Jesus’ supreme sacrifice, we cry out that our wounds have been healed and our sins wiped away, we declare that our savior is risen. as we shout to the heavens that the open tomb means that all is right with the world.
But maybe all doesn’t feel right. We have been saved but our world still seems so broken; death has supposedly lost its sting, yet we are still hurting; Christ lived and died and rose but our lives together are not yet perfect.
Last week, we remembered Palm Sunday and the cries of the people shouting “hosanna.” As Jesus entered the city. the people cried out “save us.” They looked to Jesus, as we do, to make everything right.
And Jesus showed up. Following in the line of prophets and ancestors of the Jewish faith in which he was raised, Jesus answered God’s call. “Here I am,” the Hebrew hineni that we looked at in the fall when we explored stories where God called to Abraham and Moses and Samuel and all answered hineni, “Here I am God. what will you ask of me?”
Jesus responded to the people’s call of hosanna with hineni. It’s a response he’d been giving for years: according to John’s Gospel, for millennia. In the beginning, God’s Word, cried out in a big bang of creation, “here I am.” In Jesus, that Word became flesh, came to John the Baptist in the Jordan River presenting himself to God and the people, being ritually washed in baptism as a declaration of “here I am, ready to begin his work.”
This is work that he cannot do alone. One by one he called to others “hineni, here I am, come and follow me.” And one by one, they responded. The ones we think of as The Twelve, like, Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel – and the ones we sometimes forget, who seem unlikely disciples, like Nicodemus the Pharisee and the Samaritan woman at the well. Each has their own story, their own unique interaction with Jesus, each has their own response of “hineni, here I am.”
Over and over again, Jesus has responded to our cries of “hosanna, help us” with his reassurance of “hineni , Here I am.” Using miraculous signs and sensational events, he pointed our attention to God’s wonders by offering healing to the sick and hope to the hopeless. “Jesus save us,” we cry out. “Here I am,” he answers again and again and again.
But that’s not enough for us. We’re scared, we worry, we look for reasons for our pain. We turn on each other: we divide and we blame and we scapegoat. We want someone else to carry the burden, someone else to feel the pain, someone else to take the weight of the world.
Generation after generation, we have perpetuated this cycle of violence and vengeance. Again and again and again.
John, ch. 11:47-50
So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”
Jesus heard us crying out “save us” and, knowing that our next step is so often to target and scapegoat, he answered with “here I am, instead of killing each other, take me.” Jesus knew that in our fear we would turn from God; in our despair, we’d fall back on violence, so he put himself in that place holding up the mirror for us to see that which we know not what we do.
Hosanna, Hineni: We cry out “save us” and Jesus responds “here I am.” Even when it leads to death, to a horrible death on a cross at the hands of a corrupt and oppressive government. Even when he has his own doubts and fears, praying and crying out to God his own “hosanna” in the garden of Gethsemane. Still he answers God’s call – “not my will, but yours…hineni.”
Now, we know that God’s story isn’t over unless there are three alliterative words – we know that we’re not done yet.
Hosanna and hineni must be followed by hallelujah – “Praise God.”
The story’s not over. After his death, many of his disciples who answered his call with “here I am” desert him. “Here I am” turns to “I’m going anywhere but here.” His followers scatter to the wind, worried about he consequences, afraid of what comes next.
But not all of them.
In John’s telling, Mary of Magdala is the only one that shows up that morning. Seeing the stone rolled away from the tomb, she is filled with despair – “they’ve taken him away.” She goes to tell the others. Peter and another disciple run to see, like two schoolchildren giddily racing to see who gets there first. Seeing the empty tomb, they appear satisfied; they simply return home. Apparently not saying anything to anyone.
Mary still hasn’t given up, she remains. And because she does she is the first to recognize the risen Christ. His “hineni” now comes in the form of her name. “Mary,” he speaks, and her eyes and mind and heart are open. Her joyous Hallelujah becomes an invitation as she runs to tell the others of Christ’s return so that they can praise God together.
Mary’s encounter is unique to her. During his life and after his resurrection, Christ meets individuals, each experiencing Jesus in their own way. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman meet Jesus where each is; Mary’s meeting is different from Peter and Thomas and the others.
We all have our own cries of “save me.” We cry out to God “hosanna, save us from despair and depression and division; fix our lives and our world and our hearts; make it all better.” If you have ever cried out to God to save you, say amen.
Over and over again, Christ answers “here I am.” For each of us, the answer and the encounter may be different. God is here in our community, in the songs that our children sing, in the prayers we share, in the hugs of friends, in the listening ear of a neighbor, in the work we do together to make our world a better place, in the love that we share and in the determination we find in each other to never give up hope. If you believe that God has ever responded “here I am” in your life, say hallelujah.
We cry out hosanna and God answers hineni. Every time. Endlessly. How can we respond with anything but a joyous “hallelujah.” God created this world for us. Over and over again, we are shown that love can conquer violence and death. Christ has died and has risen and lives on in us. When we follow Christ’s lead, when we allow God to possess our inmost heart, the weapons of death will lose their power, the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our God and of our Christ – on earth as in heaven – and joy will dawn every day as it does on Easter.
Where will you find your hallelujahs? In the songs of children, in the music of our community? Will you praise God through the love you share with others? Will you praise God by telling others about the ways you have encountered the risen Christ?
God hears your cries of hosanna and eagerly responds with hineni. As joy downs this Easter day, let’s respond with joyous shouts of hallelujah! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah? Hallelujah? Hallelujah!