Spiritual Practices for Preaching
Shouting Hosanna in Ministry
In many ways the celebration of Palm Sunday has been lost amid the more somber focus in most mainstream congregations on Palm/Passion Sunday. Life is full of conflict and suffering. That is clearly revealed in Matthew's juxtaposition of the Celebrative Entry into Jerusalem with the Cleansing of the Temple. But, often we are short on celebration in ministry. We are anxious about declining memberships, budget woes, and the aging of our congregations, along with the diminishing influence of mainline and progressive religion in North America.
Ministry is a full season enterprise, embracing death as well as life, but we must never neglect the celebrative aspects of ministry. Ministry is about joy, as the apostle Paul proclaims to the Philippians. "Rejoice in God always; again, I will I say rejoice."
Joy in life and ministry is not accidental. It is cultivated through spiritual practices, as Paul suggests to the church at Philippi: thanksgiving, the use of spiritual affirmations, prayer, and generosity. Joy comes from celebrating the amazing realities of life. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once noted that "radical amazement" was the hallmark of the spiritual journey. And, then, as we remember the wonders of life, shout "Hosanna!"
Hosanna can mean "save, I pray" or "praise." Shouting Hosanna means celebrating beauty and saying "thank you." It means celebrating God's faithfulness through all the seasons of life, both joyful and tragic. As Meister Eckhart noted, if the only prayer you can make is "thank you," that will be sufficient.
As you prepare for Palm Sunday, take some time to consider the following questions as a form of spiritual examination:
- For what are you most thankful in your life?
- For what are you most thankful in your ministry and congregation?
- Where do you feel blessed?
- Where do you find beauty in life?
- What amazes you?
- To whom do you need to say "thank you"?
- Where do you need to let loose and celebrate? Where do you need to shout "hosanna!"
Hosannas balance the pain and conflict of holy week. A truly realistic faith embraces sadness, grief, and pain, but places these in the larger context of grace, gratitude, and wonder. While we never fully know the endings of our "passion weeks," whether we will rise or falter, we can trust that God is faithful, and whether we live or die, we are God's beloved. Shout Hosanna!
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.