Hosanna… Save us, we pray

The word “Hosanna” features prominently in the Palm Sunday story. It’s shouted by the followers of Jesus who are heralding his entry into Jerusalem as the beginning of his triumphant reign, who were not expecting what was to come just a few days later. I’m sure those who’d shouted “Hosanna” at the sight of Jesus on the donkey’s colt probably looked back five days later–perhaps standing at the edge of a crowd shouting “Crucify him!”–and thought, “How hollow our ‘hosannas’ seem now.”

But, oddly enough, their “Hosannas” were very appropriate. I’d always known “hosanna” to be an exclamation used to express praise and joy and adoration, but I learned recently that its origins are quite different: “hosanna” comes from a Hebrew phrase that means “save us, we pray.” It’s the phrase found in Psalm 118:25, which reads, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!”

This meaning makes it an appropriate cry for all of Holy Week, not just Palm Sunday or Easter morn. When I first began writing this blog post, I was thinking about this from a very personal point of view. I was tired going into Holy Week, but I knew that most of the young 20-somethings who would come to our parish’s marathon of services on Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Holy Saturday/Easter morning were chomping at the bit to culminate Holy Week with singing, dancing, and rejoicing–while I just wanted to find a quiet place to be still and rest and cry out to God. “Hosanna,” I realized, was an appropriate cry for all of us, and my whispering it as “Lord, save us!” from a place of fatigue was no less a cry of praise than the exultant shouts uttered by the jumping, dancing younger people.

Today, as I finish this blog post, I cry “Hosanna” with a broader focus, for I am thinking  of the nearly 300 people killed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. I am thinking of the woman I met with just this morning who is 90 days clean and trying so hard to stay sober. I am thinking of her nephew who was jumped by gang members over the weekend and left with two broken legs. I am thinking of the violence in my neighborhood that is rising along with the temperature.

Hosanna–save us, we pray.

Is perhaps the highest form of praise not a shout of triumph and exultation, but rather a cry for help? a cry that acknowledges we are so deeply in need of saving, so lost in our forgotten, damaged humanity, so deeply confused, so much in need of renewal and redemption that we are helpless in and of ourselves? Is it perhaps highest praise to cry out from that place and express our need for God? to express faith–even the slimmest sliver of it?

Our hosannas–spoken from this place of need–find their hope not in Palm Sunday nor even solely in Easter morn. Our broken hosannas have no place to land in either of those places IF there is no Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in between. In these between days we see God willingly and fully identifying with victims of injustice by becoming one himself, and he did this NOT because he was some kind of masochist but because IN this he was somehow most deeply ONE with broken humanity and THROUGH it he was defeating the very death that has been killing us all.

Our whispered hosannas find their hope in this Suffering Servant-King who still bears scars in his risen body. They find their hope in Jesus the Christ.

Save us, we pray. Oh Lord, we beseech you, save us.

Hosanna

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Friday Winter to Sunday Spring

it is finished

Older daughter Em’s work hanging in the foyer of the church, ready for our Good Friday service

This day I’m thankful for

springtime rain,

birdsong from feathered friends

(persisting in choir practice

despite the drizzle),

trees budding in grey light,

greening grass,

and scents of something fresh and raw

rising from dark, soft soil.

I’m thankful for promise!

Yes, promise:

That the dark, the cold, the separation—

Each of us holed up, weathering out the weather—

These will not last forever.

Warmth will come.

Life will burst forth from the earth

Spring will shake a fist, defiant against

The dark and the cold,

And winter will be swept aside.

I am thankful—

Yet I am reminded, in this Holy Week,

That the promise is only for a time,

The jubilee of spring is temporary,

And indeed is not complete.

Temporary, for the dirge of winter will return;

the seasons will cycle: summer scorch, autumn shrivel, winter burial,

Newness fading to death again and again.

It is, as well, an incomplete jubilee, for even in the best of springs, there is

Blight and sickness, death of young and old,

Fresh emergence of old grudges, old divisions.

On the most beautiful of days, all is still not well.

But this holiest of weeks holds forth greater promise

Than a passing, unfulfilled season.

I am reminded that beyond Friday’s death,

Beyond the now,

There is an eternal Then.

Oh, blessed Sunday,

Day of Celebration

Day of Declaration

Day that assures us

That the eternal Then already has

Crucified death,

Vanquished darkness

Swallowed despair, and

Erased all divisions.

And someday, the eternal Then Himself will transform our hoped-for Then into Now!

When all will be right; all will be fully well.

Sunday life—all the time!

So at present we hold onto hope, we hold onto promise

That though we endure the wintry mix of Friday now,

Clinging to promise in the decay of the tomb,

Yet an eternal Sunday will spring,

Fully finished.

The stone will be rolled away

And we will emerge into a new, abundant Now

That has no end.

 

 

 

 

 

wick and wax

 

wick and wax 2We vigil the night before Easter,

Entering sanctuary in silent darkness—

Till spark meets candlewick and

Fire shines.

Passed from one taper

To another,

Flames grow strong above candles held steady,

And collective glow pushes back the gloom.

We wait in already-but-not-yet time,

Anticipating Resurrection daybreak,

Still grieving in the night of death.

This greater reality is

Held small in my hand—

The flame of glory

Rising from wax,

Melting it,

Dripping tears.

Wick and wax,

Flame and tears,

Glory and sorrow,

Rise and fall—

Already and not yet.

 

Weeping endures for the night

But joy comes in the morning

The Exultation of an Easter life

This is PJ (my youngest) exulting in the bubble pool at the Birmingham, AL, zoo last week!

This is PJ (my youngest) exulting in the foam bubble pool at the Birmingham, AL, zoo last week!

“Through Him also we have [our] access (entrance, introduction) by faith into this grace (state of God’s favor) in which we [firmly and safely] stand. And let us rejoice and exult in our hope of experiencing and enjoying the glory of God.” Romans 5:2 AMP (emphasis mine)

Here are some synonyms I found for “rejoicing”: elation, delight, jubilation, exuberance, celebration, revelry, merrymaking, euphoria.

This past Sunday we celebrated the Resurrection of Christ. In my church, we sang, we clapped, we rang bells, we danced. Many joined hands and skipped up and down the aisles. It was wonderful.

And it shouldn’t be a once-a-year event.

Our senior pastor often reminds us that every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. Each and every one.

And while we often may arrive at church needing encouragement, needing prayer, needing to weep and confess and be healed…

we ALSO need to rejoice, to engage in elation, delight, jubilation, and exuberance.

It’s a necessity for our souls. It’s a reminder that the troubles and sorrows of this life will not last forever.

This past Sunday, I grinned from ear to ear as I sang “Oh happy day/o happy day/when you washed my sin away” and watched the children—who often lead us into joyous abandon—skip down the aisles, tugging adults along with them. My mouth stretched wider (if possible) as I saw a woman in a motorized wheelchair join their line. She zoomed (carefully, of course) around the corners, small children bouncing behind her. Her joy was infectious.

It was a foretaste of heaven, when we will rejoice in the glory of God.

Except she won’t be in a wheelchair there.

After the service, one of my children whispered to me, “Mom, I wish I’d joined the other kids in skipping through the aisles.”

“Why didn’t you?” I asked.

“I don’t know. A little embarrassed, maybe?”

“Do you regret it now?”

The child nodded.

pj bubbles 3“Whenever you’re faced with something like that, you need to think ahead. Ask yourself, ‘Will I regret it if I don’t do this?’ If the answer is yes, do it.”

Some of us rejoice more quietly than others. That’s okay. We’re not all dancers. But we still NEED to rejoice fully, without embarrassment. Our souls require rejoicing like our bodies require water. We must join with other believers in this foretaste of heaven, in our understanding that the awful-beautiful sacrifice of our God for us has set us free to love and enjoy Him, to love and enjoy others. We must let our voices belt out, no matter how out of tune they are. We must sing of our redemption.

In public, here on earth, I may never dance like David—or like my insanely rhythmic youngest child. I’m introverted—and awkward. I am, still, a product of my particular culture, my particular upbringing.

But I can rejoice with my full voice, with my whole heart, with the brothers and sisters surrounding me. I can spread my arms high and wide. I can kneel. I can cry. I can clap. I can tap my toes and shuffle my hips in the only dancing I know how to do.

Let’s celebrate Easter again—

Every Sunday!

The Good Friday “ending”

We traveled to my growing-up state (Alabama) for the first part of spring break, and spring has sprung there! I took this while on a walk in the woods.

We traveled to my growing-up state (Alabama) for the first part of spring break, and spring has sprung there! I took this while on a walk in the woods.

I recently participated in a journal-writing session. “Write about an ending,” the instructor told us, “whatever ending comes to mind. Don’t hold back, don’t erase or scribble out, just write.”

I wrote about a relationship I would like to end—in order to start it anew, with no expectations other than authenticity. I was not surprised by the pain I felt as I wrote, but I was startled by the hope that edged its way in as I dreamed about a new beginning for this relationship. I thought I’d given up on it.

After the instructor announced, “Time’s up!” she asked if any wanted to share. Several brave writers did, and my heart broke for the pain they revealed. Suicide, divorce, death of an infant child… We felt weighed down by the sorrow of it all and yet freed to share our own hurt. After each person read, a moment of silence hung. Those near the reader often reached out and touched a shoulder, a hand. Others pushed the tissue box down the long table. Some looked directly at the reader, conveying sympathy with their eyes; others bowed heads in prayer. Often the next person who volunteered sat next to the one who’d just read, as if to say, “I share your pain. Mine may look different, but I’ve known an ending that brought loss, too.”

I’ve thought off-and-on about that journal writing session, sometimes praying for the relationship I wrote about, sometimes praying for one or another of my fellow writers. It’s what came to mind this morning when I sat down at my computer and thought about this Good Friday post. And though I soon had a focus, the actual writing of it was choppy, interrupted by my children (home on spring break), meal prep, and a visit to church.

I went to church for the Stations of the Cross: fourteen stations, fourteen crosses. We walked from one to another of them, following the figurative path Christ took, beginning at the garden and walking then to betrayal, condemnation, denial and desertion, scourging, the bearing of the cross, the crucifixion, encounter with the thief, care of the Virgin Mary, death, and entombment.

When we finished, my mother-in-law, who’d walked with me, said, “I kept thinking about how He knew what was next, how He knew what was at the end of it, yet He kept going.”

As I came home and continued writing this post, the stations and the journal writing connected. I realized Christ went purposely toward His Good Friday ending so we could have a beginning, so we could have life (I Thessalonians 5:10).

So that one day, that life—that Easter life—could be fully realized.

John was given a vision of that Easter life. He shared it with us in Revelation:

“’Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End.’  (taken from Revelation 21:4-6) 

Christ is the End of all sad, bitter endings.

He is the Beginning of all that is new.

And His Beginning will have no end.

Our Passover

We are in the process of converting the 1970s cowboy-themed basement family room into Dave's and my bedroom (with office space for me!). When Dave painted all the rough wood, this crack-- in the shape of a cross--emerged!

We are in the process of converting the 1970s cowboy-themed basement family room into Dave’s and my bedroom (with office space for me!). When Dave painted all the rough wood, this crack– in the shape of a cross–emerged.

Younger daughter Maddie was looking at the calendar this morning. “Mom,” she asked, “why don’t we celebrate Passover?”

“Oh, we do, hon,” I answered. “We celebrate the biggest Passover of all.”

“We do? But Passover is today. It says so on the calendar.”

“EASTER is our Passover, sweetheart—Good Friday and Easter together. It’s the ultimate Passover. The very first Passover and all the celebrations after were pointing to THE Passover, when God allowed His firstborn to die so that we might live.”

God allowed His firstborn to die—so that we might live.

I am sitting across the table from my firstborn right now. She is eating her cereal; I am drinking my coffee. We have just had a conversation about how great I think she is, about how glad I am to be her mom (she really is a pretty cool kid).

And I am reminded of how God felt about His Firstborn:

“This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

Can you imagine the gladness that enveloped the Trinity in that moment? The Spirit-Dove descending, the great voice shaking the sky, the Son letting the blessing of love and favor fall upon Him!

My heart is full as I write these words. My God knew full well what was going to happen to His Beloved when He spoke that blessing.

But for the sake of me and my firstborn and all my other children—and you and your beloveds, too—He suffered, as Father and as Sacrifice—that we might be set free to LIVE in HIM.

That He might whisper in our ears, “You are Mine! And I love you.”

Thank You, Passover Lamb.

Thank You, Father God.

our second Advent

Here are the four beautiful girls Dave and I took to The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago (with the Joliffe Ballet--woohoo!) last Friday. It was a much-anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. Best part for Dave and me: watching the girls' faces as they watched the ballet!

Here are the four beautiful girls Dave and I took to The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago (with the Joliffe Ballet–woohoo!) last Friday. It was a much-anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. Best part for Dave and me: watching the girls’ faces as they watched the ballet! The boys spent the night with friends–which they said was the better deal! 

Just past 7 on Christmas morning Jake came into our bedroom—we’d said the digital clock could not have a 6 at the front—to announce that he, Patrick, and Maddie were awake.

As Dave and I sloshed mouthwash, Jake chattered, mostly about presents. Then, in the middle of his ramble, he announced, ““Christmas and Easter are the BEST! They’re God’s plan of redemption.”

Well put and true, though we still laughed at the way he said it.

It is now two days after Christmas, our celebration of the Savior’s birth. We anticipated Christmas through Advent, and then we will expect Good Friday and Easter through Lent. As Jake said: The whole picture of God’s capital-R Redemptive Plan.

Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” Lent is a “season of penitence and fasting in preparation for Easter.” The only reason we are able to anticipate or prepare is because we know the outcome. We know the full scope of the story. So even our Lent preparation is tinged with hope, with expectancy of joy at the end.

But the Redemption begun at Christmas, finished on Good Friday, confirmed at Easter, still has a final chapter. This final chapter will end all tears, all injustice, all war. It will dethrone evil and establish God as the visible King of Kings and Christ as the Prince of Peace.

It will make us individually and collectively right and unbroken.

But this second Advent, second arrival, has not yet happened.

We still wait for it.

It is a waiting sustained by a sure hope, but this is often hard to remember.

For though the hope is certain, we know very little about the details. How could all that we see in the world around us, in our very lives—how could we ourselves, broken and flawed as we are—be part of this final Redemption?

Paul calls it “seeing through a glass, darkly.”

We are in many ways like the people of Israel during the first Advent, unable to see that the promises of old were about to unfold in tiny little Bethlehem—unable to see that Roman occupation, a travel edict, a young girl, a loving, faithful carpenter—and a slew of other details and people we know nothing of—could be used to usher in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the details of our lives are such that we, too, wonder if we are of any purpose in the Majestic Plan. Perhaps we, too, have tried to silence our soul-whispers of grand desire and settled for “the best we can make of life.” Perhaps we are going through heartache that makes us moan and cry out “Why?”

That is the reality of our earth-life. Uncertain at best, wailing at worst—waiting, waiting—because there must, must be more.

We must cling to the promise that there is. That the Promise Himself will return and shed light on this world so that the purposes of all that went before will be revealed. We will be amazed at how all of our lives, even the smallest details, was being used in God’s Plan.

Let’s not be like the sleepers in Bethlehem. As Christ was born yards from their beds, they slumbered and then woke the next morning with no difference in perspective.

They missed the Miracle.

If we fail to cling to God’s sovereign goodness (such a beautiful mystery—that in God “sovereign” and “goodness” are inseparably linked), we, too, will miss miracles, particularly the everyday ones of relationship and personal growth. We will lose sight of Purpose.

Anna and Simeon waited for years for the first Advent. There must have been times when they felt they waited in vain, when it was lonely and painful and hard.

But at the end of it, the Purpose they held in their arms shed light on the purposes of every one of their past moments.

So in this long period of the second Advent, let us wait and endure with the understanding that God’s Plan incorporates even our heartache, even our daily grind. Though we are in the dark involving the purposes, He is not.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I Corinthians 13:12, KJV

Glory and Goodness: a sure hope.

Chosen Impotence

NOTE: Inspired by the beautiful Easter hymns I’ve been reading this week, I revised a “poem” I wrote a couple years ago. Just think of it as word-dabbling, not real poetry. I wrote this at Christmas time after I saw my first blown-up nylon Nativity scene.

Another lawn-nativity,

This one inflated,

Blown air shaping colored cloth

Into Mary and Joseph, the wise men, the shepherds.

Hmm,

I am reminded of the Michelin Man or Pillsbury Doughboy.

But distaste aside,

The smallest blob of puffed nylon,

Decked with a curved-line smile and dots for eyes,

Is still meant to represent

My Christ.

My Christ,

How incredibly helpless He chose to be,

in the form of a baby’s helpless body,

A feeble cry the only tool He had

To summon needs and desires.

How UN-omnipotent he seems.

 

Winter gives way to new spring.

A different icon dots church fronts, some yards,

Fewer places than the last.

And, generally, of sturdier material.

No nylon certainly.

Yet the central subject is the same,

But isn’t.

The infant flesh is grown, and

Covers a man’s sinews, bones and muscles

Carpenter-strong.

This Christ, though, is also frail, with

Only a thin line between Him and destruction.

He dangles from punctured wrists,

Pushes on destroyed ankles to get breath,

Bleeds from head and back and side.

 

Another image of impotence:

He cries,

He suffers,

He dies,

 

The Babe and the Crucified One,

These two,

Celebrated every year.

Is this what God desires?

Could He want monuments to His vulnerability?

These are not the statues human rulers would covet,

No depictions of parade glory and iron-fisted might.

These are moments when the fallen one

Must have breathed victory in the air,

Must have thought himself powerful in comparison.

Could God, with ways higher—and deeper—

Than our own

Be unconcerned with this display of humility?

Be willing to leave us to wonder and seek

This paradox God,

His strength perfected in weakness,

His justice satisfied with the sacrifice of Himself,

His revolution accomplished by love—

With no destruction other than

the single, willing life of its leader

And the symbolic ripping of a temple cloth?

 

A birth, a life, a death—

A chosen impotence

Accomplishing

The redemption of mankind.