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

Good Friday: three things

frozen grassFirst: a link to a piece on The Well Blog (a blog produced by InterVarsity specifically for women) titled “My Sacrilege, Our Sacrilege” by Ashley Van Dragt. Here’s an excerpt to tempt you to click the link and read the whole thing–which, if you want to know the “moment” she refers to in the first sentence, you will have to do.

Over the course of Lent, I’ve kept coming back to that moment. I keep going back to it because I came to realize that there are words for it.

“Crucify him.”

And these are the words that get at the significance of Lent, of Good Friday. It’s the time of year when we remember Jesus on the cross. And at the end of it, on one horrible night we carry ourselves and our preoccupations and our snotty-nosed children to church to mentally put Jesus on the cross and into the grave. And we say together the most hellish sounding words: 

“Crucify him!”

And it’s profane and terrible…and important.

Because — my God, my God — we have indeed done something wrong.

Here’s the link again–so you don’t even have to scroll up!

Second: Today I went to our church’s Stations of the Cross service. I wrote a post about what emerged for me from this service last year. This year two things were fresh and new:

1. Jesus’ heart for US–WHILE while enduring SO much pain and suffering. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” he said, and then he interacted with the thief on the cross. “I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Oh, the heart of God revealed in these moments! Forgiveness beyond what we can imagine!

2.  This prayer–so simple, yet coupled with the heart of God, so powerful: O blessed Lord Jesus, be gracious to us and all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring us home again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith; who now live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Third, this is a link to “Good Friday Blues,” a piece published at Christianity Today. It’s about Texas gospel bluesman Blind Willie Johnson’s recording of “Dark Was the Night—Cold Was the Ground” with Columbia Records in 1927. Though the song has no lyrics, it is about Good Friday, with the title borrowed from an 18th century English hymn by Thomas Haweis:

Dark was the night, cold was the ground
on which the Lord was laid;
His sweat, like drops of blood, ran down;
In agony he prayed.

The article about Blind Willie Johnson tells part of his story and contains a link to a recording of this song. Both are wonderful.

 

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.

Joy, Resurrected

*The audio link of my reading is at the bottom.

How do you lose joy? She must have failed to hold onto it. Perhaps she’d forgotten it completely, left it in a corner, and it had wandered off, hoping to find a home where it wouldn’t be neglected. “I’ve lost my joy,” she tells her husband, and he nods.

Oh dear, it’s noticeable! she thinks.

Where do you begin looking for joy?

She tries singing as she does the tasks that annoy her most. She hums as she packs the children’s lunches, warbles in the car, belts it out when she de-clutters the living room.

Where are you, joy? she wonders, I can’t sing any louder. Can’t you hear me?

She tries putting on a show of it. Didn’t she hear a pastor say once that the outward action of love can kindle the feeling?

Or was that her college drama director talking about action and emotion?

She’s not sure, but she tries it.

Smile, she tells herself.

Smile bigger!

She shoves grumpiness down. She swats selfish thoughts like pesky gnats.

Joy, come back! Please.

She is sitting, alone at her desk, absorbed in work, when she senses a presence nearby.

Joy? Are you there? I caught a glimpse of you.

Man, I wish my knees still bent like that!

Man, I wish my knees still bent like that!

But when the house bustles again, when children’s squabbles break the quiet—joy recedes.

Oh, she realizes, I am allowing the noise to drive joy away. But joy doesn’t have to have peace and quiet. Joy doesn’t mind chaos, excitement.

I haven’t lost joy.

I’ve sent it away.

I am telling it when it can be present, and when it can’t.

How do I invite joy into my full life—all of it? How do I keep from shutting it out?

Still missing joy, she goes to the Good Friday service.

It is good to reflect, to be with others, all reflecting together.

They sing, they read, they listen.

But she is waiting, though she doesn’t know what she is waiting for.

There is something here for me tonight, she thinks. I’m not sure how I know this, but I do.

The sermon is finished. They have taken communion. Her shoulders slump. It was good, but…

The pastor speaks again. “Some of you have lost your joy,” he says. “You’ve lost the joy of your salvation, your redemption. Come to the cross.”

Her hands tremble.

Her body feels light.

She knows this is for her.

It may be for others as well, but it is clearly for her.

But she will have to get up, cross the room, walk in front of so many sets of eyes.

He is still speaking. “Come. We will pray for you, that here at the cross you will remember your source of joy.”

She gets up, quick.

Her husband, beside her, stands, too.

“Do you want me to come with you?”

She nods.

By the time they reach the cross, there are others.

I am not the only one, she thinks. We have all lost joy.

Pastors pray. She hears only snatches of their words over the music.

But that is all right, because it is the song she needs to hear.

“Behold the man upon the cross,

My sin upon his shoulders;

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

Call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held him there…”

Somehow, in the second of space before the next line of the song, she experiences guilt, sorrow, despair. I did send you there. It was my sin. It was my selfishness. Oh God, I love You, but I don’t know how to stop hurting You. I am unable to pull my thoughts away from myself, away from what I am feeling or not feeling.

All this in a God-stretched moment.

And then…

“Until it was accomplished;

His dying breath has brought me life—

I know that it is finished.”

Stop, she commands herself. See truth. Christ does not have to die again. He has done it! I AM redeemed. It is not the chaos that is driving joy away; it is my fear that when I sink into moodiness, into selfishness, that I have stepped out of redemption. But that can never be. He finished it.

“I will not boast in anything,

No gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom;

But I will boast in Jesus Christ,

His death and resurrection.

But this I know with all my heart,

His wounds have paid my ransom.”

Paid, accomplished, finished—in a transaction that is outside the scope of time. It is not undone when she grows grumpy yet again, not taken back when she fails or is petty. She looks up at the Christ figure on the cross. Through that finished work, she tellsherself, I am redeemed. My sin does not for one single moment make that untrue. It is present and ongoing, without conditions. Without resting at all on me. I can have joy IN my grumpiness. It is not limited only to when I am feeling peaceful and good but is a reality even when I am fully aware of my own sinful nature.

She feels her husband’s hands on her shoulders. They have been there all along. She just now senses their gentle weight.

“Behold the man upon a cross,

My sin upon His shoulders”

He took it from me—and He abolished it. Why do I try to carry what He has already taken?

The load rolls off.

And joy resurrects.

 

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.