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.