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

The Washing of My Feet

 

Last fall I was invited to a women’s gathering at a church right around the corner from my home. This church is intentionally pressing into the unity of the Church, across ethnic and economic divisions, and I knew the women at this gathering would be coming not only from the Austin neighborhood (my neighborhood) but also from surrounding suburbs. I would see African American, white, and Latina faces, and the leadership team would reflect this diversity as well.

The theme of the morning was service, and the leaders put flesh on this theme. They served every woman there. I rushed in late, and while one leader gave up her seat so I could have a spot at a table, another brought me breakfast, and still another got me coffee and orange juice. I was almost overwhelmed by their service,.

After some fellowship with table mates and a sermon about our call to servanthood, one of the leaders stepped to the podium. “We’ve been praying about this gathering for a long time,” she said, “and we asked God to show us how we could best serve you. We felt led to wash feet as an act of service.”

Ah, foot washing! I’d never encountered it till I was a college student and I went to a Grace Brethren church that practiced it as part of their communion service. Since then, I’ve participated in foot washing in several contexts, but I’d never just had my feet washed. I’d always washed another’s as well. Foot washing always has an uncomfortable element to it (which is good, I think), but this felt particularly strange because I would be receiving only, not giving, and I’m not exactly great at that.

The other women and I pulled off shoes and stripped off socks. I brushed lint away from my heels and curled my toes into the carpet. I stared at my feet.

Leaders began coming to the tables, kneeling before the seated women.

Suddenly a leader was in front of me.

She, an African American leader was in front of me, a white woman.

I am very often aware of my whiteness, on a number of levels. I live in a neighborhood in which whites are only 2% of the population. When I walk or drive down my street, I often get second looks. Though I wouldn’t say I’m completely relaxed with this, I see it as being good for me.

But this: an African American woman in front of me; kneeling in front of me; about to wash my feet…

I instinctively pulled my feet back. Tears began streaming down my face.

And I don’t know what she was processing, but tears started streaming down her face as well. Still, she pushed the bowl of water toward me and held out her hands.

And I put my feet into them. And we cried together. And she washed my feet.

When she finished, we both stood and embraced. I was close to sobbing.

This next week, as part of the Maundy Thursday service of Holy Week, in which we celebrate Jesus’ last night with his disciples, we here in Cornerstone Parish will wash each other’s feet. We are a parish of multiple congregations. Our congregations span economic levels, ethnic divides, educational levels… I don’t know whose feet I will wash. I don’t know who will wash my feet. There will be, no matter what, uncomfortable moments.

And it will be strange.

And that is good.

Because we all, brothers and sisters in Christ, are called to love each other in ways that let the outside world know we follow Christ. We are called to serve each other in ways that run counter-cultural to the world around us.

And though this service and love should reach far, far beyond foot washing, the foot washing itself is a wonderful start. It’s a reminder and a call into depths of love only possible in and through Christ.