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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Palm Sunday: a sermon by Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740)

Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) was one of the Early Church Fathers. He was born in Damascus and served at churches in Jerusalem, Constantinople, and, finally, Crete. He is known for his concern for orphans, widows, and the elderly. The following is an excerpt from his Palm Sunday sermon. 

Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.

In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens – the proof, surely, of his power and godhead – his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.

So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.