Updated Friday, March 27, 2015 Once again, on this Palm Sunday, we will all proclaim this “song” that has echoed through the generations.
A year ago, I wrote of how this word — this unique and solitary word — expresses an ineffable awe of, and to, the Divine. Tradition holds it is both a salutation and a lament.
Sometime shortly after writing that blog post (see below), I was blessed to hear a song of the same name. Although most of modern “Christian rock” music leaves me cold, “Hosanna” by Hillsong United is a gracious and gorgeous ballad of contemporary worship. And like the ancient Hebrew expression itself, it is both an expression of thanks and praise for what is, and a lament for what is yet to come; a “new revival” for here and now, and a deep yearning for what has not been accomplished.
Maybe it was just what I was going through at the time, but the words of the “bridge” pierced as deep as I’d heard in a while: I was simply overcome:
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things Unseen
Show me how to love
Like You have loved me.
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk with You into
On this chilly Saturday before we enter into this Holy Week, I gladly share it:
Originally Published April 14, 2014 — We say or sing it every Sunday, as part of the “Holy, holy, holy” acclamation to begin each Eucharistic Prayer. But today, on THIS Sunday — Palm Sunday — “Hosanna in the Highest” takes on “passionate” significance.
But, like so many of my prayers, I’m not really sure what I’m saying a lot of the time. To confidently proclaim “Hosanna in the Highest!” is to speak in words rarely used other than in a liturgical context. (Seriously, do any of us ever utter it outside of worship? “Hey honey, can you pick up [fill in the blank] on your way home? You can?!? Hosanna in the highest…!”)
Even when we speak it in church, its true meaning is less than clear.
The derivation and definition of “Hosanna” in old Aramaic and Hebrew texts are apparently matters of some hot discussion (at least among those who lead such lives that allow for the hot discussion of such things).
Is “Hosanna” a form of great praise, as the Jerusalem crowds seemed to suggest as they welcomed Jesus in today’s “Palm Sunday” Gospel? Or is it more of a cry for help for The Lord to “Save Us!” as suggested by the Old Testament, such as in Psalm 118? I’m not convinced there is that much of a contradiction. The Psalmist’s cries of “Hosanna” in Psalm 118:25 are pleas that are exclaimed in the midst of celebration and triumph. I suspect that the multitudes crowded in Jerusalem for Passover had the same mixture of hope, praise and desperation, as they cheered this charismatic young carpenter turned preacher who came riding into town.
Ultimately though, for me at least, “Hosanna in the highest” is a phrase of ineffable joy, spoken uniquely to The Divine. Perhaps more than any other phrase in the liturgy, it is what we bring to it.
Maybe some additional insight into the meaning of “Hosanna in the Highest” can be gleaned by a phrase that is even more prominent in Psalm 118. “Steadfast love” appears four times in the first four verses, when we are told that God’s steadfast love “will endure forever.” Such a powerful word is “steadfast,” and by using it, the Psalmist conveys to us an even more powerful and enduring love. Thus, “Hosanna” becomes a uniquely powerful and enduring response.
That love — powerful, unique, enduring — is of course on radiant and heart-wrenching display this week. And at the end of the week, even a word as joyous and mysterious and wonderful as “Hosanna” will take a backseat to one even better. An old friend we Episcopalians haven’t said in quite a while…