Save us, we pray!

The those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

In the Episcopal Church, we use lots of unfamiliar words.  With some education, this is done well when we strike the balance between embracing the mystery of holiness, while helping newcomers find their way through the narthex and into the nave for Holy Eucharist.  During Lent, we forego the use of word alleluia, but our liturgy, especially on The Sunday of the Passion *colon* Palm Sunday is rife with the word with which it is often confused:

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I am often asked why we can’t say alleluia during Lent, but hosanna is ok.  Its context within the Liturgy of the Palms is a helpful teaching tool.  As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, it would be easy to see this scene as nothing but a joyful victory parade, but upon further review, we realize that this is actually the humble entrance of one who has come to offer himself as a sacrifice for the whole world.

Jesus didn’t come into Jerusalem riding on a white stallion or in the back of a jewel encrusted chariot.  Rather, he arrived in town atop an unbroken colt.  This animal was not a symbol of power and control, but a humble beast of burden, only borrowed by our Lord as a means of transportation.  The imagery must have been clear to the crowd, for even as they laid down palm branches along the path as a symbol of honor and respect, they cried out not “Alleluia” or “Praise to God.”  The cry of the crowd, as they watched their long-awaited hope ride into town was instead, “Hosanna” or “Save us, we pray.  Sure, maybe they thought salvation would look like a military victory over their Roman occupiers.  Perhaps they hoped that this Passover Feast would be a second opportunity for release from bondage and oppression.  But they didn’t assume that, and give praise to God.  Instead, they simply asked for God’s help and salvation.

We who will remember the events of that day would do well to know the word we will sing in the refrain of “All glory, laud, and honor.”  From this side of Easter, it would be easy to let our sweet hosannas be a cry of victory, but it doesn’t take too long to see that the world is still very much in need of God’s saving love.  Save us, we pray.  Save us from our idolatry.  Save us from our greed.  Save us from our scarcity mindset.  Save us from our selfishness, our oppression of others, and our bondage to sin.  Save us, we pray.  Hosanna!

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A Season of Hosannah

With the 1979 Book of Common Prayer came a restoration of a few original language words.  A quick perusal of the 1928 Book, shows that, in comparison, the 1979 version is mildly obsessed with the word “alleluia” (which means “praise God”).  Take, for example, the Invitatory in Morning Prayer:

1928 Book of Common Prayer
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Praise ye the Lord.
The Lord’s Name be praised.

1979 Book of Common Prayer
Lord open our lips.
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.

Except in  Lent, add Alleluia.

When the word “alleluia” didn’t appear with regularity in our Common Prayer, there wasn’t much need to expressly eliminate it in the penitential season of Lent.  These days, however, it appears with regularity in the Daily Office and in the only Fraction Anthem prescribed in Rite II.  As such, congregations have begun to make more and more display of the elimination of the word “alleluia” during Lent.  In my on parish, our Shrove Tuesday event includes decorating alleluia confetti which get “buried” under the altar until the three-fold proclamation of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning.  Alleluia, indeed.

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All of that to mention that Palm Sunday often begs the question, “Why can we say ‘hosanna’ in Lent?”  This question always warms my heart because it means that people are paying attention to the liturgy, and noticing how it is different week to week and season by season.  It is a good and fair question, since the prevailing understanding of “hosanna” has it being somewhat analogous to “alleluia,”a word of praise.  While it is used in a similar fashion to alleluia, hosanna’s root meaning gives it a different connotation: one that is perfectly suited for Lent, and one that makes it a word we might want to hold onto through November 8th.

Hosanna’s etymology is from two Hebrew words that mean “save us, we pray!”  This phrase is found in Psalm 118, a portion of which is assigned for the Liturgy of the Palms, and is associated with the Festival of the Booths, a harvest festival during which the stalks of 4 grains are waved and God’s praise is sung in thanksgiving for a bountiful crop.  The festival itself shows this deep double meaning of praise and need.  It is only by God’s provision of rain, sun, and seasonable weather that the harvest can be plenteous, and so praise is given when once again, God has heard our prayer of hosanna, “save us, we pray!”

As the season of Lent draws to a close, another contentious election season is in full swing.  I plan to keep “hosanna,” a word of hope, promise, and praise, on my lips and close to my heart in the coming months as a reminder of the joy that comes in accepting God’s promise to save the world through his Son.

Controversy Sunday

Some of you might know it as “Palm Sunday.”  Others might call it “Passion Sunday.”  Still others will call it “Palm/Passion Sunday.”  Me, I just call it “Controversy Sunday.”

Think about it.  Controversy Sunday not only describes what is happening in Jerusalem during both the Liturgy of the Palms and the Liturgy of the Word, but it also encapsulates the myriad arguments happening in clergy groups, Diocesan Offices, and on facebook pages around the Church as preachers, liturgists, and church nerds the world around argue for Palms over Passion or Passion over Palms or the for the merits of the train wreck of both.

All of that hullabaloo aside, because we’ll read the Triumphal Entry from Mark’s Gospel instead of John’s, at least at Saint Paul’s in Foley, we’ll miss the biggest controversy of all.

Why does the RCL end John’s Triumphal Entry at verse 16?

The most important line in that well rehearsed story of Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem comes from the lips of the Pharisees in verse 19, “We’ve lost. Look, the whole world has gone after him!” (NLT)

Literally, they say, “the whole kosmos has departed behind him.”  Idiomatically, they say, “all of creation has become his disciples.”

In their book, “The Last Week,” John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg argue for a politically charged reading of the final week of Jesus’ life.  And, despite my reservations surrounding both of them and The Jesus Seminar, I’m apt to agree with them in many ways.  What they miss, at least in my recollection, is this key piece of John’s Gospel.  Sure, Rome will put Jesus on the cross, but it’ll take the chief preists, scribes, and Pharisees to get him there.  The same Pharisees who have resigned themselves to failure on Sunday, will do what desperate men do come Friday.

“Crucify Him!”

There is controversy everywhere this weekend.  I’ll steer clear of it, this year, while praying for you, dear reader, that you might find Jesus in the midst of all the muck.