Dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,
We have joined the multitudes in Jerusalem greeting Jesus as he rides into the town. We have praised God joyfully, and we have greeted Jesus with words from one of the festival psalms of OT, “Hosianna (i.e. save us)… Blessed in the name of the Lord is the one who comes!” Or as St. Luke writes, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”
When we sing “Hosianna” or “Hosanna”, we pray “Save us”, and yet at the same time it’s also like a spiritual Hurray – not unlike singing Halleluja.
Let me take you on a little journey. Imagine a Jewish child in Europe in the middle Ages – at a time when Jews were often attacked, harassed or massacred. We’ll call this child Jacob.
Jacob has been around in town. On his way home he is supposed to pass the synagogue. But he can’t pass. The road is blocked by an angry mob – lifting the fists towards the synagogue and shouting hateful words, “Christ killers!”, “Usurers”, “Baby-sacrificers”. Some have brought burning torches and now they throw them trough the windows into the synagogue-. Jacob stands terrified as thunderstruck and witnesses the pogrom develop. He hears the voice of the cantor through the hateful voices; the cantor sings with strong voice the litany for deliverance, and Jacob hear the men inside answering each petition, “Hosianna, hosianna, we beseech you, o Lord, have mercy!”
The synagogue now has caught fire – and Jacob wants to escape and starts running. Some of the mob see him and points their fingers at him, but he runs and runs and runs. There’s the Cathedral. Some people say that the Church is a safe place, a refuge for those fleeing revengers, so he runs through the big gates into the Church. The Mass is sung – and Jacob startles as he recognizes a word in the singing of the churh choir, “Hosanna in excelsis”.
Will he be safe at this place? Are the Christians really also praying “Save us”? And yet it all sounds different, not mourning like the litany of the synagogue, but rather almost triumphant and at the same time beautiful, harmonious – maybe as a sound of angels?
My story does not tell whether Jacob would find refuge in the Cathedral or not. But we might benefit from the two meanings or nuances of the word Hosianna / Hosanna – the despairing prayer “Save us” and the jubilant Christian Hosanna in excelsis.
“Save us – hosianna” has become jubilant and is already jubilant as Jesus makes his entry to Jerusalem, because we have a savior to whom we direct our prayers, and he has promised to be with us even until the ends of the world and unto the end of time.
But we should not forget the desperate prayer, as it only changes into a triumphant greeting because he, to whom we direct our prayer, has shared our human despair and our sufferings.
Jesus did not only experience the jubilant praise of the multitudes, but also the hateful cries of a hateful mob, “Crucify, crucify! Away with this man!”
Jesus is the Savior King, the Messiah, the Christ, because he has followed another path of life than we have mostly chosen. He follows the way described in the reading from Philippians. He abstained from power, from seeking his own honor. He emptied himself from his privileges as the Son of God to become the Son of Man.
As God’s Son he was the Word of God who out of love called creation into existence – and thus, he has laid the serving love as the foundation of an ordered cosmos. Serving love is the law of life that keeps the universe together as every created being serve the others and the whole. Humans were meant to lead creation in a life according to this law, but we were taken over by self-interest. In stead of serving we desired creation and other people for our own benefit, we made others into commodities and objects of our desire. Our interest in others was whether they would bring us pleasure, power, riches and success. But the world falls apart as we seek our own success. We become victims of desire – our own and that of others.
Though Son of God, Jesus took upon himself to bear the fruits of our revolt against the law of life – the fruits of the law of sin that leads to death. Jesus suffered and died not because he followed the wicked ways of humans, but because he in the world governed by the law of sin and death followed the law of life. Therefor his dying in serving love for us emptied death of its meaning, i.e. being the wages of sin. Through his death he reestablished the law of life – and rose from the dead to bestow on us the gift of grace that is eternal life in him, Christ Jesus, our Lord.
On behalf of a suffering world and because of our sins, we’ll still pray, hosianna, save us, and we will sing jubilant praise to him that comes to us, and by his grace and the power of the Holy Spirit we may follow St. Paul’s admonition, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ.”
Glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, now is and ever shall be, world without end.