Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hosanna: "God, Save Us Now!"

"All Glory, Laud and Honour"
Image Copyright: The Sage
   Today is Palm Sunday, and there are only a few hours left before the day ends. Passion Week has begun, and I want, if possible, to post my thoughts as I go through the week this year. 

   With all that has been happening over the last two weeks, I wanted to do something different and experience a traditional liturgical service this Palm Sunday. So early today morning, I drove out to St. John's Vancouver [1], an Anglican parish situated in the Oakridge area. St. John's had been recommended by my mentor, as a church well known for faithful gospel-centered biblical preaching, while preserving the liturgical service that I had been wanting to experience again. And thus it happened that I drove out to the 9:00 AM service, wondering what it would be like and looking forward to the experience.

   The choir was just gearing up to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" as I made my way to a pew in the back and took a seat. After this, I had the pleasure of rising with the rest of the congregation and singing the opening hymn, "All Glory, Laud and Honour", with a beautifully accompanied organ and choir. What a pleasure it was, to sing the words of this beautiful hymn after many years! I took a photo of the words and sheet music of this classic hymn provided in the service sheets, along with the little hand-made Palm Sunday cross that was given to each of us. As the service went by with the liturgical greeting, Prayer for Purity, recital of the Nicene Creed,  Lord's Prayer and other familiar elements of the service in the old English, I was looking forward to hearing the sermon. I was not disappointed, and thought I'd share the summary here.

    Titled "Jesus: Son of David", it focused on the excerpt of John 12:1-36, covering Jesus' anointing at Bethany, triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, his message about the grain of wheat and his prediction of his coming death.

   One of the new things that I learned through this sermon was related to the meaning of the word "Hosanna", shouted by the crowd as Christ enters Jerusalem:

 "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!"
- John 12:13, NKJV

   It was pointed out that there is a particular and important meaning to the word "Hosanna!" (pronounced, “hoshi’a na”) when translated from the original Hebrew, particularly in this passage and places such as Psalm 118:25. The word, “hosanna,” literally means, “Save us, now!”, or "Save us now, we beseech you!" Thus, in this case, the crowd was shouting prayer of acclimation to Jesus as their perceived Messiah who was going to save Israel from Roman rule, without realizing what they were saying. Jesus was going to save, but in a shocking and completely unexpected way.

   Amongst many other interesting things that the Rev. David Short pointed out in his sermon, he focused on three aspects that Jesus prophesied out about his death that I wanted to share.
  • It was a fruitful death. Jesus' famous words of the burial of a grain of wheat in John 12:24-25 are of interest here. A grain of wheat is not meant to be carefully placed in a display case, polished and dusted. It is meant to be buried. It is meant to die. The burial of a grain of wheat is essentially a funeral. Jesus' sole purpose for his entry into Jerusalem was to attend his own funeral. It was His Father's intent to send Him there for that express purpose. But Jesus also explains that in His one death, death itself would be reversed and an explosion of new life would occur - the lives of those who would be born into new life through His one death. Jesus also has this in mind for those who follow Him; it is more than self-denial, fasting, observances or sacrifices. It is facing our own funerals as grains of wheat in His hands, the complete surrender of our life and will to Him, just as He surrendered His life into His Father's.
  •  It was a deeply troubling death. Unlike what we often imagine, Jesus was anything but calm, composed and stoic as He contemplates what is to come. John records His words: "Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour." It is interesting to note Christ's great struggle with death, in comparison with those Christian martyrs who joyfully stated their desire to die for him. Some sang as they were burned alive. One who was being skinned alive said, "I thank you for this. Tear off my old garment, for I will soon put on Christ's garment of righteousness." But Jesus is afraid and anxious as He contemplates what is to come, and with good reason - the full, unrestrained flood of the divine anger of God against all of human sin is soon to be vented upon Him without any mercy. But Christ did it for us; despite His troubled and anguished soul, He did for us what we were incapable of doing for ourselves.
  • It was a glorified death. Jesus' sole intent was the glorifying of the Father's name: "Father, glorify Your name." Jesus went on to explain: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." It is important to note that Jesus' road to glory leads to the slowest and most painful way to die. His death on the Cross is Jesus' glory, because two important things will happen, both then and in the time to come - people will be drawn to salvation, and Jesus will be the one drawing them. I found this to be a really important point highlighted in verse 32 and paid close attention to what Jesus is actually saying to the people who are questioning Him. Those that are drawn to salvation at the Cross don't come by their own free will or choice. They are brought there by God, who draws them by His own unshakeable will and omnipotent power. The "all peoples" that Jesus is referring to is not the whole world; it is those who God has planned to be drawn towards the Cross. Thus, from beginning to end, salvation begins and ends with God. He takes full credit for everything that happens. Praise God, what an awesome thing that He undertakes for us on His own initiative and power!
   As the time for Holy Communion drew near, these same themes were expressed in the preceding Prayer of Humble Access:

   "We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen."

   As the service concluded with the customary greeting and benediction, I went home happy. I'm glad to be able to share these thoughts in this post, and look forward to writing more during Passion Week. I hope you all had a blessed Palm Sunday. See you in the next post!
- The Wisdom Seeker