How can we sing ‘Hosanna’ in a time of difficulty?

Holy Habits pioneer Andrew Roberts shares why it’s good and right to cry out to Jesus from the depths of our hearts, echoing those who welcomed him to Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday

28 March 2021

Jesus’ holy habits

During Lent, a widespread group from all around the UK has been sharing together in the Holy Habits: Following Jesus online homegroup. We have been exploring how Jesus was nurtured and sustained by the practice of holy habits and how this way of life helped him to set his face towards Jerusalem. Many more have been pursuing this Lenten pilgrimage through local groups. We have learnt a lot together.

In Holy Week, we will continue to follow together, and our journey with Jesus will take us to the upper room, to Calvary, to the mystery of Holy Saturday and to the wonder of the empty tomb.

A royal welcome

We enter into Holy Week via the tumultuous, joyous but also ominous events of Palm Sunday.

I love the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Every year in Holy Week, I make sure I either watch it again or listen to the recording made by the original cast. It stirs my soul in a profound way, and the song ‘Gethsemane’ always brings forth tears of real grief.

Early in the first act of the musical is the song ‘Hosanna’. The crowds are welcoming Jesus with this festal song when Caiaphas and his cronies tell Jesus to instruct them to be quiet, fearing their enthusiasm might lead to a riot and brutal reaction by the Romans. In his gospel, Mark presents the crowds welcoming Jesus with this shout:

  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Mark 11:9–10 (NRSV)

The Saviour is here

The cry of ‘Hosanna’ was simultaneously exuberant praise and defiant protest. The root meaning of the Hebrew word is ‘Save!’, or ‘Save now!’ It is a passionate, energetic cry, linked to the expectation of a coming kingdom. It is no wonder the Pharisees were worried that the Romans would be upset. In crushing any rebellion, the Romans would deprive the Pharisees of the powers they enjoyed.

In the musical, Jesus replies to the Pharisees with the retort, ‘Why waste your breath moaning at the crowds?’, before joining in himself with the euphoric singing. It’s a joyous moment, and all the more extraordinary given that Jesus knows he is entering the place where he will die – horribly.

The root meaning of the Hebrew word is ‘Save!’ or ‘Save now!’

He knows that the joy of the crowd will fade away. Many of those singing ‘Hosanna’ will turn and cry ‘Crucify!’ Jesus will be quite literally hung out to die. But that does not stop him from joining in generously with the gladness of the Palm Sunday events and welcoming the worship offered by the crowds.

Throughout Holy Week there are a number of moments when the expression of love and devotion, or worship, blessed and strengthened Jesus. A powerful and poignant example is his anointing at Bethany by a woman (named as Mary in John’s gospel; see John 12:30). This is for me one of the most worshipful stories in the whole of scripture. It encourages us to use all of our senses in the offering of adoration and praise.

What cry is on your heart?

I wonder what you bring to worship this year and what you feel like singing this Palm Sunday? May I suggest that ‘Hosanna’ may be an especially appropriate cry (even when we have to sing it privately, or in our heads, to stay safe).

The blend of praise and defiance expressed by ‘Hosanna’ seems fitting after a year in which we have not been able to worship as we would like to (for very good reason), seen far too many suffer and die, and grown weary of a restricted way of life that at times has felt oppressive.

Let ‘Hosanna’ be our cry in praise of Jesus as we journey with him through all the events that would become the means of our being saved.

Let ‘Hosanna’ be the ongoing defiant cry for salvation in the form of deliverance from the oppression and suffering inflicted by Covid-19, and the defiant cry that we are not going to allow all the bad stuff to steal all of our joy.

The blend of praise and defiance expressed by ‘Hosanna’ seems fitting after the past year.

Let ‘Hosanna’ capture the growing sense of joy and gratitude and hope as vaccines are administered.

And let ‘Hosanna’ reflect our sheer commitment to worship God, come what may. 

Yes, life may be very difficult, but you know what? I’m still going to praise the Lord!

Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Andrews Roberts

Andrew Roberts is a husband, father, minister, writer and speaker. He is the author of the book Holy Habits (Malcolm Down Publishing, 2016) and co-editor of the BRF Holy Habits resource booklets. He was previously director of training for Fresh Expressions.

Following Jesus through Holy Week

Join the Holy Habits online Lent group

If you would like to join the Lent group on Facebook, you would be very welcome. Alternatively you can watch any of the Lent or Holy Week videos.

Holy Habits Following Jesus

Holy Habits: Following Jesus

This seven-session course following Jesus to the cross is valuable at any time of year, and especially in the run up to Easter and is ideal for groups. Part of the Holy Habits series, it explores how Jesus himself demonstrated the practices that distinguished the early church (as described in Acts 2:42–47).