Here’s the thing: I grew up in the church. I grew up in private Christian school. I also grew up pretty nerdy. All that to say – I know the Bible. I don’t know Hebrew or Greek, I can’t debate you for hours on Paul’s letters, I can’t recite any whole chapters by heart. But I know the basics down pat, I can sing you a song of the 66 books of the Bible, and I was always the pinch hitter for Bible Baseball (If you never played Bible Baseball, did you even go to church in the 90s?) This doesn’t make me a better Christian, it doesn’t earn me a higher seat in heaven, but it does mean I typically know more than most people my age. Except, I recently found out, I know nothing about Easter… (Which is fine, really. That holiday isn’t too important in our faith, right?)
Hosanna. It’s a pretty common word, for us church folk. It’s something I grew up singing, grew up coloring in on sheets in Sunday school. It’s something I knew all about. Until, on Palm Sunday, we were reading Mark’s account of the first Palm Sunday, and I look down in my study Bible to see it explained. “Save”. Save? Save?! Hosanna doesn’t mean save. Hosanna means glory to God in the highest. Praise be to Him. Right? RIGHT? Suddenly, my whole Christian life flashed before my eyes. Everything was a lie. Is Immanuel really “God with us”? Did I even know the 10 commandments? Can I really recite the books of the Bible, or was that false information from my childhood as well?
I then started thinking about Easter. Why is it called Easter?! Why don’t I know this information? Why not Wester? Norther? Is east even an important part of it, or am I just fixating on directions now? Easter isn’t anywhere in the Bible. At least I think Easter isn’t anywhere in the Bible. WHY DON’T I KNOW IF EASTER IS ANYWHERE IN THE BIBLE? I was spiraling, fast.
Luckily, we live in the age of Google and Wikipedia. Even more lucky, I had a slow Monday at work after my identity crisis on Palm Sunday. After some perusing of various sites, I was breathing more calmly.
“Easter” has some various histories. There’s some controversies in the church – when do Christians not love a good controversy? – about it having pagan origins. (Gasp). It’s name is probably derived from the goddess Eostre, associated with spring and fertility. Aka a celebration of spring and a celebration of the Christ got morphed into the same celebration, with the same name. It could have originated from a German translation error – they meant ‘white’, it got taken as ‘sunrise’, somehow Easter came to be. Apparently when some Christians realized this important holiday had a pagan name, they denounced using the word altogether – opting for Resurrection Sunday instead. As far as I can tell, Wester was never even considered. Sigh.
Hosanna does, in fact, mean save. Or, it used to. The original Hebrew translates to save, rescue, savior. A cry for help, in a sense. When Jesus rode in on that donkey, people believed he was the promised savior – they just had a different picture of what that would look like. So they were crying out his praises, but they were also crying out for help, for rescue. They were shouting for a savior who had finally come, they were proclaiming the glory of a long standing promise coming to fruition. Hosanna, in the highest heaven!
I love how the meaning of hosanna has changed. It’s beautiful. If you Google hosanna, the definition that automatically pops up is “an expression of adoration, praise, or joy”. Once “save me”, now “praise!” You can see that and explain it away with cultural context, with language ever changing, with words being used multiple ways with multiple meanings, yada yada yada. I look at that and see the gospel: God promising to take our need to be rescued, and turn it into an instance of joy. God meeting us in our need to be saved, and providing a reason for praise. God taking something that used to be a cry for help, a situation in dire need, and transforming it. It might be the same pain, the same situation, the very same word, but it’s given new life, new purpose, new meaning. A word that used to be a cry for help, now an adoration of praise. Once a longing for a savior, now a promise fulfilled.
Hosanna, in the highest.
Save us, Jesus.
Glory to God, who sees our need and meets it.
Glory to God, who saves.
Save us, Father.
Praise You, Father.
*I am not professing to be an expert on the Hebrew language, history, or anything, really. If you have more knowledge than I gleaned via Wikipedia, I’d love for you to share it with me. If you have all knowing power on all subject matters and would like point out all the placed I’ve erred, I’m gonna (kindly) say: hosanna your breath.