Singing Hosannas in Lent-Because We Just Can’t Help Ourselves


Matthew 21:1-11

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Prayer of the Day: Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Matthew 21:9.

Palm Sunday appears as a singular and welcome note of jubilation in the otherwise somber season of Lent. Yes, I know that the Sundays “in” Lent are not “of” Lent because they are, as all Sundays, little Easter celebrations. Nevertheless, the shadow of Lent is evident in the purple vestments, the absence of alleluias and the theme of the cross running through our Scripture lessons. So one cannot help but feel a measure of relief in this celebratory service re-enacting Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is as though we cannot help ourselves. As the great hymn proclaims:

“No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?”

“My Life Flows On in Endless Song,” by Robert Lowry, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (c. 2006 by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; pub. by Augsburg Fortress) Hymn #763.

My need for song became painfully clear to me during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic. Like most churches, mine was not meeting for worship in person from March of 2020 until summer of the following year. When we did begin meeting again, there was no singing in our worship for several weeks. Such worship as my wife and I were able to attend was of the virtual variety. Though I am thankful that this means of connecting was available to us, I missed joining my voice with the whole community and the sense that it was being caught up with the voice of the whole communion of saints and with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.

The absence of singing in my life affected more than my mood and spirit. One rainy afternoon in the midst of a terrible funk, I put on a CD given to me by a member of the last congregation I served. It was a fine collection of traditional hymns sung by a large professional choir backed by a robust pipe organ. Almost reflexively, I began singing along-or at least I tried. It was then that I made the troubling discovery that I could no longer sing. I struggled to reach notes previously well within my range and failed. My voice cracked and left me coughing. I hasten to add at this point that I have never had a singing voice close to American Idol quality. But I can carry a tune well enough and have always enjoyed singing. I belonged to the worship choir in college and the choirs of every church I have served or to which I belonged. I was able to sing the liturgy competently and lead singing for church school, youth groups and nursing home services, sans accompaniment when necessary. Now I was finding that I could not manage a single verse from a familiar hymn. I guess that singing is one of the many things that you have to use or lose when you get to be my age.

I was determined not to lose my ability to sing. So it was that I began chanting the psalms in my private morning and evening devotions, singing the liturgy and reading the lessons aloud. It was not pretty to begin with. I took some comfort, though, in the psalmist’s invitation to “make a joyful noise to God.” Psalm 66:1. If I could not be melodious, I could at lest be joyful and that, according to the psalmist, would suffice. Gradually, I built up my stamina. Over time, my range grew to embrace its previous tenor parameters. I was relieved to discover that my singing voice was not irretrievably lost.

I recovered something else as well. Though physically isolated from my faith community, I began to feel a kinship with it and with the whole communion of saints in my singing. It was profoundly comforting to know that the psalms I was chanting had been chanted by the people of Israel throughout their journeys in the wilderness following the Exodus, in times of triumph and defeat, in circumstances of exile and liberation. These same psalms inspired the New Testament witnesses. They have been chanted by monks for centuries. They have been and continue to be the inspiration for hymns of faith. Most significantly, I knew that they were being sung by believers around the world even as I sat singing them in my living room. Reading the words of scripture aloud gave me the realization that I was speaking with my voice words that have given life and birthed faith throughout the church’s history and continue to do so. My voice, I discovered, was not merely an instrument for my own self expression. It was also a conduit through which the Spirit was working to unite my heart with those of believers throughout the world and over time and space.

The creation is, as W. David O. Taylor has observed, “hardwired to sing.” According to the book of Job, the creation began with an outburst of cosmic song. Job 38:4-7. John of Patmos envisions the redeemed creation as a grand choir made up of every nation, tribe, people and tongue united in a song of praise before the throne of God. Revelation 7:9-11. The psalms weave into song worship, teaching, prayer and every aspect of human life from joy to sorrow, from triumph to tragedy, from cradle to grave. Mary sings of the liberating good news her unborn child will proclaim. Luke 1:46-55. Jesus and his disciples sing hymns at their last meal together, the meal giving birth to our Eucharist. Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Paul and Silas sing hymns while imprisoned at Philippi. Acts 16:25. Paul urges the churches in Ephesus and Colossae to greet one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16. In singing together, the church experiences in some measure the oneness for which Jesus prays and its unity as a single Body upon which Saint Paul insists. John 17:22-23; I Corinthians 12:12-13. Singing unites us in Triune love to God the Singer, God the Voice and God the Song as well as to one another. It joins us with the divine music that birthed the world, redeems the world and draws the world to its proper end where God is “all in all.” I Corinthians 15:28.    

“And while the reality of ‘one body’ may be experienced only partially and defectively this side of the eschaton, and while the work of church leaders to foster unity in fractured congregations is daunting, the practice of Spirit songs enables us by grace to sing ourselves into a future that Christ has prepared for us and that we can taste here an now…” Taylor, David W., “Singing Ourselves into the Future,” published in The Art of New Creation, edited by Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train and W. David Taylor (c. 2022; pub. by InterVarsity Press), p. 132.

So we sing our hosanas under the shadow of the cross where we struggle with a resurgence of fascism, systemic racism, and a war spiraling out of control. We sing our hosanas even as we enter into the dark narrative of Jesus’ passion. We sing our hosanas because, after all, “since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can [we] keep from singing?”

Here is a poem about the spiritual power of song by Lily Augusta Long.       

The Singing Place

Cold may lie the day,

And bare of grace;

At night I slip away

To the Singing Place.

A border of mist and doubt

Before the gate,

And the Dancing Stars grow still

As hushed I wait.

Then faint and far away

I catch the beat

In broken rhythm and rhyme

Of joyous feet,—

Lifting waves of sound

That will rise and swell

(If the prying eyes of thought

Break not the spell),

Rise and swell and retreat

And fall and flee,

As over the edge of sleep

They beckon me.

And I wait as the seaweed waits

For the lifting tide;

To ask would be to awake,—

To be denied.

I cloud my eyes in the mist

That veils the hem,—

And then with a rush I am past,-—

I am Theirs, and of Them!

And the pulsing chant swells up

To touch the sky,

And the song is joy, is life,

And the song am I!

The thunderous music peals

Around, o’erhead-

The dead would awake to hear

If there were dead;

But the life of the throbbing Sun

Is in the song,

And we weave the world anew,

And the Singing Throng

Fill every corner of space—-

Over the edge of sleep

I bring but a trace

Of the chants that pulse and sweep

In the Singing Place.

Source: Poetry, (November 1912). Lily Augusta Long (1862–1927) was an American poet and novelist. She was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and decided to become a writer when she was only eleven years old. Long graduated high school in St. Paul and later took an elective course at the University of Wisconsin. As a student, she submitted verses and sketches to local papers. A few of her poems were published in Unity. In 1887, two of her stories appeared in the magazines Overland and Current. Long also edited and contributed to Women’s Record. She wrote short stories and poems for Harper’s Weekly. Under the pseudonym Roman Doubleday, she wrote pulp mysteries for The Popular Magazine. You can sample more of Long’s poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s