This is the second time we’ve heard this Gospel this church year. We first heard it on the First Sunday of the Church Year. Then, as we were entering Advent, it introduced to us Advent’s theme: Christ is coming: coming as Bethlehem’s Babe, coming in His Word and Sacrament to forgive us, coming on the last day to judge the quick and the dead. Whenever He comes, He comes in The Name of The Lord to save! Hosanna in the highest!
That brings us to Palm Sunday. Today we read Matthew 21 on the day it happened. Passover was only a few days away. His Death and Resurrection would be accomplished in a week. In that time, the city’s opinion of Him would at least seem to change. Today He’s cheered. Friday He’s jeered. Maybe it wasn’t the same people. After all, the chief priests were booing Him the entire time. The events seem so different. Yet one leads to the other. Palm Sunday points ahead to Good Friday.
Palm Sunday leads into Good Friday. Jesus rides a donkey. David put his son Solomon on his own royal donkey when Solomon was crowned king to replace his dying father. But a donkey is still a humble animal, nothing like the great white steeds kings or generals like to ride, and Jesus is going forth to die the most miserable death ever invented by wicked man: crucifixion.
But He did receive a conqueror’s welcome. He rode in the middle of a grand parade of people leading and following Him. People put their coats on the road and on donkeys to keep Him from getting dusty and dirty. They cut down palm branches and wove them in the air – a sign of victory! Perhaps they thought He was going to give them victory over Rome – that’s definitely what they were thinking if they’re the same people who shouted “Crucify Him!” a few days later.
But on this day the crowds were shouting something much different: “Hosanna to The Son of David! Blessed is He Who cometh in The Name of The LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” Since we sing these words every week, we do well to learn what they mean.
When I was little, I was always confused during the communion service. I couldn’t figure out some of the words we sang before communion. “Hosanna in the highest.” Huh? Do you often feel the same way? It was obvious to me that “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth” referred to the Trinity. I didn’t know what Sabaoth was, but I don’t remember if I focused on that. Besides, it’s obvious that “heaven and earth are full of [His] glory.” So Sabaoth was whatever Sabaoth is, and that was it. By the way, it turns out that Sabaoth says God is Commander-in-Chief of His armies: the holy angels and all the faithful, both living and departed.
Anyways, I guess it was obvious that Jesus was blessed, so I just wondered what this “Hosanna in the highest” was all about. I tried to figure out if that was some person or some strange figure of speech. I can’t recall if the word was ever explained to us. I just remember I thought about this when I was in the younger grades, while we still used TLH. After that, I probably just sang them not thinking too much about it. I suspect we all do that. We sing them because that’s just what we do, and don’t think any further.
So why do we sing them? To answer that we need to know what we’re singing. “Hosanna in the highest” is poetry. It’s a Hebrew word attached to a prepositional phrase. It makes for great poetry but bad English. How can we figure this out? Our liturgy was originally composed in Latin, and that language can help us. “Hosanna in the highest” is *Hosanna in excelsis *in Latin.
Does that ring a bell? I hope it does! I hope you’re thinking of that great hymn near the beginning of the Liturgy. What’s it called? Gloria in excelsis! The Liturgy goes through Jesus’ life, so that’s Christmas in the Liturgy, the Sanctus *is Palm Sunday, the Consecration and *Agnus Dei *are Good Friday, the *Pax Domini *and Distribution are Easter. But back to *Gloria in excelsis Deo. What’s that mean? “Glory be to God on high!” “Hosanna in the highest” is not sung all by itself, but to the same God addressed in the rest of that hymn. That word Hosanna is a plea: “Save us now!” *Hosanna in excelsis *means this: “Save us now, O Thou Who art on high!”
“Save us now, O Thou Who art on high!” “Come from on high to me, I cannot rise to Thee” (TLH 92:2). Come down from heaven and rescue me from the depths of sin and death. Pull me up out of the grave they’ve dug for me and bring me to everlasting life through the forgiveness of sins. Bloody Yourself with my shame and humble Yourself with my pain. “Let Your Passion’s agony Not have been in vain for me” (WH 78). For You came in The LORD’s Name to win forgiveness and salvation for me!
Jesus came in The Name of The LORD. He still comes in The Name of The LORD. This has double meaning. The LORD is how we translate the Hebrew Name for God, “Yahveh,” which actually means, “HE IS.” So it’s related to what Jesus calls Himself in last Sunday’s Gospel: “I AM.” I AM sent Jesus and He is I AM. His Name means “HE IS SAVIOR.” His Name is not just a proclamation of what He does. It makes sure it will happen. Jesus is The LORD Who is sent by The LORD to save us. Blessed is He. Praise Him always and speak well of Him. Proclaim what He has done for you.
Today He rides into The City of David. Today The Lamb goes uncomplaining forth. This was the day the priests chose the Passover lambs. They were to be year-old lambs, without blemish or defect. They were sacrificed in memory of those lambs who died nearly 1500 years before when God told Israel to kill and roast them and paint their blood on their doorframes and eat the meat. Thus they were saved from the angel of death.
This Lamb is chosen by God. He is pure and holy. He is sent to suffer and die upon The Cross for all your sins, to cry out in bitter anguish as He suffers hell: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He cries out in anguish, yet in trust. He trusted God would deliver Him even when God had turned His back on Him.
This is what you deserve. Your sins amount to turning your back on God. They fear Him not, nor love His Name. Sin has brought many sorrows into our lives. Yet He turned His back on Christ, The Man of Sorrows. Why? To never turn His back on you. To rescue you from the depths of hell. To save you from the lion’s mouth, that is, from the devil and his power. To give you eternal joys.
The Lamb of God is crucified, and you gain heaven. The Lamb of God sheds His Blood, and you eat His Body and drink His Blood – if you eat and drink believing His Word, you receive what He says: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He came to save us. He has saved us. So we sing these words before communion to confess that our Lord and God and Savior does indeed come down from heaven to this Altar precisely to save us. With these words we also confess we need nothing more in life than His salvation, won for us with His sorrows and holy Passion. “Blessed is He that cometh in The Name of The LORD! Hosanna in the highest!”