provokingthegospel

A Provocation: Sixth Sunday in Lent/Palm Sunday

Why is there no hosanna in Luke?

And, while we are at it, why are there no palm branches?

These seem rather odd omissions in a text assigned to Palm Sunday, the most hosanna-ed day of the the Christian liturgical calendar.

The absence of a distinctively Hebrew word in Luke may not be so surprising.  The other synoptics use Hebrew and Aramaic at key moments in their stories.  Luke does not.  Thus, Matthew’s Jesus and Mark’s screams out his abandonment as he dies, using a language that the Roman murderers are bound to misunderstand.  Perhaps it is only because Luke envisions the death very differently, with a Jesus fully in control of his faculties, but there is no Hebrew or Aramaic spoken from the cross in Luke.

Why does Luke skip the Hebrew?

The intensity of “Hosanna”

The word, hosanna, ends with an intensifier (-na).

Some translate as “please,” but that translation is, to my ear, far too mild, far too submissive, far too polite to catch the way “-na” is used in Biblical Hebrew.

But Luke skips the Hosanna.  Is he weakening the prayers of the crowd?

Older interpreters sometimes imagined that Luke was soft-pedaling the hopes of the community in the interests of a “delayed parousia,” a postponing of God taking effective action to help a Creation in pain.

I am no longer convinced

There is an intensity to Luke’s story that is missed if you read the story as urging satisfaction (or at least patience) with the status quo.  When the daughters of Jerusalem weep for the Pilate’s execution of yet another brother (23:31), Jesus says that this is only a “greenwood” fire, smoky and relatively low-intensity, compared to what is very shortly coming when Rome will incinerate the city and slaughter the people as they crush the First Jewish Revolt.

More significant than Luke’s omission of hosannas is his choice of what the crowds WILL say

In concert with the other three gospels, the crowds bless the one who is coming, and all include that this is “in the Name of the LORD,” whatever this exactly means.

Luke’s other choices are even more breath-taking

Luke anchors this healing of Creation by the other choices he makes for the crowd.  The waiting, praying crowd sings of peace and glory in the highest realms of existence.

This song has been sung before

The words were a bit different (understandable, since the exact circumstances were also a bit different), but the force of the song was the same.  This is the song that the angels sang when they announced great joy to all the congregation of Israel.  They announced “Christos kurios.”  This announcement, usually translated as “Christ the Lord,” deserves careful attention.

However you translate this, it matters that what the angels sang is now being sung by ordinary women and men in the streets and alleyways of occupied Jerusalem.  Luke does not use the word “hosanna,” perhaps because he does not need it.  What matters is that what started as a song sung in the highest realms by exalted angels has now become a song that anyone can sing.  That’s the way it is with a good song.  Good songs go viral.

But it gets even more intense

Pharisees come from the crowd (and that identification, that they, too, were “from the crowd,” implies that they were praying for the healing of the Creation right along with the common crowd).  These faithful Pharisees caution Jesus that such language gets out of hand far too easily.  Jesus answers (he does not rebuke, he answers) that if the little kids and old ladies in the crowd were silent, the rocks would sing in their place.

This is a decisive step.  The ancient Jewish world was a structural unity.  The design for the whole entity was set in the Heavens, where the angels were the key structural elements (angelic I-beams, if you will).  This orderly, reliable, stable structure proceeded from the presence of God outward, down through the realms where humans can never reach, even from the highest mountains, down to the human realm, and from there on to the ground we walk on and excavate to lay the foundations of the buildings we can make.

Jesus says that the song that the angels sang is now the song of the entire Creation

It is being sung even by rocks.  If Jesus had known anything about sub-atomic particles, he would have added that even quarks now echo the angels.

Now is the day of rescue.  The whole Creation sings it.