From Hosanna to Hallelujah in the Face of the Rising Storm

“3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord.” 

— Psalm 93:3-4 (NRSV)

Holy Week begins with the shouts of “Hosanna!” which means “Save us,” shouted to Jesus as He enters Jerusalem as the long-expected Messiah on Palm Sunday. Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday, as the Church sings with joy, “Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleulia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens and earth reply, Alleluia!” (first verse of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” by Charles Wesley, The United Methodist Hymnal 302).

Both the shouts of Hosanna and the songs of Hallelujah are full of what Psalm 93 calls “majesty.” But the majesty of the Lord may not be what is uppermost in our consciousness during these days of the COVID-19 pandemic. What has captivated our awareness these days is more likely to be what the Psalm describes as the “floods.” The floods of the psalm depict a storm that is all around, a storm that appears all-consuming, a storm that is getting worse. The flood’s reality is news that the psalmist cannot get around. It is not just a passing rainstorm. It is a menacing flood with long-lasting repercussions, reaching out to cover everything with the fear of death and destruction.

The story of Psalm 93, verse 3 (see above) is the story of the fearsome storm. But, in the face of that story, the psalmist insists on focusing on the reality of another story. In Psalm 93, verse 4, the psalmist’s tells a counternarrative. It is the story of the Lord’s majesty, that is more impressive, more impactful, more majestic than even the mightiest of the storm’s surging tide.

That’s where we are with Holy Week this year. The Church is telling what we sometimes call the greatest story ever told, in the face of a different reality that is sweeping across the face of the earth with a widespread, immediate, evident wake of disease, destruction, and death. That is the story that is reconfiguring our everyday experience. The Holy Week Gospel insists that there is another reality, more majestic than the fear and dread that the pandemic so naturally engenders.

The Holy Week story, which is the heart of the Gospel, does not ignore or deny the storm. Rather, it embraces and endures the storm. Jesus begins on Palm Sunday with the shouts of Hosanna, crying for His saving help. He moves forward to answer those cries, into Jerusalem as the clouds of impending doom become more ominous with each passing day. By the time we get to Holy Thursday, there is a deep sense of impending gloom that is wrapped in His self-giving love. He willingly takes the path of suffering and sacrifice as we come to Good Friday, with its extreme sorrow, grief, and despair. This is the Lord who has been through the valley of suffering, who has faced what we may be facing, who has borne our grief and carried our sorrows, and who has triumphed over it, for our sake. As the pandemic intensifies, this is the Reality that will give us the strength we need to make it through as people of hope, healing, and help. We know where the real strength lies, what is more majestic than the storm’s worst surge, and that is in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. He is more majestic than the storm, and He has entered into the storm to save us.

That is what I hear between the lines from my communications with many pastors and church people. The Church, as the Body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus, is rising to this challenge in ways that we would not have imagined just a few months ago. The storm is not overcoming us. In Christ, we are entering the storm with steadfast love and faith. We are worshiping online, being the church scattered in our homes all around our communities. We are searching the scriptures with one another through ZOOM, a brand new experience for many. And we are reaching more people than we were reaching when we were confined to our buildings! We are checking on one another, and on our neighbors. We are providing food and encouragement through our food ministries. We are providing hope through our determination to keep thriving in spite of the obstacles. We are feeding the souls of people who are deeply worried and troubled, stirring up our deeper awareness of God’s presence and power still very much alive, even as the fearsome storm intensifies. Truth be told, it is not we who are doing all of that but it is Christ who is in us, working through us, showing us that He has entered the storm and that His majesty will prevail.

On Easter, Jesus rises from the dead. Jesus conquers the grave. Jesus delivers the world from the power of sin, disease, and death. He opens to us the gates of everlasting life, the wonders of which cannot compare with the trials and tribulations of this life. In the ascension, He returns to the place of majesty, having come through the terrible ordeal with steadfast love and faithfulness, with grace and mercy, with triumph and victory. This is the greatest story ever told, and it is the story the world is reliving again in a new version in this pandemic: from “save us,” to the depths of trouble, to deliverance from the trouble, into a renewed creation.

We will likely be facing an impending sense of gloom in the coming days. We will be experiencing deep sorrow, grief, and despair before it is over. But that is not the only or the whole story. God is raising up healing wonders and self-sacrificing workers. God is raising up helpful neighbors and resourceful innovators. God is raising up generous hearts and hopeful spirits to show forth evidence of God’s love at work in the midst of this ordeal. Because Resurrection has come in Jesus’ Easter revelation, we can look forward to Easter’s echoes coming again because God’s steadfast love is forever.

This Holy Week, we shout our Hosannas, we behold the depths of suffering and sorrow, we sing our Hallelujahs with more conviction and confidence than ever. The living Lord who has conquered death reigns above the storm and beyond the storm and through the storm. In the face of it all, may the depths of Good Friday and the heights of Easter fill the songs that come from every home with loud Hosanna’s and fulsome Hallelujah’s in the face of this rising storm!

Take care. Keep praying. Abound in love.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff