STLT#262, Hosanna in the Highest

I begin with a program note:

Hymn by Hymn at General Assembly begins tomorrow! I’ll be having breakfast with some of you, singing our hymn of the day, talking about it, and then reflecting on the experience. Because of the schedule at General Assembly, the posts this week will be later than normal, probably by noon Eastern.

Now, on to our hymn:

It may be that I am sleep-deprived, or that the humidity has already gotten to me (even though I slept well and am in a gloriously well air conditioned room), but I do not get this one.

I mean, these lyrics by John Howland Lathrop, a longtime minister at First U Brooklyn in the mid-20th century, just do not make sense to me.  Who are the foolish peasants? Are they foolish because they believe Jesus is the messiah?  And is verse two knocking the two millennia of Christians who think revelation is sealed? Are the courts of power going to crucify modern prophets? The third verse is pretty good, but I’m inclined to take offense at the first two, and I don’t even identify as Christian.

Hosanna in the highest! Our eager hearts acclaim
the prophet of the kingdom, who bears Messiah’s name.
O bold, O foolish peasants, to deem that he should reign!
The temple and the palace look down in high disdain.

Long ages dim the message, and custom has sufficed
for merchants and for princes to bow, and own him Christ.
But when another spirit arises from the plain,
the courts of power tremble, and crucify again.

O first of many prophets who come of simple folk
to free us from our bondage, to break oppression’s yoke:
restore our minds to wisdom, make known the life, the way
that leads through love and justice unto the peace-crowned day.

What am I missing here?

I will say that the tune, Ellecombe, is a solid 19th century German tune that is used with similar, but less (to me) offensive Palm Sunday lyrics. It’s your basic German hymn tune, with your basic hymn tune patterns and that one line with the high notes and then resolves in a familiar way. Nothing remarkable, but definitely serviceable and tinged with joyfulness and perhaps a bit of triumph.

These lyrics, though…

I really am not getting this one today, and your help in comments would be greatly appreciated.

One Comment

  1. I’ve understood it like this. See what you think.

    “Hosanna in the highest! Our eager hearts acclaim
    the prophet of the kingdom, who bears Messiah’s name.
    O bold, O foolish peasants, to deem that he should reign!
    The temple and the palace look down in high disdain.
    [We are on the peasants’ side. We think they are bold. We don’t think they are foolish but the powerful people in their society do; or maybe we think they are a little crazy brave foolish in a good way for going against the powerful. Think of the notion of the holy fool, maybe; or people who say of themselves that they are too dumb to know they shouldn’t tell the truth. “The temple and the palace” = the scribes and Pharisees of the NT, but I think the author wants to be sure we think of them as the rich, the powerful, the bureaucrats, not as “the Jews” they way anti-Semitic interpretations of the death of Jesus do.]

    Long ages dim the message, and custom has sufficed
    for merchants and for princes to bow, and own him Christ.
    [Rich and powerful people participate in Christianity even though, or maybe because, they don’t really understand or accept Jesus’ radical teachings.]
    But when another spirit arises from the plain,
    the courts of power tremble, and crucify again.
    [If someone tries to say and do the things Jesus said, the powerful people in society will do away with him or her, whether physically or just politically. I assume this has to do with teachings like “sell your goods to help the poor” and so on. I don’t think it’s about whether revelation is sealed; I think it’s a criticism of the interpretations of Christianity that make it perfectly OK to be greedy and to build an unequal society and fight wars as long as you profess belief in Jesus. It sounds like a fancier version of Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDS00Pnhkqk.%5D

    O first of many prophets who come of simple folk
    to free us from our bondage, to break oppression’s yoke:
    restore our minds to wisdom, make known the life, the way
    that leads through love and justice unto the peace-crowned day.

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