Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We of course recite this in what we call the Sanctus – the part of our Eucharistic Prayer where we usually sing, ‘holy, holy holy.’ This comes right before the priest says the words of institution, or what’s better known as the part of the Eucharistic prayer where the bread and wine are consecrated; where we have present with us the body and blood of Jesus Christ who offered himself to us once and for all, which we recognize and receive most Sundays.
And where are these words from? Well they come directly from Jesus’s descent from the Mount of Olives as he prepares to ‘go to Jerusalem,’ to live in faith and love his Father to the very end of his own life where, before he dies, he is stripped naked, tortured, mocked, and mounted up on the Cross with stakes being driven through his hands and feet, and finally thrust through his side with a spear. But before this final day of all time which we will mark this coming Friday (and which I hope each of you faithful and thankful to our Lord for his sacrifice, will attend), there is much celebrating to be done.
You see Jesus’s followers anticipate something monumental happening. Our Gospel reading today tells us that they had seen his great deeds of power and they fully believed that he was their King, the one who came in the name of the Lord: God come to deliver them, to restore them to relationship with him in their land. There was a sense of expectation and of fulfillment: he is here they cry: it is coming, it is nearly here, peace in heaven; glory in the highest heaven, deliverance in this Jesus who has done great things among us is finally here.
And so in accordance with his command, off go some disciples to get him a colt as he asks, so that he can ride it into Jerusalem just as the Scriptures (what we refer to as the OT Scriptures) foretold. The owners say, ‘uh, guys, where are you going with my colt.’ And the disciples reply without fear they’d be charged with thievery, ‘the Lord needs it.’ And off they go placing their own cloaks on it as a saddle. When Jesus gets on and begins to ride, people start lining the streets and they lay down their cloaks to mark his way to what they believe will be his great triumph. Here we see that, at least at some level, they are shedding their own layers of clothing (the clothes God provided to Adam and Eve after their fall from relationship with him). They give back those clothes, in one sense, and in so doing they are offering up to God not merely their clothing which he provided as an interim, but their whole lives, which is what he actually wants.
Now just remember that these folks didn’t have a NT with the Gospels laid out in front of them. They knew only the Scriptures that you and I refer to as the OT. These were ‘the Scriptures.’ And it is these Scriptures that were and are to be fulfilled. So to them we turn to understand why they would shout out, as we hear in other gospel passages for this Palm Sunday, ‘hosanna in the highest, along with waving palm fronds. Blessed is he (Jesus) who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest. These words that make up what we call our Sanctus during our Eucharistic Prayer are a recognition of this moment, of this time of Jesus’s life, each Sanctus, (which is the Latin word for Holy), we proclaim, is a mini palm Sunday where we shed our own flesh and our own clothes, and prepare receive spiritual bodies renewed and made in the image of God, in the way and in the life of Jesus Christ himself: this one who comes in the name of the Lord.
So in our Sanctus, we join with all those Christians who have come before us, and all those Christians around the world who celebrate/have celebrated the real presence of Jesus Christ with and in us through the Eucharist. And I mean this. When we take of the body and blood of Christ after the bread and wine have been consecrated, when we say the Sanctus, we are not merely doing a ritual to mark something that has occurred; we are physically joined by God, with those Christians who have died and are with God, and those Christians who are all around the world. It is a fellowship, a moment of elevation to receiving the presence of God in us, uniting us to one another.
The Sanctus closes off that part of the our service that is referred to as the Preface which begins with the Sursum corda (when we say, "Lift up your hearts!"). This prayer prepares us for entering the Holy of Holies to worship God, the inner sanctum of the Temple which is Jesus’s Body.
Holy, holy, holy
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
As I said, the words we pray, that we hear in our Gospel today, "Holy, holy, holy" are not those of ‘the NT, which was not yet in place in the disciple’s time. Rather these words come to us from the Scriptures they had, what we know as the OT, from Isaiah 6:3. In this passage, Isaiah tells us of his vision of the Lord in the heavens. These words are part of the heavenly refrain of the seraphim: "'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts! they cried one to the other. 'All the earth is filled with his glory.'" So what is going on here is a fulfillment of the promise God has made to his people: I will come amongst you and I will gather you from the four corners (N, S, E and W). And Jesus’s descent from the mountain, like Moses descent from the mountain, is the descent of the law perfectly fulfilled, coming into the midst of people who had gone astray in Israel and in the disciple’s day. Down the mountain, across and beyond all time and space, God comes in the Jesus Christ, He who comes in the name of the Lord, to reclaim us, to grab us, to hold us and secure us and conform us to God himself. We hear this testified to by John’s vision of the heavens (the fulfillment of all time) in Revelation, “holy, holy holy is the Lord God almighty who was and who is, and who is to come.
By these words we are not only recognizing or confessing our fallenness, but stripping away our on cloaks – the defenses we have of emotions, of possessions, of desire to control, of anger or bitterness or resentment – we are laying these things on the ground both as the impediment they are to us, and as the invitation to God we make to enter into us and draw us into his own mission, his own path from descent from God, to earthly life, to death, to resurrected or reconciled life with God. That is what those cloaks thrown to the ground mark: they mark our commitment to go from a life created by God, to one so often mired in the sin of this life and all the fears, defenses and blocks we put up to receiving grace, to a commitment to lay these things down, to give them up, so that we might follow the path and life of God himself revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
So following Jesus, shedding the confines of this world, we are raised, each Sunday, each encounter with Jesus upon which we can draw, into a world that is illuminated by his grace, rather than kept in the darkness of sin. We are invited then, by the grace first laid down for us in Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem we hear about here, into Jesus’s own life of righteousness as we hear in our psalm, psalm 118: vv 25-26 "Open the gates of righteousness; I will enter and thank the LORD. This is the LORD's own gate, through it the righteous enter.” Jesus is of course this very gate by which the righteous enter into the Holy of Holies, into a reconciled relationship with God, adopted as we have been.
And what is the proper response to receiving such grace? Well, let me tell you, I actually think that it’s something that can’t authentically come unless you’re willing to stick with, endure and persevere in the sometimes major struggle to live a life of faith in this world – to go out from here having received the body and blood of Christ – to engage the world in and with faith in God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In other words, the proper response I think comes only when we actually find God present with us where we sustain in being faithful to him in our day to day lives. That proper response, at least for me, comes out much like this one we hear in psalm 118: "I thank you for you answered me; you have been my savior."
There’s no formula for getting to this point because I think it comes for each of us in such incredibly unique ways in such a variety of circumstances. But it is where all of these unique, sometimes complex, sometimes immediately recognizable and sometimes only recognized after many years or a whole lifetime events intersect with being taken up and into the life of God himself through his Son by his Spirit – that we are moved, I do believe, to give thanks. It just comes. And it comes because it is this moment of recognition: I am with my creator, my redeemer, the one who gives me purpose and eternal life. He has come, he is coming, he will come for me. And I endure here now – through all of this ‘stuff’ – in the light and because of the light of his presence: hosanna in the highest. AMEN.