Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Faith Works 3-26-05
By Jeff Gill

Hosanna, Hallelujah, and Amen!

Much of Licking County is working through the events of what’s known to Christians as Holy Week, or Passiontide, or the Easter events.
Last Sunday, known as Palm Sunday, marks the entrance into Jerusalem by Jesus, greeted by palm waving crowds as a ruling monarch; Thursday past the institution, or “mandate” of communion for Maundy Thursday, and the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday.
Along with these ancient, but fairly simple and straightforward commemorations, are some old mysterious words with actually quite elementary meanings.
“Hosanna!” is the shout of acclamation associated with Palm Sunday. Found in the Psalms (118:26), the archaic Hebrew “hoshianna” is translated there as simply “save us,” or “O save!” Originally a plea shouted to a king in procession (like ‘hang in there’ or ‘keep it up’), it had become by the time of Christ a ritual phrase associated specifically with a king in public settings (like ‘hear ye, hear ye’ in court). Matthew 21:9, the lectionary reading for many churches last week, carries the evolved meaning into the Greek with an untranslated “Hosanna,” kept now in the English.
“Hallel” is just Hebrew for “praise,” and also a term referring to a section of the Psalms sung at the close of observances, like a Passover meal. This is the setting for the Maundy Thursday readings many will use, closing with Matthew 26: 30, “when they had sung the hymn (one of the Hallel Psalms), they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Hallelujah is praise to “Yah,” or the traditional abbreviation for the unnamed One, Yahweh. Yah is combined in many Hebrew names with an active verb, such as Yah-shua (remember our ho-shianna?) or “God-saves,” the meaning of the name we translate to English as Joshua, or out of Aramaic, Jesus.
Hallelujah is then just “praise God,” or “praise the Lord,” with an hint of ancient tradition in the older forms of the words.
And Amen? In Hebrew, “Omein” or some similar transliteration, since Hebrew letters, especially the more archaic roots, don’t translate precisely to the English sounds.
But it means no more and no less than “Yes.” Just “Yes.”
May your “Yes” to God’s love in whatever language ring out this Easter weekend!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have news from your faith community worth sharing around and abroad, contact him at

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