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Hosanna  in the Highest

Where did we get the notion that God lives up in the clouds? This idea has been floating around for a long time, setting God apart from his creation and effectively putting him beyond human reach. It didn’t start out that way, of course.  In the biblical creation story, the Lord God is first seen – or rather, heard – strolling in the garden in the cool of day. Thereafter, his appearances are anything but down to earth. When he descends on the Hebrew people at Sinai, the population is treated to a spectacular pyrotechnical display on the mountaintop that leaves them cowering below. While in exile in Babylon, the prophet Isaiah has a vision, as he describes it, of “the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.”  Isaiah’s words on that occasion are incorporated into the Sanctus, the prayer chanted or sung when the bread and wine are consecrated in the Christian Eucharist, along with the refrain, twice repeated: “Hosanna in the highest.”

Elevation, whether physical or rhetorical, has long been associated with power and position in the world.  Kings are addressed as “Your Highness” and sit upon elevated thrones.  The same title and seating arrangements have been appropriated by the church for persons of high ecclesiastical office. (There's that word again.)  Until recently, the pope was hoisted aloft like an Oriental potentate on a portable throne carried by 12 footmen.  He now gets about in his popemobile, a flatbed truck with an elevated glass enclosure in back that enables him to remain seated as he passes above the heads of the crowd.

Jesus stands in marked contrast to the pretensions of those who minister in his name.  He was born in a stable, so the story goes, an itinerant preacher who had no permanent home. He mostly travelled about on foot.  He spurned highfalutin titles, even such honorifics as rabbi, master and father.  The crowds shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!” when he arrived in Jerusalem, yet he made his grand entrance riding on an ass.  Only once was he addressed as king, and that was when Roman soldiers mocked him before he was taken away and killed.  He could not have been more down to earth; indeed, the only time Jesus was elevated over the heads of the crowd was when he was nailed to a cross.

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