12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.
13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"
- John 12:12-13
When our little girl was about 10 months old, she learned how to wave. She and I went to Target while my husband went on an errand. We finished our shopping first and waited outside for him to come pick us up. It must have been 20 minutes before he got there—an eternity with a squirming infant—but they were some of the most delightful 20 minutes I’ve had. Our little one started waving to people coming in to Target, and they waved back! She thought that was the most fun thing in the world. Her wave said, “Hey, you! You’re a person, and so am I! Welcome!” and their wave back said to her, “I see you, and I celebrate you!” It was a mutual exchange of happiness.
Waving is one of the simplest forms of communication. God ingrained this nonverbal cue in our bodies from birth, He requires it in worship in the Old Testament, and confirms the motion during the celebration of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is coming up soon on the church calendar, and we continue worshipping by celebrating salvation in Jesus by waving our hands and exclaiming “Hosanna!” in expectation that He will come again.
In Biblical times, waving wasn’t just a nice thing to do at Target; God commanded it in His temple. The book of Leviticus mentions all kinds of different sacrifices that God prescribed for worship. There were burnt offerings, grain offerings, purification offerings, guilt offerings, and peace offerings.
One of the required peace offerings in Leviticus was the wave offering, where an offering of first fruits was waved before the Lord’s altar to say, “thank you for your provision!” When I read this, I thought it was kind of strange. Why did they need to wave the offering in the air? Who were they waving to?
Waving can either signify a need for saving or a cause for celebration:
Waving is the slow signal of a white flag of surrender.
Waving is thrashing arms in the air on a sinking boat.
Waving is an act of attention. It’s to say, “Hey there!” or “I’m over here!”
Waving is extending oneself to say “hi!" to another human being.
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the people of the city waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13) The act of waving branches is reminiscent of the wave offerings presented in the temple worship in Leviticus. This time, the object of the people’s worship was right in front of them. They waved their branches for their God, King Jesus. They shouted, “Hosanna!” when he rode through the streets on a humble donkey, just as the prophets foretold (Zechariah 9:9).
Similar to the act of waving, the word “Hosanna” also means saving and celebration:
“Hosanna" used to mean “save us, please!” (Psalm 118:25).
Gradually, "Hosanna" came to mean “Salvation is here! Salvation is coming!”
Blended together, “Hosanna" means: “Hooray for salvation! It’s coming and it’s here!” The people presented their wave offerings in the temple as a sacrifice, but now their sacrifice has come. The people were waiting for a King to restore all things, and now Jesus has arrived on the scene.
The wave offerings make so much more sense to me now. Waving is a grand gesture of worship, acknowledging our great need for the Savior while celebrating His arrival into our lives.
Easter is coming. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. We celebrate Jesus’ homecoming by acknowledging Palm Sunday, the day when the crowds shouted, “Hosanna!” to the King on the colt.
This year, Palm Sunday falls on March 20th. We honor Jesus’ arrival into our lives by proclaiming, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” We give thanks for salvation in Jesus, and wave our palm fronds (or just our hands) in expectation that He will come again. Salvation is here, and it’s coming. Hosanna in the highest!
For Deeper Thought
What does the act of waving mean to you? How can you think about waving as a way to worship Jesus?
“Hosanna” is a mix of fulfillment and yearning. Are you in a place of prayerful expectation, or are you celebrating the contentment of salvation in your life? What does it look like to live in the tension of both expectation and completeness?