March 24, 2024

This morning I’d like to take some time to focus on the familiar Palm Sunday hymn, “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” It’s an old chestnut. Written about the year 820 AD, it’s been a Palm Sunday favorite for centuries. The words come from the pen of Theodulph of Orleans. Theodulph was born in Spain among the remnants of the Visigoths. But he traveled widely in his younger years and ended up as a monk who in time was accepted into the royal court of Charlemagne and appointed Bishop of Orleans in 781. He was an exemplary man. Influenced by the great centers of learning in Rome, he devoted much of his energy and influence to the building of public schools throughout the region. And he was humble and generous-hearted. Theodulph had a peculiar custom; he never closed his door. He believed that the door should remain open so that people traveling on the road or poor folks could wander in for a meal or a bed for the night. I’m not sure I could live up to that example, but it’s a beautiful concept.
However, when Charlemagne died in 814, Theodulph wound up on the bad side of his successor. Louis the Pious suspected Theodulph of conspiring against him, deposed him from his bishopric and threw him in a monastery in Angers. As they say, no good deed ever goes unpunished. But Theodulph’s faith sustained him inside those walls, and he turned to writing poetry. It was there he wrote Gloria, laus et honor, the Latin hymn that has been translated into All Glory, Laud, and Honor. The hymn is a glorious celebration of Jesus’ entry into the Holy City, and it was written in the midst of the most dire and lonely circumstances.
It is as though the good Bishop, in his imprisonment during the last chapter of his life, was looking forward to the joyous inauguration of the “New Jerusalem”, as the author of the book of Revelation saw it, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”, the Holy City reborn into the fullness of God’s intentions. These days it’s pretty hard to imagine that glorious city of Revelation’s vision. Jerusalem, the city whose name means “peace,” is currently caught in the midst of a brutal war. Many years ago we had a friend, Rabbi Barbara Simons who, when Dadgie and I were in Franklin, Massachusetts, was the Rabbi of Temple Etz Chaim (which met in the sanctuary of our church building). Rabbi Simons went to Jerusalem with a tour group of American Rabbis. On her return, she presented a number of us clergy who were on the Interfaith Council with small stones taken from the ground around Jerusalem. She said that each one of these stones she brought back was “one less stone to be thrown at someone.” Dadgie and I had the masons work our stone into the chimney at the Royalston house. We call it, “One Less Stone.”
Our lives, from cradle to grave, are far too full of stones: stones thrown at others, and those thrown at us. So much in our world seems to be “out of whack.” I love the sign in the hardware store window that says, “If it ain’t broke, just keep fixin’ it ‘till it is.” Sometimes it seems that’s all we manage to do: keep stumbling across the brokenness of the world and in our efforts only managing to make matters worse.
But the vision of St. Theodulph is our vision. It’s the astonishingly improbable vision of the Holy City as the incubator of peace in a world of hate. It’s the vision of our hopes for the children, a vision that seems equally improbable in a world where children bully others until they commit suicide, or take guns to school to shoot their classmates. St. Theoldulph’s vision seems improbable in a world where women are forced by fundamentalist regimes to virtually disappear from society, and the murders of wives by husbands or brothers is quietly condoned. That vision seems improbable when people systematically slaughter others simply for being members of a rival group or for not adhering to their strict beliefs and practices.
But hope is that which sings in the face of the storm. It’s the voice of a brighter vision lifted up while others are slinging mud and throwing stones. Dadgie got an email from a dear friend while she was awaiting surgery some years ago. It said only: “Hope is good! Hang onto it.” I remember as soon as I saw that email, I thought, “That’ll preach.”
This sad world desperately needs some Theodulphs, some people with the temerity to sing a song of celebration for the emerging Holy City of peace, while wasting away in the prison of discouragement. That’s what we need to counter the semi-automatic fire of news reports about hate, and rage, and inhumanity. We need a sprinkling of people here and there who can still laugh with the abandon of boundless faith, a people consumed with meaning and purpose rather than consuming the world’s trinkets, a people who know the value of self-restraint and conservation, a people who recognize integrity when they see it and value substance over superficialities. We need a few intrepid souls in our midst who are willing to believe in goodness in spite of news to the contrary. We need a critical mass of witnesses who will testify to the grandeur of the coming city of peace.
That’s the sort of thing the Psalmist was looking for a few thousand years ago. He was clearly suffering some kind of dreadful experience and in the throes of anguish when he wrote, “Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.” But he lived with indomitable hope and moved from distress to these words of confidence: “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.” It is the singers for joy who brighten our world and inspire us to live in hope as well.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was not only riding to Gethsemane and Calvary, he was raising the shouts of the people, and proclaiming that if the people didn’t shout, then the stones themselves would. It’s an interesting choice of metaphors. Because the ritual that was being reenacted in his triumphal entry was taken from a very ancient and well-known liturgical procession based on Psalm 118. It is the same psalm that includes the lines, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” In Ancient Hebrew tradition, the verse from this psalm “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!” was sung by the priests as they circled the altar during the feast of booths. As they did so, the congregation waved their lulab, which consisted of branches from trees, often palm branches. That repeated verse begins, in Hebrew: Hôshia-na’ which means “Save us, please!” It is this phrase that morphed into the word Hosanna. So this is the ritual, pulled right out of the tradition of the Feast of Booths, that was being played out on the streets of Jerusalem. And it is a ritual that comes from verses about one who has been outcast, like St. Theodulph languishing in prison and yet redeemed by his own faith and hope, one rejected, as the Psalmist said, like a worthless stone. But the rejected stone, like those that are picked up in the dust of the Holy Land and thrown at bitter enemies today, can be redeemed, and even end up offering witness set into a fieldstone fireplace halfway across the world.
No matter where you find yourself, no matter what the circumstances, you can shout, “Hosanna!”, a shout that, as Jesus said, will either come from you or from the stones themselves. You can proclaim along with the people of Jerusalem who turned out in hope to see the carpenter of Nazareth on a donkey: “Don’t despair! Don’t give up! Lift up your heads! Look at what’s coming!”
St. Theodulph’s hymn originally had thirty-nine verses. Our red hymnal has that chopped down to three. I had considered having us sing all thirty-nine in the original Latin, but I guess the truncated English version will do. Let’s sing it together.

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