On June 27, 2002, Saints in 72 countries around the world cried aloud, together with one voice, saying, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna, to God and the Lamb!”
I was there, wearing a suit that was crisp and new. The day had tremendous significance to me, as it was the day I was set apart as a full-time missionary, but it also had immense meaning to the Church as it was both the anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. That dedication, broadcast via satellite around the world, was the first time that I can remember being part of the Hosanna Shout. Those of us in attendance—millions, I have to guess—joined with God’s prophet in waving white handkerchiefs and shouting those sacred words:
“Hosanna, to God and the Lamb!”
The word “Hosanna” comes from Hebrew, meaning “save now”, and the scriptures cite many examples of individuals or groups exclaiming it, often as a cry of jubilation. The first occurrence is in Psalms 118:25, translated literally; but it is rendered as the familiar “Hosanna” when retelling the Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life, when the Nephites see the resurrected Savior for the first time, and at other times as well.
There aren’t many times that we, as Latter-day Saints, shout in our worship services. The Hosanna Shout itself is reserved for sacred occasions—generally the dedication of temples, but it was also done (for example) at the dedication of the Conference Center in 2000. It was done for the first time in this dispensation at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, a miraculous Pentecostal event that included angelic manifestations, speaking in tongues, and shortly thereafter the restoring of Priesthood keys through personal visitations to the prophet Joseph Smith by Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Savior Jesus Christ himself.
It was also at the Kirtland Temple dedication that W. W. Phelps’s hymn The Spirit of God was sung and became part of the LDS musical lexicon. The hymn had actually been written and published a year before that day in Kirtland, but it was there that it gained its meaning. The hymn aptly accompanies the dedication of a temple, as the Hosanna Shout is found right in the chorus:
We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of heaven,
Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb!
Let glory to them in the highest be given,
Henceforth and forever, Amen and amen!
With these words, The Spirit of God changes from being just a hymn—albeit a popular and beloved one—to being something far greater. When we sing this hymn, we literally unite in singing and praising God, saying, “Hosanna, hosanna, to God and the Lamb!”
There can be no doubt—The Spirit of God is a hymn about temples, and the glory of having temple worship restored to the Earth after centuries of apostasy.
The Spirit of God like a fire is burning!
The latter-day glory begins to come forth;
The visions and blessings of old are returning,
And angels are coming to visit the earth.
The first verse is the most familiar to us as Latter-day Saints. It speaks of the truths of the Gospel that had already been restored at that point—the angel Moroni, for one, had visited the earth and played a key role in bringing to light the Book of Mormon. But in another way, it is prophetic of what was to occur at Kirtland:
“…A noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels.” (History of the Church, Vol.2, pp.427-8)
When we say that the Spirit of God like a fire is burning, it can be the fire of testimony in each of us; but it can also be what others saw outside the temple that day: “The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple).”
The Lord is extending the Saints’ understanding,
Restoring their judges and all as at first.
The knowledge and power of God are expanding;
The veil o’er the earth is beginning to burst.
The second verse speaks to the spiritual education of the temple, and the power that comes to us from the knowledge we gain there. It’s reminiscent of the reasons that Abraham sought the Priesthood and temple blessings in his time: “…To be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and… to receive instructions…”
As we sing in this verse, the temple will extend our understanding of the mysteries of God, and the knowledge and power of God will expand within us. But more interestingly, the knowledge we gain in the temple causes the veil between us and the Eternal to become thinner; perhaps, should we be faithful enough, we can become like the brother of Jared and the Lord will momentarily remove the veil from our eyes.
We’ll call in our solemn assemblies in spirit,
To spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad,
That we through our faith may begin to inherit
The visions and blessings and glories of God.
Solemn assemblies aren’t held frequently; they are generally held to sustain a new prophet and for the dedication of temples. There may not be a more sacred type of meeting held in the Church to which the general membership can be privy.
But what about “solemn assemblies in spirit”? Can we hold the personal equivalent of a solemn assembly within ourselves, and dedicate to the Lord the temples that are our bodies? Can we call ourselves to greater service within the Lord’s kingdom, to “spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad?” Certainly we can—and doing so may be to only way we can “inherit the visions and blessings and glories of God.”
How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
Shall lie down together without any ire,
And Ephraim be crowned with his blessing in Zion,
As Jesus descends with his chariot of fire!
The last verse is perhaps the second-best known, after the first, and it looks forward to the day when the temple will take on a new role. While now the temple allows us to receive ordinances for ourselves and for our dead, the day will come when the Holy One of Israel will return to His temple, ushering in a Millennium of peace when Christ will reign personally on the Earth.
As a 19-year-old in 2002, in my new suit and waving a white handkerchief, I shouted hosanna and praised God for giving his people a temple. But in retrospect, I had done it many times before… and have again many times since, in singing The Spirit of God.
Next time you sing this hymn, think about the chorus as you sing the words of the Hosanna Shout. Imagine waving a white handkerchief as you do, being there in Kirtland as the defining ordinances and blessings of a dispensation were ushered in after hundreds of years of darkness.
Join with me, and the very armies of Heaven, and together let’s sing: “Hosanna! Hosanna, to God and the Lamb!”