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Tuesday, April 07, 2009 

Thoughts On The Musical Settings Of Palm Sunday Hymnody

What the heck is with the peppy musical settings of Palm Sunday hymnody?

Great hymns like Ride On, Ride On in Majesty certainly reflect the pericope or Scripture reading of the day (which is one of the tests with which we measure our hymnody here at POTF) but is such an upbeat musical setting really appropriate? Here is our Gospel reading for the day:

Mark 11:1-10

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”

So they went their way, and found the[b] colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”

And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

“ Hosanna!

‘ Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David
That comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”

And here is the text of our opening hymn All Glory, Laud, and Honor found in the LSB on page 442:

All glory, laud, and honor,
to thee, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

1. Thou art the King of Israel,
thou David's royal Son,
who in the Lord's name comest,
the King and Blessed One.

2. The company of angels
are praising thee on high,
and we with all creation
in chorus make reply.

3. The people of the Hebrews
with psalms before thee went;
our prayer and praise and anthems
before thee we present.

4. To thee, before thy passion,
they sang their hymns of praise;
to thee, now high exalted,
our melody we raise.

5. Thou didst accept their praises;
accept the prayers we bring,
who in all good delightest,
thou good and gracious King.

Yes the hymn is repeating back (confessing) the Gospel story that is going to be read but what is with the almost joyful musical setting? Don’t these people know how the story turns out? Don’t the people who write the music for these hymns know that in less than a week these same people cheering for Jesus are going to be the same ones calling for his crucifixion? Don’t they know the ending of the story? Don’t they know that in a few short days, that on Good Friday, Jesus is going be beaten, stripped naked, and nailed to a piece of wood to die? Again, what is with this almost cheerful music? Why, when it is sung, does it sound like a victory parade if we know it ends with death?

Simply put, it’s a victory parade because it ends in death.

In Christ’s work on the cross, we are given victory over sin, death, and the devil himself. In Christ’s work on the cross, all our sins are placed on Him who committed no sin and an atonement; a reconciliation, between God and man is made. In Christ’s work on the cross, we see the magnitude of God’s love; sending His Son as a propitiation for the very creatures who rebelled against him.

The music is joyful precisely because we do know the ending of the story. We know that our story begins and ends at the cross and we sing accordingly. Thanks be to God that we know our Lord and our King rides into Jerusalem to redeem the fallen human race. Thanks be to God that we have great hymns to sing of all the glory, laud, and honor our Savior earned and won at Calvary.


Good post Frank.

Here is some interesting information I stumbled upon in a search on who wrote "All Glory, Laud, and Honor".

"Theodulph of Orleans

Died: 821, An­giers, France.

Theodulph was born into the Ital­i­an no­bil­i­ty, but de­cid­ed on a life of re­li­gious ser­vice. His first po­si­tion was as ab­bot of a mon­as­te­ry in Fi­ren­ze (Flor­ence), Ita­ly. In 781, Char­le­magne ap­point­ed him Bi­shop of Or­leans, France. How­ev­er, this flour­ish­ing ca­reer came to an abrupt end with Char­le­magne’s death. Lou­is the Pi­ous sus­pect­ed The­o­dulph of se­cret loy­al­ty to po­li­ti­cal lead­ers in It­a­ly, the coun­try of his birth. These sus­pi­cions led to The­o­dulph’s im­pris­on­ment in An­giers in 818. His pre­di­ca­ment is re­mi­nis­cent of Paul’s in­car­cer­a­tion in Rome. Like Paul, The­o­dulph’s faith sus­tained him in­side cold stone walls. It was there he wrote All Glo­ry, Laud and Hon­or, and there that he died." Source.

I found it interesting that this song was written by Theodulph while he was in prison. That is a pretty upbeat melody for someone in prison.

And, the above is a side note and doesn't add or detract from your good post which I agree with. :)

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  • From The Haut South
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