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Morning over the bay

Music for Holy Week

Plough Music Series

Colin Fields

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At the beginning of the last week of his life, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was a singular moment of joy and triumph, as his followers celebrated what they believed to be the beginning of the reign of the king of Israel. As described in the Gospel of Mark:

And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!
Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:7-9 RSV)

Yet the joy was fleeting. In Luke’s account, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wept for it, foretelling its utter destruction by the Romans forty years later:

For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:43-44 RSV)

Thus Holy Week begins with a mixture of rejoicing and foreboding; the triumphal procession is the beginning of the final journey to the cross. Because of this, perhaps it is not surprising that there is very little music for Palm Sunday in the Western canon. The feeling of the day was captured well by Henry Hart Milman (a historian and poet who would later be dean of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral) in a hymn written in 1820.

Sung here by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, during an Easter service.

https://youtu.be/g-qDQSjnzH8

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Hark, all the tribes hosanna cry,
thy humble beast pursues his road
with palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die,
O Christ thy triumph now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on in majesty! 
The winged squadrons of the sky
look down with sad and wond’ring eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
the Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
bow thy meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, thy power and reign.


Browse more readings for Holy Week

jerusalemdetail Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
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