Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday and Passiontide

Today is Palm Sunday, remembering Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But as long as I can remember — and as recorded in the 1940 Hymnal — it has also been Passiontide, summarizing the entire duration of Holy Week (or at least the trial and crucifixion of our Lord.)

This morning I worshipped at a Hymnal 1940 parish. Two of the three hymns were Palm Sunday standards:
  • “All Glory, Laud & Honor” (H40: #62), the standard Palm Sunday processional for every ECUSA, Schism I and Schism II parish I’ve attended for the past many decades.
  • “Ride on, Ride on in Majesty” (H40: #64, 1st): the other hymn in our hymnal that focuses on Jesus’ entry and path to the cross
  • “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”(H40: #75): clearly more of a Good Friday hymn.
The first two are (to me) mandatory Palm Sunday hymns. Update: I’m glad to see that LCMS pastor Rick Stuckwisch lists these two hymns as his recommended processional and recessional hymn for today.

I have mixed feelings about scheduling crucifixion hymns on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is by itself one of the most important stories of the New Testament — really the denouement of Christ’s early ministry. To me this is Our Lord’s coming out party, in which his followers both proclaim his kingship (not an earthly one, as it turns out) and also he arrives in glory at the historic capital of God’s chosen people of the first covenant, to create a new convenant.

Good Friday to me is a separate service, with separate liturgy. But realisticially, a fraction of Christians attend on Good Friday while Palm Sunday often attracts C&E Christians (who often step it up during Advent and Lent). There is also the question of whether music is really appropatite during Good Friday: most Anglo-Catholic clergy I know have treated it as a very solemn, quiet service.

Certainly, if Palm Sunday is doing dual duty for Good Friday, there are plenty of great hymns that commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. Instead of Hymn #75, I would choose “Ah, Holy Jesus,” (H40: #71, 1st) that great Lutheran hymn with the tune Hierzliebster Jesu by Johann Crueger. (I would love to hear the 2nd tune, Sarum plainsong Mode IV, but no one seems to use it).

But there are no shortage of choices in our hymnal. “Drop, Drop Slow Tears,” (H40: #69) the 17th century hymn with music by Orlando Gibbons is both timeless and also relatively easy to sing. And for a Good Friday service, it would be impossible to beat “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” one of the few pieces of American folk music in Hymnal 1940 (#80).

If you’re not doing Good Friday hymns on Palm Sunday, how would you fill out the liturgy? This morning’s church used “Lift High the Cross,” which to me seems like a happy Good Friday hymn. Asked for advice by a music director, I think I came up with a better choice.

For Luke 19:28-40 — given by this year’s lectionary for Schism II/TEC churches (Year C of RCL) — a hymn website suggested a hymn I would not have thought of: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (H40: 355):
All hail the power of Jesus' name! Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of All!
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of All!
Perhaps this is more of a Christ the King Sunday hymn, but if you want a familiar (easily sung) hymn for the recessional that captures the theme of Christ’s triumphal entry, IMHO it’s hard to beat. As Oremus notes, it’s also present in all the major US and English hymnals, another testimony to its staying power. Finally, to me it’s one of those great hymns — in music, lyrics and theology — that is always worth singing, no matter what the excuse.

Update: On the March 29 episode of Issues Etc., Pastors Todd Wilken and Will Weedon spent an hour discussing the imagery of “Ride on, Ride on in Majesty” and the broader significance of Palm Sunday. On March 30, the two discuss the observance of Holy Week, including that combination of Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday is a postwar change in the liturgy.

1 comment:

jleecbd said...

In the old Anglican Breviary, of course, the separation between Passion and Palm Sunday's is retained. Of course, the Breviary is a early 20th century text, and hasn't been updated since.