Ride on, ride on in majesty, hark, all the tribes hosanna cry; thine 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 triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin.
Ride on, ride on in majesty, thy last and fiercest strife is nigh; the Father, on his sapphire throne, expects 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.
Henry Hart Milman (1827)
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion; Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting;
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
St Matthew 21: 1-11
“Ride on, ride on in majesty, in lowly pomp ride on to die.”
This hymn, written by Henry Hart Milman in 1820, and published first in 1827, is an essential part of our journey following our Lord Jesus to the cross. The repetition of the words “Ride on, ride on in majesty” at the beginning of each verse emphasises for us the inevitability of what would happen and conveys the length of the journey and the perseverance of Jesus. It is a hymn of contrasts in which tragedy and victory are inextricably linked.
The hymn proved popular and appears in most hymnbooks.
However the words are now expressed, it is a hymn of powerful themes and challenges for all the witnesses, then and now.
Our initial response is often to join the crowds in their joy and praise for Jesus, the focus of all the attention. How we long to have shared in the celebrations, thrown garments and palm leaves before Jesus to show our devotion. As we sing through the verses our thoughts cannot avoid moving forward with Jesus, recognising the heartbreaking contrast of the phrases ‘lowly pomp’ and the loyalty of the donkey, the ‘humble beast’, as he plods steadily forwards in the new and unexpected situation despite the palm leaves, the shouts, cheers and excitement which must have, for Jesus and some of the disciples, been mixed with foreboding and uncertainty. Would that I could be sure of such faithfulness as the donkey showed, given to Jesus in unfamiliar circumstances.
From Jesus’ perspective, the Palm Sunday processions which are often re-enacted in our churches are not the story of the day. The fickle excitement and adulation of the crowds only served to commit Jesus further in his steadfast love for a disobedient nation. It had always been God’s hope that the people of Israel would see the error of their ways as we read throughout the Old Testament. He sent his son to change minds and lives and to an extent he did during his time living on earth At the time his life and work hung in the balance. But the Palm Sunday procession as described so vividly in ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty’ shows the depth of Jesus’ commitment. This is effectively conveyed by the words repeated in every verse: ‘Ride on’. Jesus was determined to face whatever lay before him. Through the events which followed, the way to reconciliation with God is opened for us. We could not win the battle against sin and death ourselves. Hope comes in the final verse: ‘Then take, O God, thy power and reign’. We have the assurance that God’s plan will work out. Jesus, our Saviour, did come through the most cruel death to live forever and give us the hope of eternal life through his triumph over ‘captive death’ and ‘conquered sin’. We see how much we need our Saviour and all he did for us through unconquerable love for a fallen world. ‘Unconquerable love’ should be our goal at all times as we follow Jesus, humble man, lamb of God and Saviour of the world.
Lord Jesus Christ, we want to praise you with loud ‘Hosannas’, we long to follow you to the cross and beyond, we believe you are our Saviour and King. Yet so often our worship is less than joyful, our prayers rushed, our contemplation shallow, our service and love for others intermittent. We thank you that still you welcome us into your Kingdom. Help us to renew our commitment to follow you always. Amen
Hilary Jackson is a lay preacher, elder and member of Gatley URC in South Manchester living in North Yorkshire.
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