Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Week Hymns: Ride on Ride on in Majesty

This year, each day of Holy Week, I will post one hymn, with a meditation or explanation afterward.  Some will be hymns I have written; others will be ones I just find meaningful.  I hope you will join me each day, at least to read the hymn if you don't want to take the time for the prose that follows it.
Ride on! Ride on in Majesty!
Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry;
O Savior meek, pursue thy 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! The winged squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes To see th’approaching sacrifice.

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.

One of the challenges in looking for hymns that relate to Holy Week is the fact that the vast majority of them focus on the Crucifixion.  This is completely appropriate, but going immediately from Palm Sunday to Good Friday seemed a bit abrupt.  One of the things I love about “Ride on! Ride on in Majesty” is that although it focuses on the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, it also references the Crucifixion and even the Resurrection.

I think that one of the roles poetry should play in the Christian life is pointing out the paradoxes within God’s nature and the ways God works that we would never have imagined.  The more we learn about God, the more we should experience wonder at what He is like and what He does.  Given that, one aspect of this hymn that I love is the alternation between images of triumph and suffering, especially the phrase “lowly pomp.” 

The repeated line “Ride on! Ride on in majesty!” depicts Christ as a glorious king, which is certainly how the crowds saw Him on Palm Sunday.  It also alludes to Psalm 45:4 “In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!”  If you read the whole psalm, you will find that it is a wedding song, and this line is addressed to the king.  By applying this verse to Jesus, the hymnist reminds us that the crowds were right in calling Him their king.  It also reminds us that Christ’s actions on that day and throughout Holy Week aimed at redeeming people to become the Church, His bride.

The line, “O Christ, thy triumphs now begin O’er captive death and conquered sin,” reflects an understanding of the Crucifixion that we seldom think of today.  The idea is that even in the midst of His suffering, Christ was defeating sin and was in the process of destroying it.  Amazingly, even when Christ appeared to be the one who was captive and defeated, He was already conquering evil.  The Crucifixion was the beginning of Christ’s exaltation.

Verse 3 reflects the opposite side of Holy Week; it points out that while the crowds cheered, angels wept because they knew what was coming.  He was indeed riding on to die.

The last line effectively sums up the essence of Holy Week: “Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, thy power and reign.”  Christ submitted to suffering and death, but then He would take His life up again and be exalted to reign over all things.  Most of the hymns I will post this week focus on the Crucifixion and on suffering, but we must not forget that, even when Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, God knew what was happening and was planning the Resurrection.  Christ was never a passive victim.  He knew what He was getting into and suffered willingly for us, which in my mind makes His sacrifice even more incredible.

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