A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING
Paradox and perspective are two elements which, along with the lofty melody of “Winchester New” (http://lutherantacoma.com/hymns/012.mp3), stand out in Henry H. Milman’s Palm Sunday hymn, “Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty.”
A paradox is a statement that seems self-contradictory but which may, in fact, express a profound truth. The Spirit-inspired writers of the Bible often used paradoxical statements to express divine truth in a memorable way (see Matthew 5:4 and 10:39, and 2 Corinthians 12:10 for just three of many possible examples). So also, in verse 2 of this hymn, Milman uses the paradoxical term lowly pomp to perfectly characterize the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. “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.” (v. 2)
Pomp signifies splendor or magnificence, or an ostentatious display of dignity. It especially pertains to a procession or pageant. Lowly, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. It describes something that is humble and unassuming. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was, indeed, an example of “lowly pomp.” He rode on a donkey, not in a gold-embellished chariot drawn by a pair of prancing Arabian stallions and preceded by blaring trumpets. Nonetheless, no earthly king ever rode in a procession of equal magnificence because this was, in fact, God Himself in a procession that would lead to another paradox—that of the crucifixion; a paradox which C.S. Lewis characterized as “the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events.” The “lowly pomp” of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem led to the tragic magnificence of His atoning death and the resurrection that followed.
How one evaluates an event or an issue often depends largely on perspective. For example, the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 was met with rejoicing by those who wanted abortions to be readily available, but with grief and dismay by those who believed the Bible’s teaching about the sanctity of life beginning with conception. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week was also an event viewed from opposite perspectives: the crowds shouted “Hosanna” and spread palm fronds and garments along His way (v. 1), but—at least in the poetic license of this hymn—the angels were saddened. “Ride on, ride on, in majesty! / The angel armies of the sky / Look down with sad and wond’ring eyes / To see th’ approaching Sacrifice.” (v. 3)
Hosanna was a cry of adoration and acclamation, an expression of great joy at some event. In Jesus’ time, that’s how it was used, and that is how the Jews lining the road witnessing Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem meant it; but the word is actually a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word which, in its original meaning, was a cry for help. There is irony in the fact that the crowd’s expression of joy would have been more appropriate—from the angels’ perspective—in its original meaning of crying for help; for Jesus came to Jerusalem at this time not to accomplish what those cheering Him on hoped, but rather to provide the “one thing needful”: salvation from sin.
As to perspective, consider the perspective of God the Father as He watched His Son riding on to be tortured and crucified. “Ride on, ride on, in majesty! / Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh; / The Father on His sapphire throne (Ezekiel 1:26, 10:1, compare to Exodus 24:10) / Expects His own anointed Son.” (v. 4) Here the Father views His beloved Son intentionally going to a torturous death, all in submission to the Father’s love for fallen mankind. We cannot understand such a thing; we can only marvel and give thanks. So we also cry “Hosanna [in both senses of the word] to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9)
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.