As Palm Sunday comes to a close, I just finished reading Normal Nagel's sermon for this day on John 12:20-29 in Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel. In typical fashion, the silent reading included the mental translation into Nagel's distinctive English accent.
Each year as we revisit Palm Sunday we are confronted by a paradox in the hymns, the scripture readings, and the sermon. Appearances are deceiving. The Savior we want is not necessarily the Savior we need. Nagel writes,
As we celebrate Palm Sunday, there is a tension of the joyful hosannas and the journey to the cross. Musically, I sometimes struggle trying to balance this tension as I prepare for the worship service. It's easy to play the loud and joyful settings of "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" and "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" with instrumental fanfare — almost like Easter has come a week early. Yet, as Nagel notes, "The hour of Jesus' glory was to be the hour of His death, for He took our sins on himself . . . This was Jesus' glory—that through His death there might be full, assured, and cheerful life of those who are God's own" (p. 107).
Increasingly, I'm appreciating the complexity of the hymn "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty" (LSB 441) in understanding the paradox of Palm Sunday. Each stanza begins with "Ride on, ride on in majesty!" — causing an expectation of something regal, at least to human eyes and ears. Yet, we see the foreshadowing that this is a different sort of ride – "In lowly pomp ride on to die." "The angel armies of the sky Look down with sad and wondr'ing eyes To see the approaching sacrifice." This is a bit of contrast from the angelic proclamation on Christmas Eve. But there is the expectation of triumph through this death and mortal pain. Each year as I accompany the singing of this hymn I try to lead with a restrained and solemn joy — interpreting the paradox from the organ bench and perhaps making this text come alive.
A few years ago I came across a new setting of "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty" by John Ferguson. Fittingly, he entitled his hymn tune "Paradox". Here is a recording of Ferguson's setting sung by the St. Olaf Cantorei. The choral score can be purchased from Lorenz. If you do not see the embedded music file, click here to hear the audio.
As Jesus goes on this trek to the cross, we too go with Him.
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