Study for Today (especially for Palm Sunday)

Our very good friend Grant has been hard at work again ready for Palm Sunday tomorrow……

All Glory, Laud and Honour

This is a hymn for Palm Sunday which begins Holy Week, that most significant period of the Christian year. Our hymn for today is a very popular and well known hymn written by St Theodulph of Orleans 750-821AD. There is a story that towards the end of his life he was imprisoned in a monastery by the Emperor Louis I (the Pious). Theodulph used his time there to compose this processional hymn which was originally of 39 verses! (After all it is for processional use and to this day it is commonly used in most churches for the Palm Sunday procession in which Christians try to re-enact the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, sometimes using live donkeys which may or may not behave!) Originally in Latin it was translated into English by that 19th Century doyen of Anglican clergy poets and scholars, John Mason Neale 1818-1866. It was first published in the initial edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern 1861 and reduced in length. Of course there are churches where the outdoor processions may require several verses to be repeated!

All glory, laud and honour,

to thee, Redeemer King,

to whom the lips of children

made sweet hosannas ring.

(These lines are repeated after every other verse of the hymn.)

The text is based on the Gospel passages of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-17, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-38, John 12:12-15). These verses themselves refer to Old Testament ‘prophecies’ of the entry of the Messiah into the City of Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9, Isaiah 62:11, Psalm 118:25-26). St Matthew’s Gospel mentions the children crying out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ (Matthew 21:15) which was one of the titles given to the promised Messiah.

The company of angels

are praising thee on high,

and mortals, joined with all things

created, make reply.

The people of the Hebrews

with palms before thee went:

our praise and prayer and anthems

before thee we present.

To thee before thy passion

they sang their hymns of praise:

to thee now high exalted

our melody we raise.

If there is any praising to be done, the angels must be involved, though there is no express reference in the Scriptures to angels involved in that first Palm processional. The writer of the Book of Revelation mentioned the wonderful hymn of the angels as they sang in heaven to the Lamb of God on the throne, possibly an early Christian hymn (Revelation 5:11-14). The people of the Hebrews is simply a term of reference to the Jews, dating back to the time of Moses and a term usually used by the Egyptians and other races in perhaps even a derogatory way.

Following on from the praise given to Jesus as Messiah by his contemporaries, we Christians are encouraged therefore by St Theodulph to follow suit. It is interesting to note that in this penultimate verse Jesus is the one ‘high exalted’ i.e. by virtue of his Ascension and therefore he is the ‘good and gracious king’ alluded to in the last verse.

Thou didst accept their praises,

accept the prayers we bring,

who in all good delightest,

thou good and gracious king.

There is a 16th Century legend which related that while Theodulph was in Angers in prison, the Emperor heard him singing this hymn, consequently released him and ordered that the hymn was to be used ever thereafter in the procession on Palm Sunday. A delightful legend though it has no basis of truth in it.

There is one other verse in the original which, thankfully, we never sing these days. I’m sure there would be quite a few giggles if we did!

Be thou, O Lord, the Rider,

and we the little ass;

that to God’s holy city

together we may pass.

This was, I think understandably, omitted from the 17th Century onwards in its original version!

I hope that wherever we sing this hymn, outside the church building, or inside, we all may feel that we are participating in Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Grant Brockhouse 

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