After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
The Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Palms describes the last chapter of Jesus’ physical Lenten journey. Geographically, the difficult pathway that Jesus walked from Jericho to Jerusalem rises dramatically in elevation and was known to be dangerous due its narrow path and being filled with robbers. Nearing Jerusalem, Jesus had his disciples procure a colt for him to ride. While the disciples following Jesus riding the colt “praised God joyfully with a loud voice,” the people, sensing political tension, shouted warnings for Jesus to go back into the desert to hide.
Composers have set the crescendo of the parade musically for centuries. In recent decades, however, choral “Hosannas” have become quite brief and harmonically bizarre, with composers often combining the sounds of beauty and terror at once. How weary would Jesus have been after his Lenten journey? How jubilant would the disciples have been knowing that proclaiming Jesus as King would cause him political trouble in the severest sense? One can hear the struggle between those with faith and those without in these compositions.
The setting of the “Hosanna” heard in this morning’s services by composer Philip Stopford (b. 1977) has the rhythmic integrity of a bright fanfare, yet exudes an unresolved harmonic language that conveys the tension of the scene. Its bitter-sweetness foreshadows Jesus’ sweet death to come.
For reflection: How might you interpret the parade? How long would it be? What would be its context in society? How would you see the scene in your mind or hear the sounds of the “multitude of disciples,” and how might you paint or set those scenes to music?
Appointed readings for today: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Luke 19:28-40, Luke 23:1-49