Ride on, ride on in Majesty

Palm Sunday 2021

I want to do something slightly different this morning. I want us to reflect on the words of a hymn; a hymn often sung on Palm Sunday; and a hymn that explains the significance of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. 

Henry Hart Milman was a poet, a historian and a clergyman: he was appointed Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1849. He is buried in the cathedral, and his portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery. He wrote a number of hymns, including “Ride on, ride on in majesty”.

The first verse reminds us that Jesus is greeted as a king:

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry!
thy humble beast pursues his road,
with palms and scattered garments strowed.

The humble beast is of course the young donkey which no one had ever ridden (see Mk 11:2), and this brings to mind the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout Daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The Hebrew word “Hosanna” is often translated “Please save us”.  The crowds greeting Jesus call out the words of Psalm 118:

"O Lord, save us; O Lord grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD."

The second verse of the hymn reminds us that this kingly figure is a humble one, who is coming to die. And yet he is doing so for a purpose, to triumph over death and sin!

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.

The third verse builds on the second. The winged squadrons of the sky remind us that this is God’s plan to save humanity from the consequences of sin and death. But at a cost. Sad and wondering eyes see approaching sacrifice. Heaven takes no pleasure in what is to come.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
The wingèd squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes,
to see the approaching sacrifice!

The hymn writer is reminding us that heaven is watching. The winged squadrons know who this is. This lonely figure riding on the donkey is the God-man. The mediator between heaven and earth. The one perfect sacrifice to take away the sin of the world.

The crowds have spread their cloaks on the road. They are shouting and cheering and waving their palm branches. They have no idea of the ordeal facing this man. Verse four reminds us that Jesus’ last and fiercest struggle awaits Him.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
the Father, on His sapphire throne,
awaits His own anointed Son!

Jesus has resisted temptation and “fulfilled all righteousness”. Jesus has done what Adam failed to do and resisted every temptation. He has lived a perfect life of righteousness; He has kept the law and all its commandments; and He has fulfilled OT prophecy.

But now his last and fiercest strife is nigh. The God-man who has lived in perfect harmony with his Father is now to be forsaken. The God-man who knew no sin is to take the sin of the whole world upon Himself. The one who did not deserve to die is heading towards a quite horrendous death.

But the final verse of the hymn reminds us that this death will not be the end of the story.

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!

Death will not be able to hold the Christ. The hymn’s closing line “Then take, O God, thy power, and reign” reminds us of the truths contained in the Nicene Creed:

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

He ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Those words “for our sake” remind us that what was happened that first Palm Sunday (and that first Good Friday) two thousand years ago was for us and for our salvation. We are called to make those truths our own.

This is what great hymns do for us. They teach us the truths of the Christian faith. And they help to re-enforce that teaching as we sing the praises of the Lord our God.

We’re now going to listen to a version of the hymn, “Ride on, ride on in majesty”.