Cathedral Blog

Search all blog posts

One Equal Music 2

Written by Philippa White, posted on Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm leavesPalm Sunday: Hosanna to the Son of David

All the great days and seasons of the Christian year have music that goes with them: carols, hymns, choral music, organ music. Whatever it is that you associate with Palm Sunday and Holy Week, I’m sure it has its own soundtrack – whether that’s the processional hymns of Palm Sunday, the stark and unaccompanied chanting of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, or the St John Passion.

And as we begin this strangest of Holy Weeks with this strangest of Palm Sundays, perhaps the music is one of the things we miss. As our standalone Palm Sunday sermon explored, it is strange and painful to celebrate Palm Sunday without the donkey, without the processions, without the hymns, without the palm crosses. We miss them, because they mean something.

The importance of being there for the Palm Sunday processions echoes the sense that this was a day all about physical presence. Jesus and the disciples entered a crowded, noisy Jerusalem, full of pilgrims, tourists, locals and soldiers – a city it’s almost impossible to imagine in these days of lockdown, social distancing and eerily empty streets. I imagine that those who were with Jesus as he mounted the donkey and rode in, or those in the streets who were drawn into the clapping and shouting, went home to tell their friends and family that ‘you had to be there.’

Being there drew people in, to meet Jesus in a new way and make a profound theological statement.  The piece of music we have chosen for this Palm Sunday blog post is a setting of those profound words which the crowds called to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem:

Hosanna to the Son of David.

Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna, thou that sittest in the highest heavens.

Hosanna in excelsis Deo.

It’s set by English composer Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623); a music student at New College Oxford, then organist at Winchester College then Chichester Cathedral.  Weelkes is known mostly for his madrigals, and for his distinct lack of holiness of life – yet the music he writes can allow us to enter into the story of Jesus.

Listening to these words, sung, perhaps you can imagine yourself in Tom Quad – straining to hear the words of the president and the music of the choir, singing All glory laud and honour as we process into the cathedral and becoming increasingly out of time (and possibly key!) And perhaps you can also imagine yourself in Jerusalem, greeting Jesus with palm branches or your coat, laid down in his path to make a red carpet for this donkey-riding king.

As you enter into the story of Palm Sunday – and as you enter into this holiest of weeks, even when all else is so strange – may you sing your praises to Jesus, Son of David, and cry with saints and angels ‘Hosanna’!

Soundcloud icon Hosanna to the Son of David