Mar 24, 2024

Mozarabic Liturgy


I’ve always had mixed emotions about leading worship on Palm Sunday. The day was festive enough as choirs processed into worship, followed by adorable children waving palm branches as everyone sang, “Ride on! Ride on in Majesty!” The very next line of the hymn was sobering to sing, “In lowly pomp ride on to die.” This 1827 hymn by Henry Hart Milman captures the paradox of the moment. The problem with all this palm-waving exuberance is that it’s so short-lived. Less than a week later, Jesus will be betrayed by his closest followers, arrested on trumped-up charges, found guilty in a mock trial, and executed between two thieves. In a span of a single week, tragedy and victory were rolled into one as Jesus’ death achieves an unimaginable victory. As we sing in the hymn’s second verse, “O Christ, your triumph now begins, o’er captive death and conquered sin.” The concluding verse ends with another rehearsal of this death-to-life transformation, “Bow your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O Christ, your power and reign.” Milman’s popular hymn captures exquisitely the paradox of victory through a cross of execution. Today’s Palm Sunday prayer was part of a 7th-century worship aid called the Mozarabic Liturgy. Mozarabs were Christians living in Spain during Muslim rule. Cut off from the rest of the Christian world, these faithful followers of Jesus wrote and preserved their own prayers for use every Sunday of the Christian year:

O Lord Jesus Christwhen you entered Jerusalem
great crowds waved palm branches and cried “Hosanna,”
save us now from our sins,
and make us to rejoice in you,
our only Redeemer;
Through your mercy, O our God,
you are blessed,
and live and govern all things,
now and forever.

The Mozarabic Liturgy

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.