History of Hymns: 'Hosanna, Loud Hosanna'
By Denise Makinson
“Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”
by Jenette Threlfall
The United Methodist Hymnal, 278
Hosanna, loud hosanna,
the little children sang;
through pillared court and temple
the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them
close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises,
the simplest and the best.
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,“Hosanna to the Son of David!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” - (Matt 21:8-11, NIV*)
Can you picture the excitement of this scene? Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey with crowds of people shouting “Hosanna.” Matthew also tells us that the children were shouting “Hosanna” in the temple (Matt. 21:15, NIV). Jeanette Threlfall (1821-1880) envisioned this celebration, especially the role the children played. Her hymn “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” begins with the children singing and a reminder that Jesus welcomed and blessed the children throughout his ministry.
Miss Threlfall had a difficult childhood. She was born in Blackburn, England, to Henry Threlfall and Catherine Eccles, but both her parents died at an early age. Following her parents’ deaths, she was raised by her aunt and uncle and then lived with other relatives throughout her life. Two serious accidents left her first lame and then severely disabled, confining her to her bed (Watson, n.p.). Despite these circumstances, accounts of her life indicate that Miss Threlfall was always cheerful and loved to write poems and hymns. She wrote this prayer to the Source of her strength: “O Loving Father, give Thy poor child strength! Thou knowest she has none: O loving Father, give her strength to say, “Thy Will Be Done!” (Morgan, 2010, n.p.) Threlfall must have loved to imagine the children running and shouting “Hosanna” and being welcomed into the arms of Jesus.
Threlfall’s poems were published in two volumes, Woodsorrel: Leaves from a Retired Home (1856) and Sunshine and Shadow (1873). “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” appearing first in Sunshine and Shadow, was then paired with the hymn tune ELLACOMBE and included in the Scottish Church Hymnary (1898). This was a successful hymnal that was revised and updated in four editions through 2005. Her original poem had four stanzas.
In addition to stanza one cited above, the original second and third stanzas follow:
From Olivet they followed,
‘Midst an exultant crowd,
The victor palm branch waving,
And shouting clear and loud;
Bright angels joined the chorus
Beyond the cloudless sky,
“Hosanna in the highest:
Glory to God on high!”
Fair leaves of silvery olive
They strewed upon the ground,
Whilst Salem’s circling mountains
Echoed the joyous sound;
The Lord of men and angels
Rode on in lowly state,
Nor scorned that little children
Should on His bidding wait. (Threlfall, 1873, pp. 50-51)
Current hymnals condense the second and third stanzas into one and modify the text in a few places, a common editorial practice. This conflation appears as follows in The United Methodist Hymnal:
From Olivet they followed,
mid an exultant crowd,
the victor palm branch waving,
And chanting clear and loud;
The Lord of earth and heaven
rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children
should on his bidding wait.
In the three stanza version included in The United Methodist Hymnal, “the first two stanzas narrate the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem in the past tense, while the final stanza shifts to the present tense to call attention to the actions and the hope of the singers of the hymn” (Daw, 2016, p. 200).
The importance of children throughout Jesus’ ministry was lifted up throughout Miss Threlfall’s poem and helps us develop our own understanding about children in regard to our ministry today. In stanza one, the children sing in the temple, following Jesus’ entry into the city (Matt. 21:15). It is possible that these children are the same ones that Jesus blessed earlier in Matthew’s account when he said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 19:13-14, KJV). The unpretentious and authentic praise of children illustrates the childlike faith that Jesus demands of those who follow him (Matt. 18:1-4). Jesus welcomed the praise of children (Matt 21:16) quoting Psalm 2:1-2 (NIV), “…through the praise of children and infants…”. Do we invite the voices of children in our worship today and help them feel welcome? How can children teach us to better share our faith and proclaim praise to God our Savior?
“Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” is most often sung to the hymn tune ELLACOMBE. The tune first appeared in the Gesangbuch der Herzogl, Wirtembergischen katholischen Hofkapelle [Songbook of the Catholic chapel of the Württemburg ducal court, Württemberg, 1784]. The composer of this tune is unknown, but it was first harmonized by Victorian university professor and composer William Henry Monk (1823-1889). There is some speculation that the tune name honors Henry Thomas Ellacombe (1790-1885), “a campanologist [specialist in bell ringing] and Anglican clergyman, who devised an apparatus (now named for him) that allows one person to achieve the effect of several change ringers” (Daw, 2016, pp. 35-36). Because the first five notes of this tune resemble several bell patterns, it suggests the association with Ellacombe. Monk was also known to have named several other hymn tunes for his contemporaries. The repeated patterns of the tune echo the repetitive chant of the crowd as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
As we commemorate Palm Sunday in our worship services today, we remember the drama of the first crowd that gathered to shout “Hosanna” and hail Jesus as king as he entered Jerusalem. Miss Threlfall reminds us that we also look to the day when Jesus enters the new Jerusalem, where white-robed multitudes will again take up their palms, shouting: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10 NIV).
The final stanza follows as it appears in The United Methodist Hymnal:
“Hosanna in the highest!”
that ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer,
the Lord of heaven our King.
O may we ever praise him
with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence
Carl P. Daw Jr., Glory to God: A Companion (Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, KY, 2016).
Chris Fenner, “Hosanna Loud Hosanna” Hymnology Archive website. https://www.hymnologyarchive.com/hosanna-loud-hosanna. Accessed January 17, 2020.
Robert J. Morgan, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-loved Hymns (Revell Pub.: Grand Rapids, MI, 2010). Devotion for Nov. 30.
Jeanette Threlfall, Sunshine and Shadow, Poems (London: William Hunt and Company, 1873). https://archive.org/details/sunshineandshad00thregoog/page/n48. Accessed on January 22, 2020.
J.R. Watson, “Hosanna, Loud hosanna,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology.
http://www.hymnology.co.uk/h/hosanna,-loud-hosanna. Accessed on January 22, 2020.
*Verses marked NIV are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Denise Makinson is Director of Worship and Music, Southwood Lutheran Church, Lincoln, NE, where she has served since 1994. A graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln (B.M. in Sacred Music) and University of Nebraska, Lincoln (M.M. in Organ Performance), she is a deacon in the Lutheran Church (ELCA) and a member of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.