March 9, 2018
WHAT HYMN DID JESUS SING THE NIGHT BEFORE?
On the Thursday night before His crucifixion, Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn together after finishing the Passover meal. My first observation is that Jesus sang. O what joy it must have been to hear His voice sing praises to God! How wonderful to have been one of the disciples who joined with Him in harmony. But what hymn did they sing?
The Greek word translated “sang a hymn” is “hymneō” (ὑμνέω). Literally, “They ‘hymned’ as they went out.” We don’t have a verb for “hymning,” but we did borrow the Greek noun, “hymnos,” for our English noun, “hymn.” What is a hymn? The dictionary says, It is “a religious song or poem, typically of praise to God.” Yet, in both Jewish and Christian circles, the word hymn is used in a more precise way.
In their book, “Sing With Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnody,” authors Eskew and McElrath describe a hymn as a kind of poem set to music. They write, “It should be simple and metrical in form, genuinely emotional, poetic and literary in style, spiritual in quality, and in its ideas so direct and so immediately apparent as to unify a congregation while singing it.”
So, the hymn is a unique form of worship music that usually begins as a poem before music is added. It is easy to sing, metrically precise, and sounds as good to the ear with or without accompaniment. It can be read aloud in private devotions, sung alone or together. Hymns are rich with words and doctrines from Scripture.
There are other types of worship songs. The apostle Paul encouraged singing three types in his letter to the Colossian church: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
So, what hymn did Jesus sing the night before His crucifixion? Jewish tradition called for singing the Paschal Psalms, Psalms 113 through 118, after the Passover meal. These psalms surely fit the definition of a hymn. They also match perfectly with the moment in time that Jesus faced.
Take a moment and read through Psalms 113 through 118. Pay special attention to the words of Psalm 118. Imagine you’re with the disciples as Jesus sings, while walking out into the night through the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem and up the Mount of Olives to pray.