STLT#263, When Jesus Looked from Olivet

Live from New Orleans – it’s Hymn by Hymn with Friends!

Starting today and going through next Monday, I will be meeting up with some of your fellow readers at General Assembly to sing the day’s hymn and talk about hymnody and music, and of course the day’s hymn. I’ll then write up notes from the conversation, and when possible, provide audio of our conversation.  Note that I will include my regular historical, theological, and musical commentary after the lyrics, preserving this upper part for these great conversations.

First up, the lovely and recently ordained Monica Dobbins!

We started off, like you do, singing the hymn and getting a sense of the tune. As this is the same tune as When Jesus Wept, I was recently familiar with it – Monica didn’t know it but picked it up quickly, thanks in part to her experience as a child in a church that followed a shape note tradition.

So it’s all going along okay, and then we get to the third verse…

When Jesus looked from Olivet
on city gold with towers white,
with sudden grief his eyes grew wet,
and soon his weeping drowned his sight.

He found the dream of prophets past,
of justice crowning every head,
now shattered: by the truth of caste,
by children lost, by lack of bread.

They cried “Hosanna” on that day
while strewing palms upon the path,
but who was sighing all the way?
And what the nature of his wrath?


This is not your average ‘yay, party in Jerusalem’ hymn. This one captures something really amazing about Jesus, his ministry, and the anger that leads him to disrupt. As readers know, I have long been a fan of Mark Belletini – and this one hits it out of the park.

I love too that Mark set it to this traditional Palm Sunday tune – and while we might not sing it straight through as a round in this version, it lends itself to some interesting options. I love its solemnity, especially married with Mark’s lyrics – it’s a perfect marriage reflecting the bittersweetness of the day we sing about.

My conversation with Monica ranged from the singing experience, to the theology, to the possibilities of preaching (without trying we found three Palm Sunday sermons in this text), to even challenges in congregational singing. I encourage you to listen to the audio – a scratchy 25 minutes of fascinating ideas and exchange. (Note: if the link doesn’t work, I apologize in advance and will fix as soon as I am able  – which might be tonight.)

I will also say that having someone to sing with and talk about a hymn with is amazing. As Monica noted in our conversation, singing together is a vulnerable act, which may be one reasons it’s so powerful. I need to sing these with others more often – because in fact I was moved to tears more than once this morning. I am just so glad I have the chance to do it for six more days!



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