Palm Sunday hymns highlight the events leading up to Jesus Christ's crucifixion.
Palm Sunday hymns highlight the events leading up to Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Palm Sunday, or the Sunday of the Passion, is celebrated in Christian churches on the Sunday before Easter. It commemorates Christ's triumphant arrival into Jerusalem the week before his death, where he was welcomed as the messiah. The services on this day often include a reading of the Passion sections of the Gospels, which cover the next week of events, including the Last Supper, Judas' betrayal and the crucifixion. Hymns sung on this Sunday reflect these dual themes and are either joyful, uplifting tunes or tell the story of Christ's last hours.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy songs are used for eucharist services.
Holy songs are used for eucharist services.

There are a variety of short hymns that some people call the "holy holies." These are simple songs sung during communion/eucharist (the exchange of the bread and the wine) to honor God. There are several different versions of this type of song but the original was written in 1826 by Reginald Heber and set to music in 1861 by John B. Dykes.

Traditional Hymns

Palm Sunday hymns tell the story of Jesus' last week.
Palm Sunday hymns tell the story of Jesus' last week.

One popular traditional hymn, "All People that on Earth Do Dwell," based on Psalm 100, is believed to have been written in the 16th century by William Kethe. It is usually sung to the tune "Old Hundredth", also known as "Savoy" or "Genevan 134," although other tunes are used at times. It is a song of praise and rejoicing, and according to Nicholas Temperley, who wrote "Hymnal 1982 Companion," the hymn has appeared in over 1000 editions of hymnals and psalters. Other popular, traditional hymns include "Away With Our Fears, Our Troubles and Tears," "All Glory, Laud and Honor" and "Sons of God (Hear His Holy Word)."

Contemporary

Contemporary hymns tend to be more upbeat and rhythmic than traditional hymns. The songs often have themes of justice and peace, use inclusionary language -- God rather than Lord; creator instead of father -- and have a catchy tune. Scotland's ecumenical Christian Iona Community has produced many popular contemporary songs relevant for Palm Sunday, including "When the Son of God was Dying" and "Shout for Joy! The Lord has let us Feast." Pat Humphries' "Never Turning Back" is an example of a folk song that has been adapted by many Christian congregations that prefer more secular music. Featuring adaptable words and a strong rhythm, it is an appropriate song for those churches that incorporate a walk or march into their Palm Sunday service.

World Music

Many South African freedom songs are popular in modern Christian churches.
Many South African freedom songs are popular in modern Christian churches.

Within some Christian churches, especially Protestant communities, singing world music songs is popular. These hymns tend to be African spirituals or songs in Spanish from Latin America. Often the congregation needs to learn these songs phonetically in order to sound them out, but it is important that a translation is provided so people know what they are singing. A South African hymn from the Xhosa tribal group, “Hamba Nathi" translates to "Go with us, our saviour" and makes a strong Palm Sunday song, as it speaks to the journey of faith.

African-American Spirituals

African-American spirituals blend tradition and rhythm.
African-American spirituals blend tradition and rhythm.

Hymns in this category may fit in several of the other themes above. Written mostly in the 18th to 20th centuries, these songs have an upbeat tune, traditional words and may incorporate rhythm or words from Africa, the civil rights movement or slavery. Songs such as "I'm Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing" allow the congregation to add their own verses to make it more reflective of the particular Sunday or their own beliefs.