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Ride on, King Jesus, ride on.
No man can-a-hinder me. 

In preparation for Palm Sunday, I’ve spent time asking why I might have joined the crowd who dropped cloaks and lifted grasses in that politically charged counter-procession from Bethany to Jerusalem. What’s opened my heart and mind most is listening through a couple dozens versions of the song “Ride On, King Jesus” based on an African-American spiritual.

(If you don’t have the energy for words today, just skip down to the links for the song and listen again and again for some soul revival. If you have the energy, here are just a few thoughts…)

This fierce song awakens me on a personal and global scale. Personally, my heart opens with fullness when I sing on repeat and let myself remember that I have received what Jesus gave to the crowd surrounding him. Their unencumbered praise reminds me that I too have experienced being seen, known, healed, restored. I have reason to sing. In my imagination, it makes me want to lock eyes with Jesus as he sits on that donkey, just to smile and share a glow of gratitude. 

Globally, the vibrations of the song alight my body. The rhythm pulses with the power of Jesus’ kingdom opposing the systems of oppression throughout history. The versions with a strong drum beat mean to wake up bodies to their agency and minds to their empowerment. The a cappella versions use voice to communicate that same force of life, channeled by the ones who hold Jesus’ hand and by his strength refuse be hindered. The claps break us from our stupor and call us to join the masses. 

James Farley, an enslaved African, recalls the power of a song such as this: “When I was a little boy they would kill us if they caught us in a Sunday School. . .. [W]hen they did let us go to church sometimes, they would give you a seat way back here, with the white folks in front. Then sometimes they would let you come in the evenings to church, and then you would take the front seats, with the padderollers behind, so that if the preacher said something he shouldn’t say, they would stop him. One time when they were singing “Ride on King Jesus, No man can hinder Thee,” the padderollers told them to stop or they would show him whether they could be hindered or not. (Fisk, 1945, p. 125)

In honor of this holy day, I encourage you to immerse yourself in a few versions of this song and be called again, in body, mind, heart and spirit, to join the procession of our humble, world-turning, coming king. 

Ride On King Jesus – Rev. Ernest Davis, Jr. & the Wilmington/Chester Mass Choir

Ride On, Jesus – Fisk Jubilee Singers

Ride On King Jesus – Teen Talent | Large Vocal Ensemble Winner

Julie VanDerVeen Van Til

Julie VanDerVeen Van Til is the pastor of Flossmoor Community Church in Flossmoor, Illinois. She and her family enjoy music, theater, books and travel. They especially enjoy exploring National Parks, interactive museums, and anyplace with water in the summertime. .


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