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What song did Jesus sing right before he died?


Catherine Leblanc I Godong

Sarah Robsdottir - published on 03/28/24

"And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" -- Mark 14:26

It’s one of those Bible verses I’ve brushed over countless times… 

“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” — Mark 14:26

I must have breezed past that hymn-singing part of the Last Supper because what came right after — Jesus’ agony in the Mount of Olives where his friends rejected him — has been really important to me in recent years. I meditate on it every Tuesday and Friday when I join with Christians all around the world to recite the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary. This practice of meditating on Jesus’ agony in the garden brings solace to the rejection wounds in my own heart. It’s a familiar habit, yet one that never stops unfolding. 

Because the other day, I heard the verse read aloud and my head was left spinning with a number of questions: 

So, what song did Jesus sing right before he died?

Did this song get stuck in his head while he suffered all alone, rejected by his friends, while dreading his torture and crucifixion? 

And what song — if I had the foresight to choose one — would I sing right before I died or faced a horrible trial? What song would be my battle cry when faced with a cruel trial or even death?  

A tiny bit of research answered the first question. Scholars of all stripes find it very likely that Jesus and his disciples sang the Hallel, the hymn traditionally sung at the end of a Passover meal. 

“Hallel” is a Hebrew word that means “praise”; it’s where we get the word hallelujah, and the Hallel is comprised of verses from Psalms 113 to 118:

I give thanks because you have answered me, and you have been my salvation.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.

The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?

Though hostile nations surrounded me, I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.

My enemies did their best to kill me, but the Lord rescued me.

I will not die; instead I will live to tell of what the Lord has done. The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not let me die.

The stone the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.

This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

The Lord is God, shining upon us. Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar.

You are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever …

Jesus most likely sang these prophetic words about his Father’s faithfulness right before his friends rejected him and he sweat blood in the garden; he sang them right before he was arrested and tried unfairly and whipped and crowned with thorns and crucified …

The theologian Scott Hahn expounded on the importance of what happened during the Last Supper in the forward for Brant Pitre’s book Jesus and The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist:

“The death on Calvary was not simply a brutal and bloody execution. Jesus’ death had been transformed by his self-offering in the Upper Room. It has become the offering of an unblemished paschal victim, the self-offering of a high priest who gave himself for the redemption of others.”

And now, as we come to the cusp of another Triduum, I find myself listening to the Hallel on repeat. I find myself pondering how my own life could be transformed if I stopped resisting God’s promptings — if I would just reach out to that difficult friend, or if I simply worked a little harder to make peace in my marriage. These challenges are brutal, but with the Hallel in my heart, I’m finding the strength to begin.

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