This Week's Hymns:
Wednesday: See Him in Raiment Rent
Thursday: Christ Is Risen!
Friday: Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross
Saturday: Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing
Sunday: He Rose! O Morn of Wonder!
Tuesday: On This Morn We See the Dawning
This week’s special feature (thanks to Ace Collins’ book Stories Behind the Traditions & Songs of Easter): The History of Passion Plays
- During the Dark Ages, church members (usually children) would frequently put on dramas, acting out various Bible stories. Many churches displayed several sets for Easter, which the congregation to move around to see. In the 900s, monk Benedictines of St. Gall added church music called tropes to the dramas. (They were always presented in Latin and stuck very closely to the Biblical accounts of Jesus' crucifixion.)
- As more people became educated and the performances moved from the church to the communities, the purity of the story was lost. Eventually, the church banned the plays because they had begun to challenge some of the church doctrines.
- Germany, of course, kept the tradition alive, and in the 1400s, it was revived by traveling groups of actors who would stage "passion plays." The name comes from the Latin word for suffering, which is passio. These actors showed their audience the reality of Jesus' suffering, and, since church services were conducted in Latin, it was the first time many people actually understood what had happened to Him.
- In 1633, as the bubonic plague swept across Europe, the city fathers of Oberammergau, Germany "promised God that if the plague deaths would cease in their community, they would produce the greatest passion play ever staged. They vowed to continue to present these plays every decade and spare no expense on sets, costume, or promotion. After this vow, no more residents died of the plague, and a tradition began that continues to this day... Just as they did three centuries ago, the citizens today continue to come together in putting on a play that lasts eight hours."
- Later, Handel's Messiah oratorio would replace passion plays. More importantly, however, as people began to learn to read and obtained copies of the Bible in their own languages, they were able to read the story of Christ's death and resurrection for themselves, without having to rely on its being acted out for them. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was actually very reminiscent of the most ancient passion plays (used Scripture only and focused on the gruesome suffering Jesus experienced for us).
Well, here are this week's hymns:
Wednesday, February 27: See Him in Raiment Rent
With 24 stanzas, this hymn says it all! There are the clear pictures of Jesus’ suffering before and on the cross, our response to His loving sacrifice for us, 16 lines of words from Jesus us, and a resolution at the end by the author. This is a different version of Monro's earlier work entitled "In His Own Raiment Clad," from 1864. I think my favorite stanzas are 8 and 16, reminding me to slow down “as the swift moments fly” and seek the Lord in my daily life, realizing just how much He loved me.
Thursday, February 28:
If you’ve never heard of Fanny Crosby, the blind woman who wrote more than 9,000 hymns (many of which are still popular today), then please go read more about her and the amazing work she did for God’s kingdom!
This hymn was written by her, and it is a joyful testimony that “He hath risen, as He said”!
Friday, March 1:
Another hymn by Fanny Crosby! This one is a little more well-known. It contains a personal testimony of how “love and mercy found me,” as well as a plea for God to keep the details of Jesus’ suffering on the cross ever in the forefront of our minds.
This video is a beautiful arrangement of the hymn, with accompanying lyrics displayed along with it.
Saturday, March 2:
- This hymn was actually written due to a family tragedy in his life - his brother murdered one of his servants, an old man who had served him for many years, in a fit of rage. He was imprisoned and hanged for his crime, bringing much shame to the family. After visiting him in prison and witnessing his brother's execution, Shirley could only find comfort in the cross of Christ. Cyberhymnal says, "Discovering an imperfect expression of his emotions at that time in a hymn, 'O How Happy Are the Moments,' by the Rev. James Allen, he adapted and revised the hymn so completely that it became practically a new composition, truly poetic in language and form, and tenderly eloquent of his own experience."
- This hymn is a good reminder to me that only when we are focusing on Christ and His sacrifice for us can we truly realize the hope of heaven, begin to comprehend all He has forgiven us from, and truly praise Him for what He has done.
- I echo the plea in stanza 5 – Oh, if we could learn to wholeheartedly cling only to our Savior, content to leave everything else for Him, constantly fixing our hearts and thoughts on Him, tasting our full salvation! Lord, please make our love for You increase!
Sunday, March 3:
Before you read the words to this hymn, please realize that the tune for this is “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus!” It is a triumphant, upbeat melody that perfectly accompanies these words of Jesus’ victory over death. Two little stanzas that pack a powerful punch – through Jesus, we can conquer death as well!
Monday, March 4:
I love the progression of this hymn! In the first stanza, Jesus arises and “brings us joy and life and light.” In the second stanza, He is recognized as being “stronger… than death and hell!” – there is nothing that can stop Him! The third stanza becomes more personal – “If Jesus lives, can I be sad? I know He loves me, and am glad.” The fourth stanza recounts all Jesus provides for us, including eternal security. The fifth stanza moves beyond the individual, offering a glimpse of the worship that will take place in heaven. In case you’re interested in what it sounds like, the tune is VON HIMMEL HOCH, written in 1539; Bach wrote the harmony for it. This is what it sounds like in German.
One of the advantages of modern-day hymns is that the authors are still alive to tell the stories behind them. Richard Adams recounted how he came to write this hymn: “During my morning commute, I was contemplating a hymn by William Adams (no relation), which I had seen set to Zundel’s tune Beecher. As I drove, whistling the tune, it occurred to me that this exuberant melody would be well suited to a joyous Easter sunrise service. Then the words “Seal of Caesar could not hold Him” entered my mind, and I began to believe God was speaking a new hymn to me. I wrote the words down in a notebook from the glove compartment, and almost finished them in the parking garage over lunchtime. The fourth and final verse arrived before I got home that evening.” (source: Net Hymnal)
See other hymns in this series, and tune in next week for more!