This Week's Hymns:
Wednesday, March 27: A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth
Thursday, March 28: Low in Thine Agony
Friday, March 29: Throned Upon the Awful Tree
Saturday, March 30: Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands
Sunday, March 31: Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
Maundy Thursday: In this Thursday of Holy Week, the day before Jesus' crucifixion, we remember the day Jesus served the Passover meal or the Last Supper. The word "maundy" comes from the Latin for "command" (mandatum). It refers to the command Jesus gave at the Last Supper that His disciples should love one another. This day is traditionally observed from sundown Wednesday until sundown Thursday (as is the Jewish custom), and the tradition in some churches of foot washing reflects the actions in the upper room with Jesus and His disciples this evening. Thursday’s hymn has to do with what took place immediately after the meal they ate together - Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, asking His Father to change His mind and take away His suffering, but then aligning Himself with His Father's will.
Good Friday: On this day (Thursday night through sundown Friday), we remember Jesus' trial, flogging, crucifixion, removal from the cross, and burial - all within a 24 hour period. The hymn below is so poignant in the language it uses to describe the agony of Jesus' death. I cannot fathom all that He went through because He loved us so much! This is a day of mourning and reflection, but we cannot lose sight of the reason why Jesus died – to bring salvation and redemption for His people. I can't talk about Good Friday without sharing this amazing song from one of my favorite artists. Also, the following sermon is inspiring, reminding us of Jesus’ immense suffering, but simultaneously bringing hope, because we know what happens only 2 days later!
Holy Saturday: This is commemorated as the only full day that Jesus was entombed, that death had conquered. We say that Jesus was in the tomb for 3 days because Jews counted each day, even if something occurred for part of a day – so they would count Friday, since He died on that day, Saturday, and then Sunday, since He arose at dawn and the “day” began at sundown. Our family’s Holy Saturday tradition is to make these “Easter story cookies.”
Easter Sunday: Jesus is alive! He is risen! This is the turning point of all human history, when Jesus triumphed over death and brought hope of eternal life to people who had despised and rejected Him. He is risen indeed!
The three stanzas of the hymn is a look into the interaction between Jesus and His Father, while the last three stanzas are the Christian’s personal response to Jesus’ work on the cross. This hymn contains an interesting rhyme scheme: ABABCCDEED. The tune is a little difficult, but after listening to all 6 stanzas sung on this video, I think I have it down! It is a beautiful marriage of rich descriptive words with major and minor music.
But most importantly, it reminds us that people did not take Jesus’ life; He laid it down and “to slaughter [was] led without complaint.” I echo the exclamation in the third stanza: “O wondrous love, what hast Thou done! The Father offers up His Son!” As a result, our daily lives should be filled with sacrifice and praise for the God Who has saved us; we have an “Anchor” through the storms of life and do not have to fear death; and we get to look forward to eternity, when we will joyfully stand beside Christ as His bride, dressed in His righteousness.
Thursday, March 28:
This hymn depicts Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane before the cross. This is where the real agony took place, it seems – the cross was just the carrying out of what had already been decided in the garden. This is where Jesus wrestled with whether He would have to experience separation from His Father to save His creation, or whether there was another way. He prayed that God would take away the terrible “cup” if it was possible, “yet, Lord, Thy will be done.” And so we see the depth of His love for us: “O wondrous love of Thine, unspeakable, divine; to save this soul of mine Thou wilt not shrink.”
Friday, March 29:
These emotional words coupled with the minor tune (which you can listen to here) make this a powerful hymn for Good Friday, remembering Jesus’ “silent… wrestling with the evil powers, left alone with human sin.” We talk about Jesus’ suffering, but none of us can ever fully know the terrible anguish He experienced, being separated from His Father and crying out to God, “Why have You forsaken Me?” The last verse puts things in perspective for us in today’s world and our everyday lives: when we experience fear and anguish, we can know that Jesus has experienced the same thing, and much worse, and through our “suffering,” know Him more.
Saturday, March 30:
Despite the depressing title, this hymn is one of triumph and celebration – yes, Jesus suffered and died, “but now at God’s right hand He stands and brings us life from heaven.” Martin Luther also explains why Jesus was the only One Who could “conquer death” – because sin had so consumed all of us on the earth. Yet the third and fourth stanzas tell how Jesus ended death’s power and sting. Stanza five alludes to the symbolism of Jesus as the Passover Lamb: “His blood doth mark our door; faith points to it, death passes over, and Satan cannot harm us.”
Richard Massie translated this hymn by Martin Luther from German to English in 1854, and if you’d like to listen to the majestic but minor tune, just watch this video.
Sunday, March 31:
It’s hard to imagine an Easter morning without singing this classic hymn of celebration! But I’ve never sung all 10 stanzas before. According to Stories Behind the Traditions and Songs of Easter, “Wesley published the song with simple four-line stanzas and, as originally composed, the hymn did not contain the now familiar ‘alleluia’ at the end of each line. That exclamation, an ancient Hebrew expression of praise, was added later by an unknown hymnal editor who must have felt those singing this powerful song should shout out their joy that Christ was alive.” This hymn was written when church services still contained somber unmelodic psalm singing and no mention of Jesus or the resurrection (instead they resembled the psalms of David), so this enthusiastic praise was even more celebratory in contrast with the “dead” worship of the day.
The last 3 stanzas were written by an unknown author in the 14th century and later translated from Latin to English. This exuberant song is one of the most popular Easter hymns in the English language. Here is an inspiring version of the song to listen to.
Happy Easter! I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of Easter hymns – I know it’s helped me to stay focused on the important meaning of Jesus’ resurrection during this busy time of the year, and I hope it’s been a helpful tool for you as well. I am planning to share 40 different Easter hymns next Lenten season, as well as several Christmas hymns during Advent.