Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Preparing for Easter: Week 6

This Week's Hymns
Wednesday, March 20: Worship Christ, the Risen King 
Thursday, March 21: Hallelujah! Jesus Lives!
Saturday, March 23: The Day of Resurrection
Sunday, March 24: All Glory, Laud, & Honor

Special Feature: The Tradition of Sunrise Services

Have you ever been to a sunrise service on Easter morning? I have. Worshiping together with believers while the rest of the world sleeps, remembering the dark hours that preceded Easter, watching the sun rise, and singing praises to the risen Lord was a moving, meaningful experience for me.

Although it was never commissioned in the Bible or required by early church leaders, it makes sense that Christians would return to the place and time that Mary first discovered Jesus was alive. Early Christians met in graveyards at dawn to commemorate resurrection morning, when the world was changed and we were given hope for eternity. It was common tradition in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but more conservative religious groups abandoned the celebration of Easter until the 1800s. In the past century, it has become a more popular and meaningful way to celebrate early Easter morning.

Wednesday, March 20: 

As the second and third stanzas point out, creation could not stand for Jesus to remain dead - everything groaned against His burial, and nothing could contain Him. I also think the fourth stanza is a good reminder that we will experience doubts and troubles, but the truth is something we have to keep ourselves open to. It is a choice to believe and have faith rather than the voices of the people and circumstances around us.

If you’d like to hear the tune sung, just listen to this video. It’s the same tune as “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

Thursday, March 21: 

We as Christians do not have the right nor the reason to despair, because Jesus is risen! He lives in heaven to plead before the Father on our behalf. Stanza 3 contains the language and symbolism of our marriage relationship with Christ - we are joined with Him, and He is our Head. I love stanza 5, which talks about my heart being drawn to Jesus and no longer being interested in the vanities of this world. The 4th and 6th stanzas both allude to our inability to praise the Lord as well as the angels, yet they both exhort us to praise Him. Even though the cherubim’s praise may be "nobler" and our voices may be "feebler," He still longs to hear it!

Here is the melody it’s sung to. It was translated from German to English by Jane Borthwick in 1862.

Friday, March 22: 

Isaac Watts was a brilliant young poet who was bored with the church music of his day (repeating lines from psalms in singsong fashion). His father challenged him to write something better, and he did so, penning a new hymn every week for 2 years.

This hymn, however, was met with opposition and controversy because it spoke of personal feelings and experiences, using the word “I.” People were also disgusted by the gore described in the fourth stanza. Nevertheless, it eventually gained popularity, and thanks to his other 600 hymns, Watts is known as “The Father of English Hymnody.” Charles Wesley reportedly said he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one. The beautiful, haunting tune, an arrangement of an ancient Gregorian chant, is only 5 notes.

This hymn also holds a special place in my heart, because my college chorale would end every concert with a beautiful arrangement of it. My sister’s in this video! (The music starts at 2:20.)

Saturday, March 23: 

Early Christians sang this hymn! John Neale, who translated more than a hundred ancient and medieval hymns, had his hand in this and described how Greek Christians would have sung this hymn: “As mid­night ap­proached, the arch­bi­shop, with his priests, ac­com­pa­nied by the king and queen, left the church and sta­tioned them­selves on the plat­form, which was raised con­sid­er­a­bly from the ground, so that they were dis­tinct­ly seen by the peo­ple. Ev­er­y­one now re­mained in breath­less ex­pec­ta­tion, hold­ing an un­light­ed ta­per in rea­di­ness when the glad mo­ment should ar­rive, while the priests still con­tin­ued mur­mur­ing their mel­an­cho­ly chant in a low half whis­per. Sud­den­ly a single re­port of a can­non an­nounced that twelve o’clock had struck and that Eas­ter Day had be­gun; then the old arch­bi­shop, ele­vat­ing the cross, ex­claimed in a loud, ex­ult­ing tone, ‘Christ­os anes­te!’ ‘Christ is ris­en!’ and in­stant­ly ev­ery sin­gle in­di­vid­u­al of all that host took up the cry…At that same mo­ment the op­press­ive dark­ness was suc­ceed­ed by a blaze of light from thou­sands of tap­ers which…seemed to send streams of fire in all di­rect­ions.” (source: Net Hymnal)

Here’s what the music sounds like – it’s the same tune as “Lead On, O King Victorious.” The melody was written for the 350th anniversary of the Reformation in England.

Sunday, March 24: 

Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and begins our remembrance of His final days (Holy Week). This hymn describes that exciting time when the people hailed Jesus as a King as He deserved.

It’s another hymn of the ancient Christians translated by John Neale. Interestingly enough, Net Hymnal says that Neale noted “ano­ther verse was usu­al­ly sung un­til the 17th cen­tu­ry, at the quaint­ness of which we can scarce­ly avoid a smile”:  

Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,
And we the little ass,
That to God’s holy city
Together we may pass.

You can listen to the majestic melody in this video.

Monday, March 25: 

What a contrast between the people worshiping Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to those who saw Him carrying His cross to Calvary and dying there on the tree! 

If people thought “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” was graphic, then this hymn is unfathomably so. The flesh stretched and torn, the limbs bare and extended, the blood gushing and streaming, the thorns pressed into His head – all of it points to “the Man of grief condemned for you; the Lamb of God for sinners slain.” 

The final verse contains Calvinistic theology – Jesus’ heart was moved toward sinners. It is nothing that we do, but all His work that saves us.

Tuesday, March 26: 

I had never heard of this hymn before, but it is a gem! I enjoyed reading the lyrics while listening to it being played on this video. It was translated from German to English by Robert Bridges in 1899, and it has an interesting rhyme scheme, bringing the focus to the last line with fewer syllables.

It cuts to the heart of the gospel – “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The sinner realizes that he is the one who denied and crucified Jesus. But “God intercedeth” before we even realized Jesus’ sacrifice for us. The third stanza contains two vivid pictures – the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep, and the Son suffering for the slave’s sin. The fourth stanza details all that Jesus has done for the author, and the final stanza is his attempt to thank Him for it “since I cannot pay Thee” – instead he promises to adore and pray to Jesus, meditating on His sacrificial love rather than his “deserving” of it.

Remember to check out the other hymns in this series, and tune in next week - Holy Week - for the final installment!

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