Tag Archive: hymns

An Advent hymn

Help, I’ve already had two Christmas lunches and a carol service and Christmas is still three weeks away. I suppose it doesn’t matter that much – not one has died as a result of not keeping Advent. However, it was suggested that perhaps we get so caught up with Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, that we lose sight of the other meaning of Advent. As well as looking forward to Christmas there is looking forward to Jesus’ return, his second coming, just as he promised. I sense (and this includes me) that many Christians may well nod in agreement with the idea of Jesus’ return and yet. And yet, while we may still be waiting, we have given up expecting him.

So as a reminder to myself I re-read this old Advent hymn. It was written around 500 years ago by John Milton. As with all poetry, it is better read (or sung) out loud.

The Lord will come and not be slow,
his footsteps cannot err;
before him righteousness shall go,
his royal harbinger.

Truth from the earth, like to a flower,
shall bud and blossom then;
and justice, from her heavenly bower,
look down on mortal men.

Rise, God, judge thou the earth in might,
this wicked earth redress;
for thou art he who shalt by right
the nations all possess.

The nations all whom thou hast made
shall come, and all shall frame
to bow them low before thee, Lord,
and glorify thy name.

For great thou art, and wonders great
by thy strong hand are done:
thou in thy everlasting seat
remainest God alone.

John Milton, the elder (c.1563–1647) based on verses from Psalms 82, 85, 86
from “Ancient & Modern”, no. 51

Easter Day 2015

This is one of my favourite hymns, partly because it features one of my favourite saints, namely St Thomas. I also like it because it works equally outside for a dawn service – either read or, with a choir, sung – as at a service in church later in the day.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

O sons and daughters, let us sing!
The King of heaven, the glorious King,
o’er death to-day rose triumphing.

That Easter morn, at break of day,
the faithful women went their way
to seek the tomb where Jesus lay.

An angel clad in white they see,
who sat, and spake unto the three,
‘Your Lord doth go to Galilee.’

That night the apostles met in fear;
amidst them came their Lord most dear,
and said, ‘My peace be on all here.’

When Thomas first the tidings heard,
how they had seen the risen Lord,
he doubted the disciples’ word.

‘My piercèd side, O Thomas, see;
my hands, my feet I show to thee;
not faithless, but believing be.’

No longer Thomas then denied;
he saw the feet, the hands, the side;
‘Thou art my Lord and God,’ he cried.

How blest are they who have not seen,
and yet whose faith hath constant been,
for they eternal life shall win.

On this most holy day of days,
to God your hearts and voices raise
in laud and jubilee and praise,

O filii et filiae, Jean Tisserand (d. 1494), translated by John Mason Neale (1818–1866)*

Sixth Sunday of Lent…

…usually called Palm Sunday. Although it should be pointed out that the “palm” bit is only the beginning. During the final days before Jesus is arrested and executed, he arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey and was welcomed by crowds who strewed his path with branches taken from palm trees. Once in Jerusalem events build to a head until the authorities feel they have no choice but to catch him and silence him. In our churches on Palm Sunday we often begin the service with a procession and carry either palm branches or palm crosses as we sing. Once inside, though, the mood turns more sombre and we recall the events of Good Friday.

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
sing the ending of the fray,
o’er the cross, the victor’s trophy,
sound the loud triumphant lay:
tell how Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
as a victim won the day.

God in pity saw man fallen,
shamed and sunk in misery,
when he fell on death by tasting
fruit of the forbidden tree:
then another tree was chosen
which the world from death should free.

Therefore when the appointed fullness
of the holy time was come,
he was sent who maketh all things
forth from God’s eternal home:
thus he came to earth, incarnate,
offspring of a maiden’s womb.

Thirty years among us dwelling,
now at length his hour fulfilled,
born for this, he meets his Passion,
for that this he freely willed,
on the cross the Lamb is lifted,
where his life-blood shall be spilled.

To the Trinity be glory,
to the Father and the Son,
with the co-eternal Spirit,
ever Three and ever One,
one in love and one in splendour,
while unending ages run. Amen.

Pange lingua gloriosi by Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (c.535–609)
translation mainly by Percy Dearmer (1867–1936)

Fifth Sunday of Lent…

…or “Passion Sunday”. These next two weeks are referred to as “passiontide”. I am so used to these things that I forget that “Passion” is a jargon- church word. In everyday places we use the word “passion” to indicate a strongly felt feeling or desire. It often refers to how strongly we like or love something or someone. Here it means “suffering” and has more in common with a patient (who is suffering an illness or a broken body) than with falling in love. So today the liturgy begins to focus on the events of Holy Week, in particular on Good Friday and Jesus’ death on a cross.

Drop, drop, slow tears,
and bathe those beauteous feet,
which brought from heaven
the news and Prince of Peace.

Cease not, wet eyes,
his mercies to entreat;
to cry for vengeance
sin doth never cease.

In your deep floods
drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye
see sin, but through my tears.

Phineas Fletcher (1582–1650)

Fourth Sunday of Lent

In this country this Sunday is usually kept as “Mothering Sunday”; elsewhere it is known as “Refreshment Sunday”. Either way, we are in the mid-point of Lent. This hymn is new to me – I chanced upon it browsing a hymn book – although the author, Charles Wesley is a familiar name.

Help us to help each other, Lord,
each other’s cross to bear;
let each his friendly aid afford,
and feel another’s care.

Up into thee, our living head,
let us in all things grow,
and by thy sacrifice be led
the fruits of love to show.

Touched by the lodestone of thy love
let all our hearts agree;
and ever towards each other move,
and ever move towards thee.

This is the bond of perfectness,
thy spotless charity.
O let us still, we pray, possess
the mind that was in thee.

Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

Second Sunday of Lent 2015

Here is this week’s hymn choice. We sing it to a folk tune “rescued” by Ralph Vaughn Williams so for me this has a suggestion of the English countryside about it. In fact the hymn is about Jesus’ faithfulness towards us especially when we are feeling tired or discouraged.

I heard the voice of Jesus say:
‘Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.’
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say:
‘Behold I freely give
The living water, thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live.’
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say:
‘I am this dark world’s light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright.’
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk,
Till travelling days are done.

Horatius Bonar (1808-89)

First Sunday of Lent 2015

Recently I have been struck by the words of some of the more traditional hymns we sometimes sing. Too often I may find myself singing along quite heartily while my mind is elsewhere – usually on the next part of the service (a hazard that must befall many a worship leader). If I had chosen that particular hymn, the chances are that I have read it and thought about it (if not exactly prayed it) at home – and therefore done it some justice. Reading hymns out loud as a poem makes me concentrate more on the words and their meaning. So for each Sunday in Lent  I shall choose a hymn to post. It will be in the public domain (no copyright issues) and I will have read it out loud at least once.

This one is from John Bunyan who wrote “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. He spent some time in gaol as he refused to conform to the religious norms of his time.

He who would valiant be
’Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound—
His strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might,
Though he with giants fight;
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend
Us with Thy Spirit,
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

John Bunyan (1628-88), Percy Dearmer (1867-1936)

A poem by Walter Chalmers Smith

For Wednesday during Advent I decided to share with you a poem that might be suitable for the season. (I think they are in the public domain)

Earth was waiting, spend and restless,
with a mingled hope and fear,
faithful men and women praying,
‘Surely, Lord, the day is near:
the Desire of all the nations –
it is time he should appear!’
Then the Spirit of the Highest
to a virgin meek cam down,
and he burdened her with blessing,
and he pained her with renown;
for she bore the Lord’s anointed
or his cross and for his crown.
Earth has groaned and laboured for him
since the ages first began,
for in him was hid the secret
which through all the ages ran –
Son of Mary, Son of David,
Son of God, and Son of Man.

I found this in a new edition of the hymn book “Ancient and Modern”. Although it must have been written over a hundred years ago it was new to me. Phrases like “burdened her with blessing” and “pained her with renown” stood out for me. Even a good thing like giving birth to the Son of God was fraught with danger and difficulty – not to mention heartbreak.

Listen up, folks; he’s on his way…

… or something like that. I was browsing through a hymn book, “Common Praise”, and came across this traditional hymn. Please don’t ask me what ‘heaven’s arches’ are or how they ring (last verse). However, I particularly like the third verse. Yes, it is all very Victorian and they don’t write them like that any more, but it does convey a sense of what Advent is supposed to be about: hope.

Hope because God keeps his promises. Hope represented in Jesus Christ coming to our world.

Hark the glad sound!The Saviour comes,
The Saviour promised long;
Let every heart prepare a throne,
And every voice a song.
He comes the prisoners to release,
In Satan’s bondage held;
The gates of brass before Him burst,
The iron fetters yield.
He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of His grace
To enrich the humble poor.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
Thy welcome shall proclaim;
And heaven’s eternal arches ring
With Thy belovèd name.

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)

It’s raining again – at least it was when I last looked out of the window. The “April showers” look set to continue into May at least. A couple of days ago we had some welcome sunshine, a break from the rain and a chance to go outside without getting wet any time soon. That’s not the case everywhere where there has been flooding and, as one reporter put it, “the wettest drought on record”. The fact is that apparently we’d need several months of rain like this to replenish the ground water and when it runs off the surface or backs up the drains it isn’t really helping.

Meanwhile, when the sun came out a fragment of verse came to mind: “after the sun the rain, after the rain the sun, this be our way of life, till our work be done” or something like that. It comes from a song I mentioned before (last year) and is copied below. The sentiment is true, I suppose, and it reminds me of the story of the man who was phoned by his son who was in a bit of a state.

“Dad, everything’s gone wrong,” complained the son. “What do you mean?” asked the father. “Well, work is boring, the kids are behaving terribly, my wife and I keep having rows and to cap it all the dog is sick. Life is awful and I hate it,” came the tearful reply. “Don’t worry,” replied the father, “these things happen. It will pass, it will pass.”

A few weeks later they were on the phone again. “How’s it going?” enquired the father. “Great!” his son replied. “My work is good, the kids are fine, my wife and I are getting on famously and the dog is fully recovered.” So the father said, “Don’t worry, it will pass, it will pass.”

Glad that I live am I;
That the sky is blue;
Glad for the country lanes,
And the fall of dew.

After the sun the rain,
After the rain, the sun,
This is the way of life,
Till the work be done.

All that we need to do,
Be we low or high,
Is to see that we grow
Nearer the sky.

Lizette Woodworth Reese (1856-1935)

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