Liturgy Lessons: April 1st, 2018 (Resurrection Sunday)
On April Fool’s day this year, we will gather just after sunrise to celebrate the most awesome surprise ever! Rolling the stone away and walking out the grave, however, was so much more than a heavenly hoax. This was no prank, no stunt, no trick. It was the miracle of miracles that altered all time and reality; it was the hinge upon which all creation and history turned toward glory. It was the fulfillment of all prophecies and Christ’s glorious purpose. It is, and forever will be, the reason that we sing.
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.
– “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” by John Updike
Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Text: Charles Wesley
Music: John Arnold (1749), altered from Lyrica Davidica (1708)
In every worship service, we are being shaped by the songs, perhaps without even being aware of it. If habits truly form hungers, then singing is doing something to us, something formative. We gather not to sing about God, but to sing to him and with him. And we know that just as God worked in the lives of people 2,000 years ago, He is still working today. Such is the language of this hymn. Wesley’s text is powerful by the voicing of the poetry in the present moment. Christ the Lord “IS” risen today!
That is the modern title of this famous hymn, originally called “Easter Hymn.” For the modern church, it has become the quintessential resurrection Sunday hymn. It has been said that every Sunday is a “little Easter,” as we re-enact the redemptive story of our salvation. This hymn is quite special, and associated almost exclusively with Easter, but we could probably sing this hymn every Sunday, and I would not grow tired of it. It is a fervent fanfare and a fight song that includes infectious bursts of “alleluia” at the end of every line!
It speaks of the resurrection, not just as a quaint footnote in history, but as an ongoing and living hope that we celebrate. For the actual Easter Sunday, this hymn takes us back two millennia as fellow “witnesses” of the resurrection, bringing the true story to life in a profound way. Adding to its ebullient praise are the reoccurring “alleluias” after each line of text. We state a truth about our new life in Christ in mostly quarter notes and then respond with a florid “alleluia.” This year our Easter liturgies will open with a rousing brass fanfare that launches us into this timeless hymn. Practice those “alleluias”!
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Text: Matthew Bridges (1851)
Tune: DIADEMATA, George Elvey (1868)
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
This resplendent hymn celebrates the matchless and unchanging glory of Christ, the “Potentate of Time” who truly is “ineffably sublime” (is there a better combination of words in all of hymnody?)!
Matthew Bridges published two small volumes of hymns, Hymns of the Heart (1847) and The Passion of Jesus (1852). “Crown him with many crowns” was published in the second edition of Hymns of the Heart in 1851. Above the original stanzas was the Latin title “In capite ejus, diamemata multa…” in reference to the passage in the book of Revelations:
“The rider of the white horse, his eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems;
and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.” (Rev. 19:12)
The title of this hymn alone is a profound declaration that Christ is many things, and everything. He is Lord of all! Each individual verse of this hymn is its own coronation ceremony for aspects of Christ’s character. We are called to crown him Lord of life, Lord of love, Lord of years, Lord of peace, the Lamb upon the throne. Bridges’ original ode had eight stanzas, which have been trimmed to four for our hymnal. Were we to dedicate a verse to every facet of Christ’s prismatic prestige, the couplets would number in the thousands, and our hymnal would be too heavy to hold. Nonetheless, the verses we sing pack quite a punch, rousing us to praise the all-encompassing and all-conquering Champion.
The tune for this hymn is a stirring and masterfully march-like melody that propels forward in each measure. It is an infectious and joyful tune that spills over with delight. I especially love the momentum in the third phrase (“awake my soul and sing of him who died for thee”). It demands enthusiasm. The tune is named DIADEMATA, and was composed for this text by English organist and composer George J. Elvey. A prolific writer of church music, Elvey is also known by his tune ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR (“Come, ye thankful people, come”). Bridges text and Elvey’s tune first appeared together in the Appendix to the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1868), and its future was secured. One-hundred and fifty years later, congregations across the world are still declaring the truth in song:
All Hail, Redeemer hail! For thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail throughout eternity.