The Day of Resurrection

The Day of Resurrection

Liturgy Lessons: April 28, 2019 (2nd Sunday Eastertide)
Call to Worship: From Ex. 15 (The Song of Moses) and Ps. 150
Hymn of Adoration: The Day of Resurrection (#267)
Baptism: Ruth Amanda Dillow
Confession/Assurance of Pardon: from 1 Peter and Rev. 1
Hymn of Assurance: In Christ Alone
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 10:13-20
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Whiter than Snow; There is a Fountain
Reading: Rev. 12:7-12
Closing Hymn: Crown Him with Many Crowns

We are now in Eastertide, the (roughly) seven-week liturgical celebration of the day when Jesus, the Lord of Life and Paschal Lamb, “ascended up on high and led captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8, KJV). It is good and right that the church hold the sustain pedal on the grand Resurrection chord. Let the sounds of triumph reverberate throughout the sanctuary and across the skies, at least until we arrive at Pentecost (which means “fifty days” after Easter). If Olympic athletes and world champions can enjoy weeks of parties and parades after their victories, then we should do that and much more to honor our champion Christ, whose conquest is eternal. Next year the Lombardi trophy, Stanley Cup, or Claret Jug will probably be in different hands. Gold Medals and Green Jackets will be hung on another winner. There is no such parity in heaven. Christ’s triumph over the grave was once and for all, an eternal victory! He is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords forever and ever and ever and ever. Why should we not stand and bask in the glow and warmth of the great Sunrise? The eternal day has begun. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cosmic cry of “let there by light” all over again, one that re-opens paradise for us all. It is the victory of victories, the death of death, and now our joy shall have no end!
And now we may know…

“What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might, that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come!” (Eph. 1:19-21)

It is because of this reality that the historic church has commemorated the magnitude of Easter by giving it not just a day, but an entire liturgical season on the annual calendar. As such, our liturgy this week (and for the next several weeks) will continue to have explicit overtones of the seismic and symphonic blast of glory that sounded on Easter morning! Oh, did you hear it? It was the sin-shattering sonic boom that struck at the tomb and is now rippling outward in spiritual sound waves across the cosmos. It conquers everything in its wake. There has never been, and never will be, a more beautiful and glorious beginning to a piece of music. Christ’s resurrection opened heaven’s floodgates so that the choirs of angels and saints may forever harmonize with the faithful on earth. Even now he is tuning our hearts to do just that. This week’s opening hymn highlights that reality and puts it this way…

Now let the heav’ns be joyful, let earth her song begin;
Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein;
Invisible and visible, their notes let all things blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.

Putting this in musical terms, one could say that we are now in Easter’s fugue. Christ began the theme, and now his church across the globe is sounding that out in layer upon layer of song. Let us recall what George Herbert told us last week in his poem “Easter”:

The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Considering all this, let’s turn now to a hymn that has been sung in honor of this “most high day” for about 13 centuries, roughly two-thirds of the Christian church’s history.

The Day of Resurrection
Text: John of Damascus (est. 675-787 A.D.), translated John Mason Neale (1862)
Tune: LANCASHIRE, Henry Smart, c. 1835

The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;
The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal, from this world to the sky,
Our Christ hath brought us over with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright
The Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light;
And listening to his accents, may hear, so calm and plain,
His own “All hail!” and hearing, may raise the victor strain.

St. John Damascene, known also as John of Damascus, lived during the end of the 7th century and a good portion of the 8th. Most scholars agree that he lived to be well over 100 years of age. He was one of the most important hymnwriters of the Byzantine (Eastern) Church. He was well-educated in literature and philosophy and enjoyed great renown as the author of liturgical hymns in Constantinople, the seat of eastern Christianity. Tradition suggests that he was a monk at the St. Sabbas Monastery, known in Arabic as Mar Saba. This is a historically significant site overlooking the Kidron Valley, halfway between the Dead Sea and the Old City of Jerusalem. Seems as if St. John of Damascus was the right man in the right place. He was also born at the right time.

In the 8th century, the Christian church was facing a resurgent Islam that had conquered all of Persia and parts of the eastern Roman territory, including Palestine, Syria, and Egypt. Suddenly, parts of the Christian world were under Muslim rule. Throughout history, songs have always been a powerful identity marker of a people or a nation, and this is especially true of the Christian church. The hymns are one of the hallmarks of a uniquely Christian culture. It is through the singing of her love songs that the bride of Christ can remember to whom she belongs. Through the great hymns she can assert the timeless truths of the gospel and win back the hearts of her people.

It is with such a purpose that “The Day of Resurrection” was born. In the hymn, St. John gives us a compelling and beautiful depiction of the very centerpiece of Christian doctrine, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymn was originally written in Greek, and though something is always lost in translation, this one (even in the loosely rendered English) still explodes with Easter triumph! Traditionally in the Greek church, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection began at the stroke of midnight on Easter Sunday, with the lighting of candles, jubilant greetings, and the singing of this very hymn. The text bubbles over with jubilant shouts of exultation for the victory that Jesus Christ won over sin and death. If Easter is the ultimate celebration, then this hymn is the champagne.

John of Damascus was well-known for his long Greek hymns called “canons.” Each canon had nine parts called “odes,” and this hymn is the first ode from the canon for Easter, called the “Golden Canon” or “Queen of Canons.” John Mason Neale translated the three stanzas of this ode into English and published it in his Hymns of the Eastern Church in 1862. The standard text has three stanzas, though a few hymnals add a doxological stanza as a fourth. The first stanza refers to the Passover account in Exodus 15, the famous “song of Moses,” which just so happens to be our call to worship this week. In the second verse of the hymn, we express a longing to see the resurrected Lord in all his brilliance, and a desire to hear the words from his lips that we might echo them. The third stanza is a rallying cry, a call for all creation to celebrate the risen Christ.

This hymn is most often sung to LANCASHIRE, which was written in 1835 by Henry T. Smart for the 300th anniversary of the Reformation in England. It was originally printed in leaflets with Reginald Heber’s text, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains,” for the October 4th celebration service in Blackburn, Lancashire. Many years later, in 1867, Smart published it in his Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship in London. LANCASHIRE is a strong, rhythmic tune that struts and swaggers with the confidence of a military general marching to face a weaker foe. Most of you may associate the melody with “Lead on, O King Eternal.”

Just one final note. In studying this hymn, I have fallen in love with the third stanza. It illuminates a beautiful truth about the church’s song: it is born in heaven. Throughout Christian hymnody, one may find this theme. The song begins in heaven and is followed by earth’s response. We are the echo in a cosmic antiphonal chorus. Indeed, the Resurrection makes this call and response possible. The last verse of this hymn contains an allusion to the opening statement of belief in the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

Now let the heav’ns be joyful, let earth her song begin;
Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein;
Invisible and visible, their notes let all things blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.

My summary of that verse? Christ is Risen, let heaven and earth harmonize in unending praise! George Herbert had it right when he compared the cross to a great sounding board. The book of Revelation testifies to the fact that Christ’s victory has unleashed the eternal song. The depiction of the scene around the Lamb’s throne is one of endless outpourings of the mellifluous, the melodious, and the miraculous. It is every terrestrial tribe joining the angelic choir, the Seraphim singing side by side with the saints. If our Sunday gatherings are indeed a foretaste of that blissful scene, then I wonder how often the angels have sung with us (Heb. 12:22). Are they floating near the rafters, standing guard near the exits, sitting in the pews? I sometimes wonder if some have stealthily slid into our sanctuary during worship. Who knows, there may be one next to you while we sing this hymn on Sunday, carrying the bass notes 1,000 octaves down, a low rumble earthquake of sound that is only perceptible by the slightest tremor in your soul.

Sheet music
Piano accompaniment for singing at home

Sorry, I couldn’t find a decent sung version online, but I did find this rendition, which makes a pretty good case that the department of church discipline needs its own separate internet division, with a special emphasis on YouTube posts.
It also affirms one of my maxims when dealing with great hymns: “Trite ain’t right”!