Music to Our Ears…
Each month we include a little article about a favorite hymn. Do you have a hymn that gets stuck in your head like ear candy? Is there a hymn that touches your spirit deeply each time you hear it? Perhaps you have a hymn that always gives you a sense of peace when your heart is troubled. Do you want to know a bit of the backstory behind that hymn? If so, you can submit your suggestions by e-mailing either Pastor Karl at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . Although it isn’t necessary, we would love it if you would include a little story telling us why this is your favorite hymn.
Our selection this month is a favorite Easter hymn of mine, Jesus Christ Is Risen Today (ELW #365). I have enjoyed singing it since I was young. I love its rousing, boisterous tune and its confident words of victory and celebration. It’s a great hymn for waking everybody up at the beginning of a service or for leaving worship with a tune that lingers in your head throughout the week.
“And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty.”
I Corinthians 15:14
This month’s hymn was written by the great Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley and is set to the tune of an old 14th-century Latin carol, Lyra Davidica. Charles and his brother, John, had found themselves out of favor with many fellow Anglican ministers who spurned their fiery evangelistic preaching. Many pulpits were closed to them.
A friend from Charles’ days at Oxford University, George Whitefield, who was having the same trouble, began preaching out in the open air. In London, he asked Charles to stand with him as he preached to thousands in the open air at Blackheath. It was then that Charles also got a vision for reaching the multitudes.
He made his first attempt on the outskirts of London. “Franklyn, a farmer, invited me to preach in his field,” Charles wrote in his journal. “I did so to about 500 people. I returned to the house rejoicing.” Soon he was preaching to thousands. “My load was gone, and all my doubts and scruples. God shone upon my path, and I knew this was His will concerning me.”
A man named Joseph Williams heard Charles preach in Bristol: “I found him standing on a table-board, in an erect posture…surrounded by, I guess, more than a thousand people, some of them fashionable persons, but most of the lower rank of mankind. He prayed with uncommon fervency. He then preached about half an hour in such a manner as I have scarce ever heard a man preach…I think I never heard any man labor so earnestly to convince his hearers they were all by nature in a sinful, lost, undone, damnable state; that notwithstanding, there was a possibility of their salvation through faith in Christ. All this he backed up with many texts of Scripture, which he explained and illustrated, and then by a variety of the most forcible motives, arguments, and expostulation, did he invite, allure, quicken, and labor, if it were possible, to compel all, and every one of his hearers, to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation,”
Charles Wesley still preaches today in much the same way through his ageless hymns that are sung around the world each Sunday. Perhaps his most exuberant anthem is the one he simply called “Hymn for Easter Day”, published in 1739. It originally consisted of 11 stanzas. The “Alleluias” were added later, but appropriately, for this is a hymn that we never get tired of singing.
“Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!”