PBEH Discussion: Christ the Lord Is Ris'n Today
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    An obvious classic, but here are some thoughts anyway.

    At their best, hymns can pack a ton of theological information, and religious emotion, into a small space. Here's a familiar Easter hymn by Charles Wesley.

    1. 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!

    2. Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Alleluia!
    Christ has burst the gates of hell: Alleluia!
    Death in vain forbids His rise; Alleluia!
    Christ has opened paradise! Alleluia!

    3. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O death, is now thy sting?
    Alleluia!Once He died, our souls to save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

    4. Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
    Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
    Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

    5. Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven! Alleluia!
    Praise to thee by both be given; Alleluia!
    Thee we greet triumphant now; Alleluia!
    Hail, the Resurrection, thou! Alleluia!

    Aside from the excellence of the entire hymn, which takes us proleptically from the Resurrection of Christ to our own resurrection (in keeping with the remarkable Pauline logic of I Corinthians 15), there is a single line of such exquisite theological intensity that I've tried to "steal" it in several different ways already in my own writing.

    "Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Alleluia!"

    Frankly the rest of verse 2 is somewhat pro forma, because after this line, what else is there to say? The tomb is empty! Death has been defeated, the powers of earth have been defeated. Their efforts are vain--kenotic--empty, and against God.

    The images are directly Scriptural and used as Scripture uses them. And yet they come through the hymn in a fresh way. First, they demand a small amount of work, like a puzzle: in context and as a group they can only mean the three things they mean, but first one must think. Which stone? Watch (a multivalent English word)? Seal (the same)? The hymn points us back to Scripture to rediscover a story with concrete details, including the unusual situation of soldiers guarding a dead man. Secondly, they are very short words, one of the keys to Wesley's perennial appeal. Here his short words are nouns (and an adjective) but just as often they are verbs: "FIX in us thy humble dwelling/ all thy faithful mercies CROWN" (from another excellent Wesley hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling).

    Thirdly, these short words have big, open sounds. Vain is an emphatic word, a word that excludes, but its long vowel would seem to suggest the opposite. (Notice that the sound of the old word "fain" captures a sense of longing.) "Stone," one of Thomas Merton's favorite words, implies weight and solidity, with its long O. "Watch" is exceptional here. The vowel is short, the consonants much more expressive. "Seal" has a very long vowel, a diphthong anchored in its long e.

    Verse 3 will taunt death, death in se, in the Pauline way. But here at the beginning of verse 2 we are still in the mode of wonder at the fact of Jesus' resurrection, as much declaring the resurrection as reflecting upon it. And yet there is some taunt in this line: it is both "joy" and "triumph."

    As with all great hymns a congregation becomes like little children saying "Can you believe it? Look at the great things God has done!"
  • Maureen
    Posts: 675
    Wesley was obviously not afraid of the phonemes "s" and "z". :)
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I really like this hymn. Good one to break out after an alleluia-free Lent.
  • Where is the verse "Love's redeeming work is done..."? That's an important one.
  • Comments about the hymns, including missing favorite verses go to a link on the hymns page, please.