Saturday, October 27, 2012

Christ the Lord is Risen Today -- Charles Wesley

Was he thinking of the root word ‘found’ when he sat down to write a poem one day in 1739?  Perhaps he was even thinking of this six-letter word in more than one sense, if one considers the context of the premiere of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” that Charles Wesley (shown here) composed for Easter. He wrote thousands of hymns in his lifetime, ranging across various facets of his faith. This one is a little window, perhaps, into what he felt inside soon after his conversion.   

Wesley and his brother John were not novices to the Christian faith in the 1730’s, for they had grown up with a father who was an Anglican clergyman and they had initiated the Methodist movement while still in college in the 1720’s in England – wisps of a faith waiting to blossom. In 1738, the Wesley brothers evidently had a revolutionary experience at an Aldersgate Street church in London, whereupon they committed themselves deeply to ministry for Christ’s church. Charles Wesley was 32 years old and wrote with a new energy from that point on, a new depth that was apparent to those who knew of his experience from the year before. It was in the light of this event that Charles wrote this hymn’s words, with maybe some extra inspiration from a site that was about to be used for the first time as a church. A deserted foundry was the site, and Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” was the hymn for that occasion. Could there have been a more appropriate foundation for a foundry service than this hymn? Charles wrote words that he must have felt were rooted in deep truths. And, this building had once molded and produced metal casts like iron, used to ensure the structural integrity of things, like churches. And, Christ concluded his sermon on the mount with an admonition about what foundations mean for us here on earth, using an analogy that we can easily understand. Did these any of these thoughts cross Wesley’s mind as he pondered his salvation and wrote a poem that survives nearly 300 years later? (We can ask him later!)  

Nothing is more foundational in Christianity than Easter. Is it ironic that a foundation for my life began with a death? Or, that my destiny to ascend to heaven is rooted in something that happened here on earth? That’s what Charles Wesley’s words say, in effect.  Though Wesley apparently wrote only seven of the ten (or perhaps eleven total) verses of the hymn, all of them convey this central theme – my life is tied inescapably with His. He rose after death. That’s all I need to remind myself, especially when I’m feeling mortal. He’s alive, no older today than He was on the first Easter. That’s what’s waiting. Someone other than Wesley apparently added this word to the hymn, but he probably felt it crying out from within as he wrote – Alleluia!    


Information on the song was obtained from the books  “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; and “Then Sings My Soul”, by Robert J. Morgan, 2003, Thomas Nelson, Inc.   

See this site for brief biography of composer, and 10 verses of the song:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Low in the Grave He Lay -- Robert Lowry

Who would have been there to see what he described, and was his narrative dramatic enough? Robert Lowry was imagining how an historic event transpired as he was reading and thinking about Easter in 1874. He had some text to lean upon, but not the exact moments that he wanted in order to memorialize this event with new words and appropriate music in the composition “Low in the Grave He Lay”. Was the 48-year old Lowry’s background in literature useful as he went about this task? Could he have been inspired by a picture of the resurrection moment (perhaps the Noel Coypel 1700 painting shown here)?

Robert Lowry’s hymn in 1874 was the result of several years of education and ministry, both in the pulpit and in music. His musical gift that developed from childhood bore fruit in the 500 hymns and over 20 hymnals that he co-edited by the time of his death in 1899. Much of his pulpit ministry experience had in fact occurred by the time of “Low in the Grave…”.  His reputation as a speaker reportedly included a brilliant imagination that held his listeners in rapt attention. In 1874, while he was serving as pastor of a Baptist church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Lowry was also professor of literature at nearby Bucknell University. One Easter season, Lowry’s gifts in mental imagery, musical composition, and writing skill fused, as they undoubtedly did on other occasions, while he studied scripture. Though it’s said that Lowry was stirred by what the angels said to the women who visited Jesus’ tomb on the third day, his poetry suggests he also must have noticed the emotion of the soldiers in Matthew’s account. After all, they may have been the only ones who actually witnessed Jesus emerging from the tomb – an electric moment, to say the least – thus giving us readers an idea of what onlookers might have experienced. Lowry’s hymn reproduces that moment – though, maybe even he might admit he couldn’t do it justice. The hymn he wrote has also been titled “Christ Arose”, an exclamation that better expresses what Lowry was probably feeling than “Low in the Grave He Lay”.

What would it have been like to see Jesus come out of the grave? Skeptical historians might conclude that He emerged quietly, since that actual instant is not in fact recorded for us to examine. It was a unique incident – God’s only begotten son, rising – worthy of great fanfare, right? Salvation’s moment, humanity’s liberation. Hard to downplay it, huh? If its description’s absence in the Bible disappoints you, ‘that’s no problem’, Lowry might say. ‘I’ve got your answer’. And, rebirth won’t be just a mental image or a song, someday. I’ll see it for myself. Yeh!   

Information on the song was obtained from the books  “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 

See these sites for biography of composer:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rabboni -- Ken Young

Ken Young really likes to walk – or rather, sing – in the footsteps of the characters he writes for us to mimic. It’s probably a sign that he’s really feeling the part. What would it be like to know someone who was your healer, teacher, and motivator, and to have that person cruelly removed from your life? How would you respond if, unexpectedly, that key person in your life suddenly reappeared alive? Ken must have been wondering too, as he thought about one of the women (see her picture here – can you guess who it is?) that the Messiah had befriended. Listen to the song (see the link below to hear a portion of the song), and see if you can tap into this emotional spectrum that Ken wrote about in 1992 in “Rabboni”. 

Ken Young tells us something of the background to “Rabboni”, which was a musical drama in which he and others took part. In his own words: It was written at the same time "Thomas' Song" (see SongScoop on this at ) was written in 1992 for an Easter Resurrection drama and musical we did at South MacArthur (Church of Christ) in Irving, TX.  The soloist played the part of Mary Magdalene.

Mary’. That’s all Jesus said to her that Easter morning. It must have been His use of her name, or perhaps it was the tone of His voice that tipped off Mary that this was not the gardener, huh? (John 20:15-16) As Ken composed and the director encouraged the actors in the show that day in Texas in 1992, how did the actress playing Mary manage to deliver an authentic performance? Having not seen a risen human, much less a God-man like Jesus, Ken and the actress who sang Mary’s part could be excused if they were at something of a loss. There are few details of Mary Magdalene, other than those that tell us she’d been healed of demon possession (Luke 8:2-3), had seen Him mocked and killed (Matt. 27:55-56; Mark 15:40; Luke 23: 34,49; John 19:25), and then had reported the stunning resurrection news to others (Luke 24:10; John 20:18).

But, I could imagine what it would be like to see one of my close friends come back. Can you? If your imagination permits you the mental imagery to see a risen friend, you’re probably not too far from Mary. Maybe that’s how Ken and the musical drama director persuaded the others to think as they debuted “Rabboni” in 1992. Among my circle of anticipated reunions, I’m eager to see three friends who’ve been gone for a few years now, and wonder if maybe Bill, and Sarah, and Bob might even be reading this! I know God, the omniscient One, knows what’s in black and white on this page, and deep within my being too. And, it goes without saying that seeing Him face-to-face will be the pinnacle of my life’s reward. And, those feelings now aren’t wasted…it’s awesome to know that they’re a warm-up for the real thing, isn’t it!

Check out the following link to read about the composer and Hallal, and to hear a portion of the song:

The composer’s e:mail response to the author was shared on 10/9/2012.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We Saw Thee Not – Anne Richter

She was an English poet in the 19th Century, who someone might have labeled a ‘doubting Thomas’, if most of the lines from a poem she wrote were considered. Was the glass half-empty for Anne Rigby Richter? Did she experience lots of gaps in her faith as she thought about herself and God, about all the Biblical episodes she did not observe yet was taught from childhood? Did she fret because she had not seen Jesus ascend (see reproduction here of Garofalo’s Ascension of Christ)? She didn’t avoid the questions as she wrote a poem “We Saw Thee Not” (otherwise known as “We Have Not Seen Thy Footsteps Tread”), and then saw it recast as a hymn some 17 years later.

Anne Richter’s foundation for the Christian faith she expressed in poetry is not difficult to uncover. She was one daughter of the late 18th-early 19th Century Rigby family, whose patriarch was a minister in England’s Anglican Church. Anne’s father, Robert Rigby, was vicar of a church for some 30 years, and Anne also married W.H. Richter, a rector in the church, so one can presume she was fully indoctrinated in the basics of her faith when she sat down to craft her poem in 1834. Nevertheless, she chose to enumerate in detail all the events that she had not seen nor heard in its eight stanzas. Perhaps it was her way of saying her faith wasn’t blind to gaps that have always troubled the human race. We want to see or hear or touch for ourselves – we’re tactile. As one so closely associated with men of authority in the church of her experience, maybe she sensed, or was perhaps even confronted directly, with the doubts of the community about her. She had an answer - believe anyway. That answer undoubtedly was drawn from the schooling she’d received, but had she also come through some of her own challenges with a stronger faith?  No specific circumstance is known, but she must have thought her own experience or feelings resonated with others, and could therefore be shared more widely. In 1851, six years before she died, her poem was translated into a five-verse hymn by John H. Gurney.  

Doubt what you cannot sense with your human body. Believe only that which can be sensed. Those are generally the strongest criteria for evidence in a U.S. court of law. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting – where would we be without them? What if I didn’t have one of those senses? Or two? How about all of them? That’s exactly the predicament that I, as a 21st Century believer, have when I relate to God, the transcendent one. I’m handicapped, or am I? I can no more sense Anne Richter than I can God. Yet, I have her poem, and her ‘sense’ of this common dilemma we share. Don’t get stuck on sensory input, she says. I’ll have plenty one day in a place I cannot yet see, but only imagine today.

Check out the following links to read about the composer and the song: