A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING (SEVENTEENTH IN A SERIES)
Death seems final to us. Leaving the room where a loved one has just drawn that last breath, we don’t expect to turn around and meet him for lunch the next day. Our general experience is that the dead stay dead.
Yet it has happened in history, more than once, that the dead have come back to life. Lazarus (John 11:43-44) and the multitudes who came forth from Jerusalem’s tombs (Matthew 27:51-53) to name some. It is foolish to contend, as some have done and others still do, that there is no possibility of resurrection from the dead.
Our great God and Savior Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, was dead but now is living. It is His real, physical resurrection that we celebrate each spring in the processional hymn by George Woodward (1848-1934): This joyful Eastertide Away with sin and sorrow! / My love, the Crucified, Has sprung to life this morrow. So death’s finality has been proved false yet again (Matthew 28:5-6).
Moreover, as the Apostle Paul explains (and as is echoed in the hymn’s refrain), Jesus’ return to life holds greater significance than any other resurrection: Had Christ, who once was slain, Not burst His three-day prison, Our faith had been in vain. That is to say that, if Jesus had remained in the grave, our faith in Him would be worthless. For how could we now pray to a dead Savior? How could we now expect a dead Savior to give us His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, or wash us in the waters of baptismal grace? Above all, if Jesus were still a corpse, how could we ever expect Him to appear in glory to raise us from our own graves and meet Him in the air? If Christ is not raised, then death really would be final, our faith would be meaningless, and we would have no hope of heaven and eternal life.
But now is Christ arisen, arisen, arisen; But now is Christ arisen. As the anthem’s melody steps ever higher and higher, our spirits rise on wings of Easter truth: Our Jesus lives, so all that depends on His resurrection must also be true forever!
In stanza two, the author uses the metaphor “crossing the river” to represent crossing over the river of death into life. Death’s flood has lost its chill Since Jesus crossed the river; / Lover of souls, from ill My passing soul deliver. Jesus crossed over through death—and rose again. Therefore death holds no fear for us, no “chill.” We, too, will be delivered from its grasp.
Now My flesh in hope shall rest And for a season slumber / Till trump from east to west Shall wake the dead in number. Now there is but for us to wait, our bodies to “rest in peace,” until the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
George Woodward was an Anglican priest, but his special interest in music and hymns involved him in publishing or editing a number of carol and song books. He penned This Joyful Eastertide not long after his wife’s death in 1893, and it first appeared in the volume Carols for Easter and Ascension-tide (1894). The tune VRUECHTEN is so perfect for this text and sounds so much like English cathedral music that it seems to have been written just for it. In reality, however, it is a Dutch folk tune that dates to the 17th century.You may well hear the hymn in your own church this Easter, perhaps even with trumpets! Let all the world hear that the dead do rise and Jesus lives!
David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the ‘Bread of Life’ devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.