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Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain TLH 204, WS 726, LSB 487

Because of editing deadlines, I am writing this Easter piece for the Spokesman today, though Easter itself lies many weeks in the future. Looking out my office window, I see nothing but snow, the thermometer stands at -9° F, and most schools in the state are closed for the next two days. It’s the end of January, and all anyone is talking about right now is winter. Can there be an Easter hymn somewhere in all this?

One line in particular came to mind from the second verse of a very old hymn by John of Damascus. It dates from the eighth century: All the winter of our sins, / Long and dark, is flying from His light. . . .” So there it is, Easter springing from the depths of a polar vortex!

It’s not altogether uncommon for poetry and literature to picture our struggle under the curse of sin as living in a cold winter. If you’ve ever read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, you’ve read of the fictional land of Narnia where, under the power of the White Witch, it was “always winter but never Christmas.” The only way the spell could be broken was for the great Lion to give up his life at a place called the Stone Table—and then to rise again from the dead. Now, Lewis wasn’t spinning a mere children’s story, of course; he was illustrating man’s bondage to sin and the only escape from it, the death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ.

The “winter of our sins” is felt by us all.

We try to do what is right, but we cannot do it. We want to do what is good, but so many times we fall into evil instead. We love our God and trust what is sent from His gracious hand, and yet we still doubt and question His decisions and His timing about so many things. Our sinful natures cling to us and will not let go, and we can feel trapped—as we might on a frozen winter’s day—unable to get out, unable to be free.

The light of Easter, however,
means escape.

Our Savior’s resurrection on the third day is the proof that the debt we owed to God for all our sins has been fully paid, and we are not reckoned as guilty any longer. The apostle Paul wrote it like this to the Romans: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (4:25 NIV84) As the light of an Easter dawn beams above the horizon, sin loses its power over us. It loses its power to condemn us and even its power to tempt us when it tries to stand head-to-head with Jesus’ empty tomb.

When John of Damascus wrote Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain, he based it on Exodus 15, Moses’ song of praise after the Israelites had escaped the clutches of Pharaoh in Egypt. By our Lord’s rising, we too have been released from our slavery to sin. The cold winter is gone, and the signs of spring are obvious: joy and peace in believing (see Romans 15:13). But today amidst Thine own / Thou didst stand, bestowing / That Thy peace which evermore / Passeth human knowing.

By the time you read this, you may hardly remember the sub-zero days of the deep January winter, but that’s all right. Let’s put away the sin from which we have been freed and delight in our risen Lord, singing,

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain /

Of triumphant gladness; /

God hath brought His Israel /

Into joy from sadness.

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.