for Holy Week in Sing Praise is “Jesus, in dark Gethsemane” by Alan Gaunt, set
to a surprisingly upbeat English folk tune, given its dark theme. The words of the hymn, though, contrast Jesus’
sufferings with what the Prayer Book calls “the benefits of his Passion”.
in verse 1 is between the disciples who could not stay awake while Jesus wept
and prayed, and us who ask him to keep us awake. I can empathise with those disciples, as when
life is hectic, the brief stillness of a prayer meeting can easily lead to
unintended falling asleep. Verse 2 reminds us that Jesus’ prayer “remove this
cup from me … yet not what I want but what you want” was answered not with deliverance
but with the strength to face death.
Verse 3 is
marked as optional, perhaps because its topic of Christ descending into hell is
not part of mainstream Christian teaching nowadays. Verse 4 refers to the
belief that Christ’s suffering, although it was effective “once for all” in
redeeming us from sin, still continues (his risen existence being beyond concepts
of time): “faith … knows the anguish love still undergoes to heal our
refers to the times we must shoulder our own cross, asking for his help to “cling
to your nailed hands and, trusting, sing the triumph of your cause”, in other
words, to continue praising Christ for what he has done, as a way of receiving
his strength in our own troubles. The last verse asks for the Spirit to keep us
praising him through both life and death.
summarise: Jesus, then, suffered agony once upon the cross (and in the events
leading up to it) but both his suffering, and his power to relieve ours, remain
valid today, as do the forgiveness and reconciliation that it achieved, for Jesus
has gone to hell and back, and now reigns as the everlasting Christ.
for Holy Week from Sing Praise is “This is the night, dear friends” by Richard
Sturch to a tune by CHH Parry. The
original text was apparently in Latin by the 12th century French
theologian Peter Abélard (perhaps better known for his
romance with Eloïse), so if the theme seems strange,
it’s because we don’t share the medieval mindset.
theme of this hymn is Christ’s betrayal, which of course was most clearly seen
in the actions of Judas. He is not named here, but clearly referenced, and described
in verse 2 as the “wolf within the sheepfold”, picking up on one of Jesus’ own
images of himself as the good shepherd in contracts to the wolves of evil. His act of betrayal in leaving the table of
fellowship is described as “injustice joining its hand to treason’s, and buying
the ransom price of humankind”. (Or should that really be “selling the ransom
price of humankind”, since Judas gained money by handing Jesus over?)
or irony – that in accepting money in return for betraying Jesus he was
actually enabling God to pay the ransom price for all our sins – is one of several
in the words of the hymn. In verse 2 again, “the wolf … betrays himself to his
victim’s will” (Jesus knew all along that he would be betrayed by one of his
disciples, it was part of God’s plan) and “sin brings about the cure for sin’s
own ill” which is a similar image to that of buying our ransom.
In verse 4,
there are other ironies: Jesus is arrested by slaves – “he who destroys our
slavery to sin”, another irony, perhaps symbolised when he heals the slave’s
ear that has been cut off by one of his own disciples (although a bit of
research suggests that the unfortunate servant was the high priest’s right-hand
man rather than a mere slave). Also, “accused
of crime, to criminals (he was) given” and he, the righteous Judge, is judged.
examples point to the fact that even in his last hours as a man, and subject to
forces beyond his human control, Jesus continually demonstrated that he was overturning
usual human expectations in order to bring about God’s kingdom.
from Sing Praise is ‘Prepare a room for me, your Saviour’ by Herman G Stümpfler Jr. It takes the
form of a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in the alternating verses
(six in all). It’s suggested that a choir sing the part of Jesus (or it could just
be a soloist) and the congregation take the part of the disciples. In the hymn
book the tune for both is the same, though I note that John wrote a new setting
for morning prayer with the two parts having different tunes.
two verses could be seen as being specifically about the Last Supper, referred
to here as the ‘feast’ (possibly the Passover itself, although some scholars
think the last supper, apparently celebrated without women or children, was
some other form of fellowship meal). Jesus asks his disciples to prepare a room
to celebrate the feast; they respond by doing as he says and awaiting his
remainder of the hymn refers, rather, to the commemoration or re-enactment of
the Last Supper (depending on your theological stance) in the sacrament of Holy
Communion. Jesus promises that he will
be present, though unseen, where two or three of his disciples meet to share
the meal in his memory; the disciples respond
that we “seek the food your grace alone can give”. Jesus promises in return
that our hunger will be fed as he offers himself as the Living Bread. Finally
we praise him that “through this loaf and cup you share your love that has no
does probably work better when sung as intended, i.e. as a responsorial hymn with
several people singing as “the disciples”, than when used in personal prayer.
from Sing Praise is, unusually for this hymn book, one intended mainly for
children. “There’s a man riding in on a donkey” is a telling of the Palm Sunday
story set to the tune of an established favourite baptism song, “give me oil in
my lamp”. This is no doubt because the chorus of the original – “Sing hosanna
to the King of Kings” – is the chant always associated with Palm Sunday, as
sung by the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem. (incidentally, I didn’t bother to write a blog
post for yesterday’s song, as the words of ‘Sanna Sannanina’ are just that, ‘Hosanna’
in an unspecified ‘South African’ language).
The words of
the verses explain simply that this “man riding in on a donkey” is in fact a
king, but (verse 2) “why a king wearing no fine crown? Where the drums, where
the high-sounding cymbals if a king is riding into town?” The question isn’t
really answered in the text of the song, as verse 3 moves straight to “the joy
of the news he brings” and proclaiming Jesus as “the Son of the Highest, the King
Why is the
question not answered? Because this Sunday’s
theme is seen as more accessible to children than the rest of the events of Holy
Week and those who write songs or plan services want to keep things simple and
happy for their sake. The correct answer
to “why a king wearing no fine crown?” is around the understanding of
leadership that Jesus demonstrated, leadership that is not only humble and willing
to serve those he leads, but even to die for them. It’s easier to have songs and activities
around someone riding a donkey and others waving greenery and singing “hosanna!”
than it is to arrange something age-appropriate around the arrest, trial,
torture and death of an innocent man.
adult Christians find it easier to stick to the joyful themes of Palm Sunday
and Easter morning and pay less attention to the events in between. Clergy
often complain how few people turn up for Maundy Thursday footwashing and Good
Friday reflections – even though Friday is still a public holiday, even in our
largely secular society, and most people will have the day off work. It takes more of an effort to enter into the
sombre mood of the days leading up to the Crucifixion, all the more so when
that secular society is unaware. I heard
someone in a Zoom meeting yesterday telling of the shock he felt at the
contrast between the silent reflection of a Holy Week retreat, and the busyness
and jollity of the crowds he found back in town when it ended on Good Friday
But it was
no different in Jesus’ day – the crowds had gathered in Jerusalem for Passover and
most of them were probably there for the jollity, to meet up with friends and
relations, to take part in the Passover meal where I expect more than a few
sips of wine were drunk to celebrate the people’s freedom. But you can’t celebrate Passover properly
without remembering the slavery from which the Hebrews were freed, and you can’t
celebrate Easter properly without having remembered the tragic events leading
up to it.
from Sing Praise is another one that’s familiar to me, Graham Kendrick’s “Make
way, Make way”. It comes from a suite of
worship songs called “Make Way for the Cross”, described as “a celebration and
a proclamation of the heart of the Gospel, designed to be used as an outdoor or
indoor event”. Several of the other
songs from that suite have also remained popular, such as “Come and see the
King of Love” and “Let the flame burn brighter”. Taken as a whole, they cover
the story of Holy Week, but this one can stand alone as a processional song for
Palm Sunday, a joyful celebration of Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the
Messiah, before the leaders turned the crowd against him.
In the first
verse we are encouraged to “fling wide the gates and welcome him”, not into Jerusalem,
but in to our lives. It’s widely understood in evangelism that no amount of
preaching and teaching will bring someone to Jesus until they make that decision
to open their heart to him.
The second verse
is what is sometimes called the ‘Nazareth manifesto’ in which Jesus explained at
the start of his public ministry the signs that he would do to show who he was –
heal broken hearts, set prisoners free, make the deaf hear, the lame walk and
the blind see. These signs he did in
fact perform, both physically and also spiritually as he set people free not
only from actual diseases and disabilities but also from various forms of religious
oppression, discrimination and persecution, as explained in the third verse – “those
who mourn with heavy hearts, who weep and sigh, with laughter, joy and royal
crown he’ll beautify”.
verse is again a call to a personal response: “We call you now to worship him
as Lord of all, to have no other gods but him – their thrones must fall”. Again,
this should be understood in the context for which the song was written, an outdoor
procession or service as an act of public witness intended to make onlookers
think again of the relevance of the life and death of Jesus to their own life.
from Sing Praise is “With Mary let my soul rejoice” by David Mowbray. It is actually a paraphrase of the
Magnificat, usually used at evening prayer but very appropriate for today
because this is the festival of the Annunciation (i.e. the conception of Jesus)
to which the Magnificat was Mary’s response.
popularity of this scriptural song is that it celebrates the way God intervenes
in human affairs to put injustices right. The ‘strong arm and great power’ of
the Lord are not used to ensure victory for one tribe over another, as Israel
found out repeatedly, for God was with them if they followed his laws but allowed
them to be defeated if they broke them and promoted injustice. The specific examples given in Mary’s song are
(to use the words from this hymn version) that “the proud he will disown; the
meek and humble he exalts… the rich our God will send away and feed the hungry
poor; the arms of love remain outstretched at mercy’s open door”. But although these are universal principles,
they are linked to God’s promise made over a thousand years earlier to the
Patriarchs, that Abraham’s descendants would benefit from God’s blessing, if
they kept to his ways.
principles are the same today as they ever were: Christians (and anyone else who
believes in God and seeks his blessing) must strive for justice and fairness in
the world, not only by living justly ourselves but taking positive action in God’s
name for the benefit of the humble, meek and poor, and to prevent the rich and
proud from prospering at the expense of others.
Like Jesus and the prophets before him, those who do so risk incurring
human wrath for doing so, but equally receive God’s blessing. Those saints who take this risk (think
especially perhaps of the late, blessed Oscar Romero whose feast day was
yesterday) deserve to be celebrated in the final words of the hymn: “with Mary
let the world rejoice and praise God’s holy name!”
For today’s choice
from Sing Praise, I’m going back a bit in terms of the liturgical calendar,
from Maundy Thursday to the preceding Palm Sunday (this forthcoming Sunday). However, the chosen song, “You are the king
of Glory” by Mavis Ford, was not necessarily written with Palm Sunday in mind –
there are no references to Jerusalem, palms, disciples or donkeys here, and it
is probably only because the of the chorus “Hosanna to the Son of David” that
the compilers of the hymn book have put it in this section.
The song is
very familiar to me. It is dated 1978,
and as a contemporary worship song was popular with the Christian Union that I
attended 1981-1983. It hasn’t completely
disappeared from the repertoire since then, although perhaps not often chosen
as there have been countless other worship songs written since. I suggest that the factors that have allowed this
one to remain in later collections where other 1970s songs have been forgotten are
its easy singability, and that it consists largely of Biblical titles for
Jesus, that mean Christians of whatever age and tradition are comfortable with
then. In this song of praise to Jesus,
he is referenced as King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Lord of heaven and earth,
Son of righteousness, Son of David, King of kings and Messiah. That’s a Biblically pleasing seven titles for
him, and in addition he is credited with being worshipped by angels and his
reign resulting in glory in the highest heaven.
praises of Jesus is a good warm-up for any act of worship, a reminder that the
one in whom we put our trust is no mere prophet or teacher, but very God and
the one the Jewish people had long awaited.
Lent is known mainly for more reflective, sombre songs as we look
towards the horrors of the Cross, but Palm Sunday is a joyful interlude when it’s
appropriate to sing upbeat songs of praise like this one, just as Jesus’
followers did when he entered the gates of the holy city to their chants of
Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Christ has gathered us together” by Stephen Dean. Like yesterday’s hymn it’s set for Maundy Thursday but unlike that one, is not specific to the occasion and could be sung at any time.
The reason for
putting it in this seasonal section of the hymn book may be that the hymn is
actually about Christian love, the words of the chorus being “Faith, hope and
love, these three shall remain, but the greatest of all is love” (1 Corinthians
13:11). And Jesus’ ‘discourse’ about love in John’s gospel, with its practical
demonstration of washing the disciples’ feet, took place on the occasion of the
Last Supper on that day. This year, Covid
hygiene rules mean that no feet can be washed literally, but the challenge
still remains to find practical ways of showing love for each other in these
verse of the hymn covers the gathering together of God’s people to show our
love for him in worship, with the reminder that we must “love our God
sincerely, loving one another likewise. God is truly love”. A love for Jesus that fails to be matched
with love for his other disciples is not sincere.
covers being together, and the need when assembled to ‘banish divisions, end
bitterness and forget quarrels’. That’s easier said than done, and while we may
manage to be all smiles at the sharing of the Peace, what is harder is to go
back out into everyday life having left those divisions, bitterness and
quarrels behind for good, truly having become the one body of Christ that we
profess to be. The setting of this hymn
for the day before Good Friday may, then, be quite appropriate, as it is by the
Cross and Resurrection that Jesus demonstrates the extent of his own love and creates
the new fellowship in his Church (fully realised at Pentecost, so it would also
be a good choice on that occasion).
verse looks towards heaven, where we will have “joy with all the saints … peace
and happiness unbounded”. But the
Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus was wont to say, starts here and now.
from Sing Praise is “Redeemer, Lord, your praise we sing” by Michael Saward. The opening line is quite generic and
suggests a hymn suitable for any occasion, but as John found when preparing today’s
morning prayer, this is actually a very niche hymn, intended for the annual
service of blessing of oils, which happens on Maundy Thursday (the day before
Good Friday), usually in cathedrals. The Bishop blesses oil (traditionally olive
oil from Israel/Palestine) and shares it among his or her parish priests to be
used in their parishes in the coming year. The priests in return renew their
vows of obedience to the Bishop and in the service of their congregation and
community. So John is right, that it seems out of place to sing it even ten
days early, in the context of private prayer or worship shared online.
Having said that,
Covid has changed everything, and this year the Bishop of Leeds will bless the
oil in Bradford Cathedral while the priests of the diocese join him on Zoom with
their own supplies of oil to be blessed remotely. For a religion that believes in the power of prayer
to heal the sick and otherwise change lives at a distance, that should not
stretch our faith uncomfortably.
What is the
blessed oil used for? Traditionally for three purposes: at baptism where the
sign of the cross is made on the head of the person being baptised (referenced
in verse 4, “From those baptised let Satan flee”); with prayer for healing of
the sick (referenced in verses 2 and 3, “give oil for our infirmity… bring
healing in a needful hour”) and the separately prepared and consecrated “chrism
The use of
oil in healing is not confined to Christianity or even to religious practice,
and indeed I understand that the Greek word used in James 5:14 (a key Biblical
text here) is ‘aleiphantes’ which means something closer to ‘massaging’ than ‘anointing’.
Oils (balm) were widely used in ancient times for medical purposes, and still
are. The second verse of the hymn reminds us that olive oil is a natural
product from a tree. The distinctive Christian
element is to pray for God’s healing power to accompany medical treatment.
two uses, baptism and chrism, are more specifically religious. The sign of the cross in oil marks the
baptised person as chosen by God to serve him in Christ as part of the
fellowship of the Church. As to the Chrism, anointing the head with oil was (at
least in Old Testament times) a sign of acknowledging a king or other leader as
chosen by God, a tradition that has continued through the European monarchies. It is used on special occasions such as confirmation
and ordination when someone is being specifically commissioned to a role in the
So, not a
hymn for today, but one to remember next week.
from Sing Praise is one that I am already familiar with: “Jesus Christ, I think
upon your sacrifice” by Matt Redman. It’s
clearly a ‘song’ rather than a ‘hymn’ both in its structure and in being phrased
in the first person as a personal act of devotion rather than a statement of
In the first
verse I (as singer) contrast Jesus going willingly to his death with the gift
of life that he gave to me by doing so.
The response, expressed in the chorus, is to be humbled (because there’s
nothing I can do adequately to repay him for such a gift), broken (because I
recognise the sin in my own life that caused him such pain), thankful (because that
life is a free gift), and in return “pour out my life”, not in the same way but
in the sense of offering my time and talents in his service. Humbled, broken, thankful and committed: the
four steps of repentance beautifully expressed in this short chorus. That, I
think, is why the song appeals to me.
verse looks beyond the cross to the resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ as “King
of the heavens”, but quickly returns to the present reality: “But for now I
marvel at this saving grace, and I’m full of praise once again”. There is also a short bridge before a repeat
of the chorus, “thank you for the cross, my friend”. Calling Jesus, King of the heavens, “my friend”
seems incredibly arrogant, yet that is what he calls us, and friendship once established
is mutual. Its another of the deep mysteries of faith that the one who is
beyond time and space is at the same time so close and intimate, that we can
call him ‘friend’.