See what a morning

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is a modern classic, “See what a morning” by Stuart Townend.  It has a very catchy tune, assisted by a syncopated rhythm that suits the joyful theme.  There is no separate chorus but each of the three verses has the same last line: “For he lives, Christ is risen from the dead!”

The first half of each of the first two verses set out some of the evidence for the resurrection from the Gospels: folded grave clothes, tomb filled with light (i.e. angels), the angels announcing that he is risen, Mary hearing Jesus speak her name.  The rest is what follows from that evidence in terms of our Easter faith, described near the start as “the dawning of hope in Jerusalem”.  God’s salvation plan, once “borne in pain, paid in sacrifice” is fulfilled as Christ lives.  The voice of the risen Lord is “speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace”, but it also “spans the years … [and] will sound till he appears”, for the resurrection is a timeless event.

The last verse perhaps looks forward to the feast of the Ascension at the end of the forty days of Easter, with Christ now “one with the Father through the Spirit” and reigning as King.  The final lines are a series of shouts of triumph making the most of the syncopations: “We are raised with him, death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered, we shall reign with him, for he lives, Christ is risen from the dead!”  Though the Resurrection will keep theologians debating until Kingdom come, a congregational hymn like this keeps its theology short and punchy.

Earth, earth, awake!

St Francis window in St Leonard’s church, Wollaton, Nottingham.
Artist Christopher Whall. Image copyright Stephen Craven 2020.

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Earth, earth, awake!” by Herman G Stümpfler Jr.  I’m grateful to John for suggesting the tune ‘Lasst uns erfreuen’ (better known set to St Francis’ Canticle of Creation) rather than the one in the book; I enjoyed singing the harmony to the alleluias in the YouTube video.

This is very much an Easter hymn of praise. As I observed yesterday, in the Easter season we are reminded that Christ’s resurrection revealed on Easter day was as like a new morning for the world.

The first verse invites the whole creation – earth, sun and stars – to awake and sing praise to the risen King. The second invites us to join all nature as it “sings of hope reborn [as] Christ lives to comfort those who mourn”.  This weekend of course, our nation mourns its senior Prince, who has passed into Glory honourably and of natural causes at the ripe old age of 99, but there will be many people also who are mourning for those who have died young, in tragic circumstances or of Coronavirus or other diseases.  Their grief may be deeper, and their acceptance of their loved one’s death longer, than when a death was expected and natural.  But whatever the circumstances, may they know God’s comfort.

Verse three makes the common comparison between winter turning into spring, and the new life of the resurrection.  Whilst the first Easter did happen around Passover time in April, there is a very long-standing tradition of making this link with the time of year when flowers and buds appear and animals give birth (at least in the northern hemisphere where Christianity started).  The final verse is a song of praise to the Trinity (see yesterday’s comments).

Exult, creation, round God’s throne

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is Christopher Idle’s “Exult, creation, round God’s throne”.  It’s a contemporary setting of an ancient hymn that is still sung in Latin plainchant in some churches during the Easter Vigil.   Here, it is in three metrical verses; John used in his morning prayer video an original fourth verse that is omitted in the book, and used the more common tune Gonfalon Royal.

The three verses in the hymn book call on all creation to exult (that is, rejoice) in the resurrection of Christ, which as I noted yesterday is a cosmic event, not just one for the people and time of Jesus.  The hymn addresses firstly the angels of heaven (who, let us remember, are created beings themselves); then the earth in general, as the Lord has won his victory over the powers of darkness here; and thirdly Christians in particular, both living now and gone before us (“exult, all Christians, one in praise with our Jerusalem above!).  

The fourth verse is a doxology with water imagery, calling us to exult in God (the father) who is the “well of truth”, Christ (the son) the “fountain-head of grace” and the Holy Spirit, “flowing stream of life”.  This water imagery perhaps alludes to the heavenly city in the book of Revelation (and Ezekiel’s earlier vision) where streams of living water flow out of it, as well as some of Jesus’ own sayings about being himself the living water. I affirm a comment I saw on social media this weekend that to believe in the resurrection can never be just a matter of interpretation of historical facts, or a hope for some distant future event, but has to be allowing God to work within in us here and now to become part of his constant changing and reshaping of our world for good – to let his living water flow into and through us.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

St Michael & All Angels, Jarvis Brook – Stained glass window
© Copyright John Salmon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The Easter Sunday hymn from sing praise is titled, perhaps predictably, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen”, the shout of triumph and joy echoed by millions of Christians around the world today.  This is, though, an unfamiliar hymn to me, written by the American composer Herbert F Brokering. The meters is unusual ( + 10.9), the hymn book doesn’t offer any alternatives that fit it, and the I found the tune (“Earth and all stars”) a difficult one, even to sing along to a recording found online. 

The hymn is in three verses, and is maybe intended to illustrate three ways in which the resurrection can be understood.  The first is about the cosmic implications: “Trumpets resounding in glorious light! Splendour, the Lamb, heaven forever!” It is a fact not often mentioned that no-one actually witnessed the resurrection happening inside the sealed tomb, so it must remain a matter of faith, perhaps rightly so. Also, it was not just about completing the redemption of humans from sin, but more about starting to put right the decay of all creation that Paul refers to in Romans 8.

The second verse is about Jesus’ first appearance to the women at the tomb. “Weeping, be gone; Sorrow, be silent: death is defeated and Easter is bright. Angels announce, Jesus is risen!’ Clothe us in wonder, adorn us in light”.  It was important for those first witnesses to go and tell what they had experienced, even though they could not make sense of it, but equally important was the transformation of mourning to joy at the sight of Jesus.

The last verse refers to the Emmaus Road story of Easter evening, but is phrased more as explaining the way that we, here and now, can experience the resurrection for ourselves as we learn more about him continue in fellowship with others and share Communion. “Walking the way, Christ walking in us, telling the story to open our eyes; breaking the bread, showing his glory; Jesus our blessing, our constant surprise.”

Cosmic event, immediate appearances to his disciples, and the ongoing transformation of lives through Christian fellowship: these are what we understand as the resurrection of Christ.  Happy Easter to anyone who reads this!

From ashes to the livng font

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “From ashes to the living font” by the American writer Alan Hommerding, set in the book to an old 18th century tune although it is “common metre” so there are many possible tunes to choose from.  Hommerding has written his own tune to it, which he discusses along with the words on a podcast. He explains that it was written for a particular occasion to help parishioners make sense of observing Lent, and that his intention is that during Lent we should not forget the end of the journey (Easter and Pentecost) but have them in mind throughout our spiritual journey.

The opening verse is intended to sum up the idea of the season of Lent as a journey, starting with confession and repentance (Ash Wednesday) and ending with the celebrations of Easter, traditionally a time for new believers to be baptised (symbolised by the font). 

The second calls us to use “fasting, prayer and charity” as a way to hear God’s voice in this season.   The third verse refers to the Transfiguration of Jesus, a story that occurs twice every year in the lectionary cycle, in Lent and in August. It was a key event in the spiritual journey of his closest disciples (Peter, James and John) as they realised without doubt that Jesus was the son of God, greater even than Moses and Elijah.  Few of us will have such a dramatic revelation, but hopefully we will understand something new about Jesus each year.

There are five verses in this setting, but the web page linked above gives, as well as four set verses, separate verses for each Sunday of Lent, of which verse 4 here is the one set for the third Sunday (“For thirsting hearts let water flow, our fainting souls revive, and at the well your waters give our everlasting life”) which is probably intended to go with the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria.

The last verse starts with a reprise of the opening line, but is explicit about the end of the journey: “through cross and tomb to Easter joy, in Spirit-fire fulfilled”.  We look forward in the solemnity of Lent to the resurrection and the giving of the Spirit, without which the fasting and self-denial doesn’t really make sense.

The Bible in a Year – 25 December

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

25 December John chapters 19-21

I am sure it cannot be coincidence that the reading for Christmas Day is the last three chapters of John’s gospel, which cover the death and resurrection of Christ.  The people who planned this year-long programme of Bible readings must have arranged it like that, and for a good reason.

Our priest at this morning’s Christmas communion service started his sermon by talking about the Yorkshire tradition of eating cheese with sweet foods – salty blue Stilton with mince pies, creamy Wensleydale with Christmas fruit cake.   He linked this odd, but actually very tasty,  combination of tastes to the fact that within the last week before Christmas, when the church is looking forward to the joy of the Nativity, and the world is celebrating in its own pleasure-seeking way, the church leaders and musicians have been planning the music for services in Lent and Holy Week.

It may seem strange reading about the death and resurrection of Christ, or planning solemn music for the season when we particularly remember those events, just when the focus should be on his birth.  But there are good reasons for doing so.

We cannot understand the birth of Jesus into the world unless we think also of the crucifixion. Nor can we understand the crucifixion without believing in the resurrection.  For that was the whole point of his birth.  The way God rescues us from the consequences of our own sin is to take those sins upon himself and suffer the consequences – separation from God, mental agony, physical torture, and death.  But that was not the end of the story – the resurrection proved that the sinless  one was stronger than sin and death and would live for ever.

Even at the time Jesus was dedicated as a baby, it was prophesied about him that he would be the cause of the “falling and rising of many in Israel”, and of Mary his mother it was said “a sword will pierce your own heart also”.  Throughout the last year or so of his life, Jesus had tried many times to explain to the disciples that his death – and subsequent resurrection – were absolutely part of God’s plan for him, and could not be avoided without wrecking the plan.

There is a line in a Christmas carol that says “man shall live for evermore because of Christmas Day”.  It sounds good, but it is not good theology.  It would be more accurate – if less poetic – to say “man shall live for evermore because of Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Day”.  But we can make a concession – as the timeless God came into our world in the form of a time-bound human being, birth had to come before death.  Without Christmas there could be no Easter.  And without Mary’s willing acceptance of God’s will there could have been no Christmas.  Therefore we say with her, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.

Merry Christmas to all readers.


The Bible in a Year – 14 April (Good Friday)

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

14 April. 1 Kings chapters 6-7

In these chapters, Solomon arranges the building of his great Temple, which takes seven years, and his even bigger palace, which takes thirteen.  The furnishings of these, especially the Temple, are described in great detail.


The Temple in its three versions – this first one, the rebuilt one after the Exile, and finally Herod’s Temple that Jesus knew – would be the central focus of religious life in Israel/Judah for the best part of a thousand years.   There is no longer a central Temple for either Jews or Christians. But its symbolism continues in Christianity – for example the plan of many Catholic and Anglican churches with narthex, nave, chancel and altar sanctuary  deliberately echoes the plan of the temple, and some church fonts are made to resemble the “sea” or large basin of water in the nave of the temple.


Today (as I write this) is Good Friday 2017, the most solemn day of the Christian year when Jesus died for our sins.  One of the ‘crimes’ for which he was condemned was the blasphemous claim that he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.  What he meant was that in his death, he would instantly put an end to the the purpose of the Temple (indeed its curtain that kept ordinary people away from the holiest part of the shrine was miraculously torn down at the moment of his death), and on the third day when he rose from the dead he himself would become the temple for us.


The Christian understanding is that Jesus replaced the temple, a central place of prayer by priests on behalf of the people, as the way to God, for he was God incarnate, and he “lives for all time to make intercession for us”. He replaced it as the location where God can be encountered, for we can know his presence at any time. He replaced the function of its altars for making sacrifice for sin, for he himself became the ultimate sacrifice.


This week, Jews have celebrated the Passover and Christians prepare to celebrate Easter – these are really two versions of the same story of God’s saving love.  But one led, after over five hundred years, to a man-made temple in which God’s love for Israel could be remembered and kept sacred.  The other instantly opened up God’s love to the whole world for ever.


May you have a blessed day and look forward to the celebration on Sunday.