Come, sing the praise of Jesus / Come to me

‘The Eagle /

The hymn I chose for 20 October (but didn’t have time to comment on yesterday) was ‘Come sing the praise of Jesus’ by Jack Winslow, who was an English priest (and looking him up he was at one time chaplain at Lee Abbey in Devon). But he set it to the well-known American tune ‘Battle hymn of the Republic’.  John found a version in another book with five verses but I’m commenting on the Sing Praise version which only has three.

This is a joyful hymn as befits the stirring tune. We are invited to praise Jesus, in verse 1, for his wondrous birth and life lived for others. In verse 2 we rejoice in serving him ourselves, experiencing pardon for sin and healing for sorrow along the way; and in verse 3 we once again praise him, this time giving him glory as Lord of creation who guides all our ways and looking to the future when ‘the world shall be his empire’. Each verse ends with ‘for Jesus Christ is King’, followed by the chorus ‘Praise and glory be to Jesus… for Jesus Christ is King’.  

Today’s song, in total contrast, was ‘Come to me’ by John Bell.  It’s a short song to be sung repeatedly and reflectively. The words are simple and quoting Jesus: ‘Come to me, come to me, weak and heavy laden, trust in me, lean on me, I will give you rest’.   They are among the Bible verses called the ‘comfortable words’ in the Book of Common Prayer at the invitation to communion, as we remember that Jesus welcomes anyone to his table who comes in faith, whatever their condition.

The ordained staff member who led our office prayers this week commented that we are in a period in the church year between the ‘creation season’ in September and ‘remembrance season’ in November, with nothing particular to focus on, and that the Covid restrictions of the last 18 months have left many people feeling somewhat despondent and some quite isolated. The colder, wetter, darker days of autumn also encourage a retreat from summer activity into a more restful and reflective pattern of life. We might not feel like singing joyfully, and if all we can manage is to sing or say quietly the ‘comfortable words’, that is absolutely fine. But Winslow’s hymn reminds us that even if there is no particular celebration in the church calendar, we are always part of the worldwide Church, and the time is always right to praise Jesus, who is at the heart of our faith, if we can bring ourselves to do so.

1 thought on “Come, sing the praise of Jesus / Come to me”

  1. Jack Winslow’s hymn appears in its 5-verse version in Mission Praise 101, and I felt it important to sing the hymn in that version – indeed, “Sing Praise” which says its purpose is to make accessible hymns not included in standard hymnals like “Hymns Ancient & Modern”, should surely have made the words available. It’s immediately obvious that the 5-verse version is the original, because of the connectedness of thought:

    v1 – Jesus’ birth and life of wonders and dedication to others,
    v2 – Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension as our firstfruits,
    v3 – The benefits of following Jesus
    v4 – Spreading the gospel and telling others, and
    v5 – Glory be to Jesus.

    Yes, the whole five verses plus five choruses is very long (although actually not as long as Marty Haugen’s “Let us build a house where love may dwell”), but the real length-problem is that the chorus of the music “Battle Hymn of the Republic” simply repeats the verse giving a feeling of interminability … and the solution is to omit some of the choruses (and to make sure of taking the hymn at a reasonable speed!). I do feel that in this case “Sing Praise” has let us all down badly!

    * * *

    John Bell’s song is to be taken reflectively and repeatedly. I wish he had provided a coda at the end to bring the song to a conclusion and allow it to end on the tonic chord, and when I was singing it I decided to do that anyhow.

    I did wonder if he couldn’t also have provided a link to the connected verses about God having revealed these things to little children (Matthew 11:25-26), as the invitation to become like little children is obviously part of the same sentiment?

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