from Sing Praise is “Great and Wonderful your deeds” by Christopher Idle, who also
wrote yesterday’s hymn. Both are based on passages from the book of Revelation,
and this is a setting of a passage used as a canticle (chanted scripture) in
some churches. Now we are far from the
problems of earth and focused only on God.
praised here as the all-powerful one, the one who is always true and right, the
God of justice, the sacrificial Lamb as he was incarnate as Jesus, and as the
to each verse is a single line ending with the word ‘glory’ and that sets the
tone for the hymn. These last lines – “To your name be glory”, “All have seen
your glory”, and “Love and praise and glory” are the response of people who
recognise God for whom he is.
Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is in a different mood from the last three: Glory, honour, endless praises’ by Christopher Idle. Leaving behind the troubles of this world, we move (as John noted in his video) to the worship of Heaven as described in the book of Revelation. This was also mentioned in the radio ‘thought for the day’ today with a reminder that the alternative term Apocalypse really just means an uncovering, a revelation of a reality that is normally hidden.
existence we are told there will be ‘no more crying or pain’, and God can be praised
by those whose sins have been redeemed. Jesus
Christ is acclaimed in the verses of this hymn as the Lord and King of Kings, the
Lamb who has been slain, by those who have been ‘called to serve from every
nation’. It’s a necessary reminder that
for all our struggles here, there is another, unseen but eternal existence
where all that will have been laid aside.
At the start
of the book of Revelation we also read of Jesus revealing himself to St John
with messages for several specific Christian congregations undergoing
persecution, urging them to remain faithful, to endure, to overcome evil and hardship,
so as to reach the everlasting life of Heaven. One way of achieving that is to
praise God as often as we can, even when times are hard. It’s just a practice for the real thing.
from Sing Praise is “Holy Spirit, hear us” by William Henry Parker. In the five
verses we ask the Spirit, in different ways, to help us in our walk with God:
singing, praying, Bible reading, living graciously, and making ethical choices. I’m going to concentrate on the first one.
First, then, is singing: “breathe into the music of the praise we bring”. Singing in church isn’t a performance or a competition, but a way of applying the natural human instinct for music to our praise of God. Spoken words, however worthy and appropriate, don’t have anything like the impact on ourselves or other people that song does. That’s why many of us have found worship during Covid restrictions so difficult when we’re not allowed to express our praise in song.
Whether struggling to learn the tune of a new song, or reciting a very familiar one ‘by rote’, it’s all too easy to fail to notice the meaning of the words. By this invocation of the Spirit, we are asking that the words of familiar songs may strike us afresh, and in new ones reveal the depths of their meaning.
the Spirit into our singing, we are also asking that we may express our true feelings
in the way we sing, and be open to being moved into new ways of expression. If you are open to the Spirit, you might find
yourself improvising a harmony or breaking into song during the prayer time. Depending on your church culture, it might or
might not be the ‘done thing’. I
remember on one occasion, at my mother’s fairly traditional church, as I walked
in silence back to our pew after taking communion, I felt the urge to sing the
chorus “I am a new creation”. I didn’t,
and I don’t know what people’s reaction would have been, but sometimes I wish I
had done what the Spirit prompted.
from Sing Praise (the third in the Ascension Day series) is “Clap your hands
all you nations” by John Bell. The tune
is brisk and slightly syncopated, which suits the style of an acclamation of
praise. The format is of three verses,
each verse having four lines with a refrain of “Amen, Alleluia!” after each
line. This could lend itself to a cantor-and-response setting, or the whole
hymn can easily be picked up by the congregation.
are based on Psalm 47, and include in verse 3 of the hymn verse 5 of the psalm,
“God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet” (NRSV translation).
It is this phrase “God has gone up” that links this psalm with the Ascension. Gerald
Finzi wrote an Ascensiontide anthem “Sing praises out”, which includes verses
from this psalm and Ps.24 along with lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry.
I have two recordings of this, a grand one by the Halifax Choral Society and a
more intimate one by the smaller choir of Lincoln College, Oxford.
account of the Ascension in Luke/Acts (with a brief mention by Mark) does not
mention trumpets, in fact the disciples are portrayed as confused rather than triumphant
at the spectacle. The trumpets, used in
many human societies to herald the arrival of a ruler, are perhaps intended to represent
rejoicing in heaven at the successful return of the Son of God from his mission
to earth, hence Finzi’s wording that we sing praises to God “seraphicwise”
(that is, like the angels).
on the words of the hymn and the psalm, I was struck by John Bell’s wording of
Ps.47:9, “those on earth who are mighty still belong to our maker”. I can see a double meaning here: that God
abandons no-one, be they powerful or powerless in society; or that everyone, even
if they see themselves as ‘above the law’ on earth, is still accountable to God
for their actions. The second perhaps
fits the theme of the season better: Jesus may have gone out of sight, but he
still knows what we are doing and will one day judge us for it.
We’re out of
the Easter season now, so according to my plan no more Saturday hymns until
Advent (just because there are fewer than 365 hymns in the book). On Sunday we start looking forward to
from Sing Praise is “You shall go out with joy”. When I saw the title I thought I knew it, but
this is not the popular 1980s chorus of the same title, rather a more traditional style hymn based on the
same passage in Isaiah 55:10-13. The
author is N.T. Wright, best known as a former Bishop of Durham and writer of
Bible commentaries. This is the first
hymn I have come across attributed to him.
structure is slightly unusual. Each of the four verses consists of six lines,
the first four being taken from Isaiah’s prophecy, and the last two being
statements of Christian faith related to Easter.
The first two
verses with their anthropomorphic image of the mountains and hills singing and
the trees clapping (i.e. the whole creation praising God) are paired with
statements that Jesus’ love has conquered death and that he lives to heal and
save – a fact certainly worthy of praise.
The third takes the image of God’s
word refreshing like rain or snow and (by way of the conventional title of
Jesus as Word of God) links with the risen Word giving life to all. The last
verse take the image of replacing briars and thorns with myrtle and cypress
(attractive and sweet smelling trees) and concludes with Jesus’ titles of himself
as the way, the truth and the life – an attractive and pleasing way of life no
doubt, but the original context (as Wright must know) was in a call for people
to turn to God for their sins to be pardoned.
to the Bishop I am not convinced by these particular pairings, which seem
rather contrived in the manner of “the holly and the ivy”. Whilst many passages
in Isaiah are generally accepted as prophecies of the Messiah (Christ), the
Isaiah passage is titled (in the New Revised Standard Version) as “An
invitation to abundant life”, but is not one of the so-called Servant Songs. The
couplets expressing Christian faith that conclude each verse are perfectly orthodox,
but cannot be deduced directly or (as far as I can see) indirectly from the words
that precede them. It’s good poetry, and
sound theology, but the two sets of statements don’t really belong together.
There are no doubt several hymns or worship songs with this title, but the one I have chosen today from Sing Praise is John Bell’s translation of a Tanzanian song of praise. I love the simple and easily learnt melodies and harmonies of East African songs, coming from a part of the world where communal singing is still an essential part of life in a way that has been lost in most ‘developed’ countries.
African Christians also seem to have a joy in their faith that we have lost in an over-cautious and over-intellectualised Western religion. From the start, this hymn is full of the confidence and joy of the first Christians that Jesus is alive and worthy of praise. Just listen to some of the phrases in this song: “Come let us worship him, endlessly sing!”; “Blest are the hearts which for him rejoice”; “Go and tell others, Christ is alive”; “Let heaven echo, let the earth sing: Jesus is saviour of everything”; and the final line, “Therefore rejoice, obey and believe”. This hymn will truly send me into the day rejoicing.
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.
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.
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).
from Sing Praise is “Today I awake and God is before me”. It comes with its own
tune written by the composer, John Bell, but I first came across it to the tune
better known to the words “Morning has broken”.
Like that one, it is a “morning hymn” rather than specifically an Easter
one, but in the Easter season we are reminded that Christ’s resurrection
revealed at daybreak on Easter day was as a new morning for the world. In form,
the hymn is Trinitarian – one verse each referring to the Creator, Son and Holy
Spirit and one to the Trinity (three persons, one God).
Equally important, I would say, are the verbs used at the start of each verse: I awake, I arise, I affirm, I enjoy. Everyone goes to bed expecting to awake in the morning, though knowing that one day we will not. Nearly everyone (except for those afflicted by disease or disability) is able to arise. But to affirm and enjoy the new day is a matter of the will. in verse 1, we sing “God never sleeps but patterns the morning in slithers of gold or glory in grey”. I have illustrated this post with a photo taken in 2005 when I was on a photographic holiday retreat at Scargill House, in wet and grey weather unsuitable for outdoor colour photography. We sang this hymn and were encouraged to take monochrome and indoor photos instead. This one shows the chapel – representing the praise of God – beyond the raindrops in the foreground.
people’s circumstances make it easier to do so, it is the ability to thank God even
for the “glories of a grey day” that perhaps makes the difference between those
who find cause to grumble right from the start of the day even when there is
much to give thanks for, and those who manage to find good things in life
around them, however challenging their circumstances. The singing of a hymn of
praise at the start of the day is a good way to get into the right mood.
In verse 2
we sing of Christ who “walked through the dark to scatter new light”. He did that on earth, bringing hope to the
sick and sinful, but supremely in death and resurrection. “Yes, Christ is
alive, and beckons his people to hope and to heal, resist and invite”. It is that hope in the one who brings new
life in the most hopeless circumstances that allows us to enter each new day
Verse 3 affirms
the work of the Holy Spirit, while in verse 4 we “enjoy” God’s presence in any
way, who “called me to life and called me their friend”. I would just query here the use of the plural
“they/their”, which I doubt is intended to reflect current usage by transgender
or non-binary people. It may just be to
avoid gendering God as ‘he’ (John Bell has written other hymns that address the
Spirit, at least, as ‘she’) but seems to go against the traditional Christian
understanding that the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity are one God.
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
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’.