Today’s hymn 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.
The 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.
With respect 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.