Hymn text by Joseph L. Townsend, 1849-1942. View the full text of this hymn.

 

Death.

It’s a hard topic. Sooner or later, each of us must confront that unavoidable reality: we are all mortal. We will all die. We will all lose loved ones to the grave. In some cases, death is a relief—consider a terminally ill grandparent whose suffering finally comes to an end. In other cases, death is a bitter shock, taking from us those who had so much more to do and so much yet to give.

When death comes, we long for comfort. We crave for the assurance that somehow, we have not lost someone forever. That somehow, all the missed opportunities, and lost moments, and hopes and plans and memories and wisdom, have not disappeared into nothingness.

Eternal truth brings us a powerful message of hope—that death is not the end. Not only is there life after death, but that life is wonderful. That life is beautiful.

That wonderful life is the topic of this hymn.

Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing all the day,
When again we assemble at home

Right from the start, we acknowledge that precious truth: our life after death is not a sojourn into an unknown territory. Instead, it is a return to our home, to that place we lived in ages immemorial before our brief stay in this mortal realm. It is a place that will be instantly familiar to each of us when we return home.

Tho our rapture and bliss
There’s no song can express,
We will shout, we will sing o’er and o’er,
As we greet with a kiss,
And with joy we caress
All our loved ones that passed on before;

Not only is death a return to our familiar home, it is also a moment of reunion. We know that family ties are meant to be eternal, not just fleeting social conveniences. When we arrive in that next stage of life, none of us will arrive alone. Family who have gone before us will be there to welcome us back. Not only that; we will have a reunion with our eternal father, God himself:

Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. (Alma 40:11)

The hope that fills this hymn is inspiring. It views death not as something we all must eventually succumb to—rather, it is a blessing we will all eventually receive. We need not hurry toward it, of course. There is so much to do here in this mortal life—so many hearts we can lift and so much joy we can spread. But whenever death comes, it need not be a tragedy. Our separation from our loved ones, though difficult, is only temporary, and some day we will have our own sweet reunion with those we have lost.

This is what I love about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It fills us with purpose and hope. It replaces the despair of loss with the hope of reunion. It reminds us of our divine heritage and our eternal destiny. Through the power of his Atonement and resurrection, our relationships can truly last forever. No sudden illness or senseless tragedy can take children or parents or loved ones from us forever. Christ has shown us the way to receive these blessings; he offers them to us freely. How could we not be filled with joy at all this? How could we not rejoice?

Paul said it best: “Oh grave, where is they victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?”


Oh, What Songs of the Heart“, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, October 2008

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