If you’re reading this, let me suggest you listen to this hymn first before we talk about it. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of a good arrangement of the hymn: Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
…okay, so did you listen to it? Such an amazing tune, right?
But beyond the excellent musical structure of this hymn (other hymns are not so lucky), I love it for other reasons. For one, it focuses on the intense joy and majesty of Christ’s Second Coming. Let Zion in her beauty rise/Her light begins to shine, we sing in the first line. Ere long her King will rend the skies/Majestic and divine.
Another reason why I love this hymn is because this concept of physically building Zion is personal to me. My great-great grandfather Jesse N. Smith, a particularly prolific polygamist in northern Arizona, was one of the Saints who had just enough time to put his feet up from the journey westward from Ohio to Salt Lake when the prophet Brigham Young took him aside and told him he was to go and “colonize the waste places of Zion.”
Well, I and some thousands of his descendants can trace our roots back to those waste places of Zion, places that assuredly looked pretty desolate, rough-hewn and uncivilized to the early Mormon settlers. Even today the winds are insistent, the soil is a composite of clay and sedimentary rock, and frankly the soil quality is immaterial since the growing season is only three months long.
But they did it, though in some ways I can’t imagine how. As the hymn states, they did their part to “sound the golden trump to earth’s remotest bound” by digging in their heels and raising up Zion wherever they were, though it meant starting over in a place that must have made some of them weep with disappointment after leaving Salt Lake City.
It is in these moments of pondering that I am glad my ancestors took on that backbreaking physical labor in their lifetimes. I also suspect they took up the cause of building Zion after their deaths, which means I get to work together with them someday to share the good word with others.
And this is why I sing this last line, my favorite in the entire hymn, as a kind of prayer: Dear Lord, prepare my heart/To stand with thee on Zion’s mount/And nevermore to part.