When I was nine or 10 years old my brother Paul gave my dad this CD of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was the first CD we ever owned as a family and the only one I remember being around for several months, if not years. “Glory to God on High” was track 5 on the album and anytime I hear it, or any of these other (admittedly kind of obscure) hymns, I am thrown back in time: all of us rushing into the house after church, throwing an apron on over our Sunday clothes and helping mash potatoes, squeeze limes for limeade, or set the table. Setting the table was the preferred task because it meant you could sneak a fingerful of mashed potatoes out of the bowl before the meal started.
Diving into the scriptural text of this hymn takes it out of its prosaic roots for me. “Worthy the Lamb,” repeated at the end of every verse is out of Revelations 5, where John sees Jesus Christ opening the Book of the Seven Seals.
The LDS New Testament manual explains to us that the book sealed with seven seals teaches us that the seals each represented a thousand years of history. “In ancient times, official documents, scrolls, and records were closed shut with a seal of wax that usually had an imprint signifying the one who sealed it. Documents thus sealed were only to be opened by one with authority and in the presence of witnesses. In this case, the ‘will, mysteries, and works of God’ (D&C 77:6) were recorded in the book John saw. Only Christ had authority and was worthy to open it.”
This scripture is pretty powerful. “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof,” the beasts and elders say to Christ, “for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” Then John writes that many angels round about the throne take up the cry: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Revelation 5: 9-12).
I usually think of Jesus Christ as my Advocate and friend, the one who ate with sinners and washed the feet of his disciples, but it is in these moments of scripture that I remember His majesty.
Glory to God on high!
Let heav’n and earth reply.
Praise ye his name.
His love and grace adore,
Who all our sorrows bore.
Sing aloud evermore:
Worthy the Lamb!