Category Archives: #151-#200

Hymn #186: Again We Meet Around the Board

Again We Meet Around the Board is a pretty distinct title. As you know, I’m big into words and how they work and what they do, so as I pondered this hymn, the word “board” particularly stood out to me. In this usage, I believe it means a table at which a council sits. Let’s use this interpretation to look at the first verse.

Again we meet around the board
Of Jesus, our redeeming Lord,
With faith in his atoning blood,
Our only access unto God.

The board, or table, is Jesus’ place of meeting for his council. Who are the members of His council? Abraham 4:1 states: “And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” In explanation of this, President Kimball said:

“Before this earth was created the Lord made a blueprint, as any great contractor will do before constructing. He drew up the plans, wrote the specifications, and presented them. He outlined it and we were associated with him. … Our Father called us all together as explained in the scripture, and plans were perfected now for forming an earth. In his own words: ‘And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.’ (Abraham 3:24–25.) That assemblage included us all. The gods would make land, water, and atmosphere and then the animal kingdom, and give dominion over it all to man. That was the plan. … God was the Master-worker, and he created us and brought us into existence”

We are all His council. We were important enough for Him to discuss His great plan with us (and, yes, it was a discussion that we took part in, or Satan wouldn’t have suggested an alternate plan that a third of our fellow spirit beings chose). And the scriptures refer to the gods building the earth, which means there were others besides God and Jesus involved, which has to mean some of us were instrumental in that work.

If we think of the board a bit like a properly functioning ward council, this seems a bit more approachable. The bishop sits at the head, and each organization contributes by explaining what they are doing, asking for help from others, and collaborating together to plan ways to strengthen the ward, who they represent. It’s no stretch to imagine Jesus’ board working similarly. He sits at the head, and there are people, such as the prophets and apostles, stake leaders, bishops, etc, who council with Him and with each other to plan ways to strengthen the church.

We can council this way with our Savior, too, in our families, in our callings, and even in our personal lives. There are those we will ask for help and guidance, but ultimately, we should be looking toward the Savior for assurance that our plans meet up with His ultimate designs for us.

Let’s go back to that first verse, now that we have fully discussed the “board.”

Again we meet around the board
Of Jesus, our redeeming Lord,
With faith in his atoning blood,
Our only access unto God.

We approach his board, or council, with faith that through the atonement, we have access to God. We know that God listens to us when we pray, and we always pray in Jesus’ name. We know that God wants us to live with Him again, and we know that this is only possible through Christ’s atonement. As Helaman taught his sons Nephi and Lehi, “O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world” (Helaman 5:9).

As we approach His board, whether through personal prayer, spiritual conference with others, attending our church meetings, participating in callings, and so forth, may we remember why we need His board and why it is so significant that we are members of His board. He loves us. He trusts us. And He will help us as we learn and grow and become more and more worthy of the multitude of blessings He bestows upon us.

Hymn #153: Lord, We Ask Thee Ere We Part

At our monthly Sunday dinner with my parents, the conversation is often started by the request “So, tell us about church today.” Sometimes I have a lot to share. Other days, despite spending hours in Sunday meetings, I struggle to remember a single thing any speaker said, or the topic of any lesson. The fault is largely my own—it’s easy to be distracted, or to skim lightly on the surface of the lesson, never exploring how it might apply to my own life.

Today’s hymn is Lord, We Ask Thee Ere We Part. The first verse seems especially applicable to those Sundays when I struggle:

Lord, we ask thee ere we part,
Bless the teachings of this day.
Plant them deep in ev’ry heart,
That with us they’ll ever stay.

When we worship together on Sundays, we have an opportunity to grow. We can choose to take that opportunity, but it is not free. Growth requires work. As we seek the guidance of the Spirit, we can not only hear the teachings, but understand how they apply to our own lives and our own desires—the Spirit can plant those teachings in our hearts.

It does us no good to pray for spiritual growth if we refuse to act toward that goal. Spiritual experiences come not when we simply ask for them, but when we act for them. We must dedicate our time and our attention to them. If we want the “teachings of this day” to sink deep into our hearts, we must ponder them. We must examine our own activities, thoughts, and desires and determine whether they are in accordance with those teachings.

The following verses ask for spiritual blessings in various forms. In each case, the requested blessing can come only as we act. We cannot be “[led] in the way of truth” if we take no time to learn the truth. We cannot find “sweetest pleasure” in his service if we take no time to serve him. We cannot “live lives of holiness” if we take no time to seek out holy things.

If we will do our part, though, the Lord will magnify and multiply our efforts. When we search the scriptures, he will enlighten our minds, pouring out understanding. When we strive to develop Christlike qualities, he will give us both opportunities and strength to do so. When we seek holy places, he will teach us holy things.

So yes, we pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ enter deep within our hearts. And then we act.

Hymn 160: Softly Now the Light of Day

Softly now the light of day
Fades upon my sight away.
Free from care, from labor free,
Lord, I would commune with thee.

This must be one of the shortest hymns in the hymnbook. There are other verses–they bring up the fact that God can see even in darkness, and expressing the hope that at the end of our lives, we can commune with God more personally–but this is the only verse in our hymnbook.

It’s no secret that I love symbolism and metaphorical language, but in this case I’m content just the one, rather straightforward verse.

I love the simplicity here. The sun sets, the work day is over, and the speaker wants to pray. Though he or she doesn’t spell it out, there’s a connection there. Night is naturally a time for prayer. It must be a habit of the speaker’s.

I use an checklist to try to cultivate good habits (and eliminate bad habits) of my own, but this hymn reminds me of the endgoal. To pray, not because it’s something that I aspire to do, or because I really want to complete my list, but because it comes naturally to me. Because the hunger in my soul is as regular as the hunger in my stomach, at specific times of day. Because not only do I want to do it, it has become second nature.

Tonight, it seems possible. And as simple as this hymn.

 

Hymn 197: O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown

People can be cruel. Though I like to believe that mankind is mostly good, that most people, in their heart of hearts, want to do the right thing, the truth is that not everyone IS good. In the first verse of this song, the soldiers aren’t content to do their regular, rather gruesome duties. Crucifying Christ would have been bad enough, but on top of that, they make fun of him by forcing him to wear a crown of thorns, by beating him, by giving him vinegar instead of water to drink. These are not nice men.

And yet, despite their flaws, despite the fact that they personally attacked him, Christ forgives them. Christ is surrounded by flawed beings–friends who betray him, sinners of every description, and of course his own killers–and his grace covers them all. No exceptions. No vengeance. No object lessons.

This is a lesson I learn and relearn again and again. I want to be good, but I keep failing and it makes me discouraged. I want to be self-sufficient in my growth, but the truth is, I need help. I look around me and I see people who seem to have it all together, and I feel out of place and down on myself and like the pursuit of perfection is pointless anyway.

One of my favorite scriptures is Psalms 22:9, “. . .  none can keep alive his own soul.” I need that reminder: that it doesn’t make me weak to need help–it’s normal. What’s more, it’s vital. No one makes it through their life successfully unless they seek out support.

Similarly, I constantly need to remind myself that God’s grace knows no limits. I sometimes get caught up in the qualifications for various types of religious support, and I start to feel like only the mostly-already-righteous are given the strength and opportunities to move forward. But that’s not true. “No creature is so lowly, No sinner so depraved, But feels [God's] presence holy, And thru [his] love is saved.” God’s grace is for everyone who will accept it.

The hymn goes on to get excited about the future binding of Satan, and how we should express our thanks with love and praises. Since it’s a hymn, I guess that makes sense–it’s a song of praise and love, and it’s an attempt to be grateful. But I’ve also recently been reading The Life of Pi, and his thoughts on what really matter to God are still echoing through my head. I think what God would most appreciate is that we make use of his sacrifice, and look for some extra help. And maybe he would like for us to love each other a little better, as he would surely do in our place.

Hymn #181: Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

- John 15:13

When this scripture is connected with today’s hymn, they teach three things:

1. Jesus Christ, the Savior and King of all creation, considers us to be his friends. I think we’ve all learned pretty well from our Sunday School lessons that we are children of God and that we are brothers and sisters to His Only Begotten. However, in my earthly way of thinking, being called his friend almost seems even more meaningful. The connotation suggests that he chooses to love and care for us, instead of feeling obligated because of a family connection. Of course we love our families, and that will make the eternity that we spend with them much easier. But our friends are the people we choose to keep in our lives, and the Savior chose us.

2. Jesus died for us. Not just that. He suffered for us. He was ridiculed, beaten, mocked, spit on, and tormented. His pain was displayed for all to see. He knew ahead of time that he would have to endure all of this, and he willingly allowed it to happen. He left his place at the throne of his Father and came down to live a burdened life on Earth because he knew that he was the only one who could triumph over death and make it possible for us to live again. He wanted that for us.

3. The love Jesus has for us is the greatest possible love that anyone can have for another person. The laying down of his life was the greatest sacrifice he could have possibly made. Because of the impossibly great love he has for us, he did it without hesitation.

This hymn reminds us where our minds and hearts should be as we take the Sacrament, which is with our friend, our Savior, the reason that we will be able to gain eternal life.

Hymn #162: Lord, We Come Before Thee Now

I recently watched a few different renditions of Moses’ life and his leading of Israel out of Egypt. As I watched these and then read the accompanying scriptural references, I was particularly touched by the idea of prayer. These people had been in captivity for 430 years (Exodus 12:41), praying for their freedom from bondage. They had been told that they were God’s chosen people, that God had promised blessings to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. I was struck by sadness as I thought of these people, most of whom were born and died in slavery, who faithfully prayed for their God to hear their prayers and remember His promises to them.

After their deliverance during one of the many lessons Moses taught them, the children of Israel are given a small yet powerful scriptural truth. Deuteronomy 4:29 reads, “But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.” God is promising that if they ask for God’s help, He will comfort them. Finding Him doesn’t always mean finding freedom or respite. Finding Him can mean so much more.

Let’s now look at King Limhi’s people in the Book of Mormon. They were descendants of King Noah and, per the prophecies of Abinadi, had been brought into bondage by the Lamanites. It is recorded that they were “smitten” and “driven to and fro, and burdened, according to the desires of their enemies” (Mosiah 21:13). These people were suffering, and they petitioned the Lord their God for help. Let’s look at what happened next:

 14 And they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.

 15 And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.

God did not deliver them at this point, but He made their burdens easier to bear. Later, Ammon, on assignment from King Mosiah, found the people and helped to deliver them. But that deliverance took time, as did the situation with the Israelites in Egypt.

God often has designs that we, as members of the human race on this side of the veil, cannot see. We are asked to toil, to struggle, to suffer, for what seems like no reason at all. But look at the blessings that God provides once these people are humbled and seek Him out. First, He provides comfort, then He strengthens them in their adversity, and then He delivers them.

Let’s look back to the Israelites for confirmation of this idea.

 Exodus 1: 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.

Exodus 4: 31 And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.

 Exodus 3: 7 And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;

 8 And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

 9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.

The pattern holds up – comfort, strength, and freedom.

As we look at the hymn “Lord, We Come Before Thee Now” in this context, the prayer that this hymn is emerges as a plea for this pattern. The words “in thine own appointed way” are easily overlooked but exceptionally important. In our trials, in our moments of struggle and captivity, whether from circumstance or from sin, when we seek the Lord asking for His help, we need to recognize that it will come, but in His way and in His time. What was the benefit of having the people of Limhi suffer? They needed to be humbled and to rely on God (Mosiah 21:14). Why did God let the Israelites struggle for so long? He was building up a strong, righteous army (Joshua 1:2). Why does God allow us to struggle in our lives? He is preparing us for something great! Preparation isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, and it certainly isn’t comfortable, but this preparation needs to happen for God to make of us what we need to be.

The lyrics of the hymn illustrate beautifully that if we will “come before [Him]“ and “seek [Him]“ with the intent to stay in His presence, we will have “joy and peace,” “comfort,” “love”, “heal the sick; the captive free.” What wondrous blessings! And what comfort we can take, knowing that, though we may struggle, we are not the first of God’s people to struggle, and based on their histories, we can expect to receive comfort, strength, and freedom from our adversities if we call on Him and come before Him.

Hymn #166: Abide with Me!

My little sister spent a couple years at one college before deciding to transfer elsewhere and take her studies in a different direction. She moved to a new city where she didn’t know anyone. She shared a dorm room with a girl who was rarely there. For someone as social as my sister, it was an extremely difficult transition.

She once told me that, especially on lonely evenings when her roommate was away, she would sing hymns to comfort herself. I can’t help picturing her as she was when we shared a room as kids: curled into a tiny ball against the wall with heaps of blankets all around her in her twin bed. It breaks my heart a little to think of her alone and singing into the darkness.

There have been times in my life when I’ve curled myself into a metaphorical ball, barricaded myself in with pillows, and turned my face to the wall to endure the night. I felt alone in the world and it seemed the morning would never come. I suppose that’s why this hymn stirs my heart in ways few others can.

Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

It’s such a desperate prayer! “Abide with me!” we cry three times in four lines. “It is dark! I am alone!” And yet we cannot truly alone, because we know we are praying to the One who is ever at our side.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

The faith shown in this hymn is so pure and simple. We know things change. People come in and out of our lives. Mortality seems long, but it is so fleeting. Our faith, however, is not placed in mortal things, but in the one “who changest not”. And as we learn from Helaman:

“It is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)

When our faith is placed on our Savior, we can endure the dark, lonely nights. We may not enjoy them, but we know they will pass, and we know He will be with us until they do.

I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!

What can protect us from temptation? Who can guide us to safety and security? The clear (though unstated) answer is Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life (see John 14:6). His reassuring love remains “thru cloud and sunshine”. His doctrine is unchanging. His Atonement is eternal.

If we look to Him, He will abide with us always. All we have to do is ask.

Come, Let Us Sing an Evening Hymn

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

The rest spoken of here is not something we have to wait for until we arrive in heaven. Those who work diligently to serve the Lord may have rest in this life as well.

At the end of a long day, full of work and worry, it’s nice to be able to let go of concerns and take a break. Today’s hymn is meant to help us with that. The words serve to calm our spirits and prepare us for sleep, kind of like a lullaby for adults.

Sometimes, especially when we’ve had a particularly trying day, it can be hard to settle our minds. In these verses we are reminded to be grateful “for grace and gifts / Renewed in latter days.” As we remember the gifts of the gospel, and to be thankful for them, peace comes to us. We can give our troubles to the Lord, even if it’s just long enough to get a good night’s rest.

While this may seem like a simple interpretation, I really believe that this hymn is meant to have a simple meaning. Let’s work hard and do all that we can during the day, but let us allow ourselves to rest as well, and thank Heavenly Father for the opportunity to do so.

As the last verse says,

Oh, may we sleep and wake in joy,

While life with us remains,

And then go home beyond the tomb,

Where peace forever reigns.

Hymn #163: Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing

Perhaps one of the most memorable stories in the Book of Mormon is that of Ammon preaching to the Lamanites. When Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni departed for the land of Nephi to preach to the Lamanites, they did not know when they would return, or indeed if they would return at all. Ammon famously told King Lamoni: “I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.” These sons of King Mosiah could have inherited their father’s kingship over the Nephites, but instead they chose to preach the Gospel to those who didn’t have its blessings.

The departure of the sons of Mosiah on their extended mission is recorded in Alma 17. As they entered Lamanite territory and prepared to separate, these brothers held one final devotional meeting.

Now Ammon being the chief among them, or rather he did administer unto them, and he departed from them, after having blessed them according to their several stations, having imparted the word of God unto them, or administered unto them before his departure; and thus they took their several journeys throughout the land. (Alma 17:18)

From that meeting, the four brothers departed into hostile lands, trusting in God to protect and guide them. As these men prepared to depart, I wonder if they sang a song similar to today’s hymn: ”Lord, Dismiss Us with thy Blessing.”

Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing;
Fill our hearts with joy and peace.
Let us each, thy love possessing,
Triumph in redeeming grace.
Oh, refresh us, oh, refresh us,
Trav’ling thru this wilderness.
Oh, refresh us, oh, refresh us,
Trav’ling thru this wilderness.

Most of us are not planning a trip to enemy lands anytime soon. Our wilderness is not the land of Nephi, but could we not all use a bit more joy and peace in our lives? Should we not all triumph in and remember always the atoning grace of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Thanks we give and adoration
For the gospel’s joyful sound.
May the fruits of thy salvation
In our hearts and lives abound.
Ever faithful, ever faithful
To the truth may we be found.
Ever faithful, ever faithful
To the truth may we be found.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring us joy, but only if we live it. Appropriate, then, that as we sing we pray for it to abound in our hearts and in our lives. The point of living the Gospel is not simply that we live it while we’re in our church meetings—we go to the church meetings so that we can live the Gospel outside the meetings.

We should be ever faithful. Not just sometimes, occasionally, or periodically faithful. Not just faithful on the last Sunday of the month, or for a few hours on Sunday afternoon, but ever faithful, always faithful.

We’ll fail, of course. We’re imperfect, frail humans still learning and figuring things out. We get angry, stressed, frustrated, or upset, and we mess up. I wish it didn’t, but it happens. Even in this, though, we can turn to Christ—his suffering in Gethsemane, his death and his resurrection inspire hope in us. Even when we fail, he welcomes us and invites us to try again. This is the very message of the Gospel: that as we strive to keep the commandments of God, we will receive divine assistance enabling us to overcome and become far more than what we could on our own.

So as we depart from our spiritual gatherings, we do seek the Lord’s blessing. Not just a generic blessing, but a specific one: that the fruits of Christ’s Atonement may shine forth in our hearts and in our lives, perhaps bringing that light to another who desperately needs it.

Hymn #152: God Be with You Till We Meet Again

This is a hymn we most commonly associate with closing and goodbyes. We may sing it at the end of a meeting, at the end of a relationship with a friend, or any other time something in our lives comes to a close. When my family was about to move to a new state when I was in high school, my sister sang this hymn for our congregation, and I imagine everyone present understood it as her way of saying a tearful goodbye.

Considering the fact that we’ve never been back, it was an appropriate choice. We often sing this hymn knowing that we will actually see each other soon. It’s often the closing hymn of the final session of General Conference every six months. And yet, if we listen to the words of the chorus, it seems clear enough that the goodbyes we sing aren’t intended to be temporary ones:

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’s feet,
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

We don’t pray that God will be with those we love until we see them next week at church, or a few days later at the grocery store. The goodbyes we sing are long-lasting. We expect to see each other next at the Savior’s second coming, and while no one knows precisely when that will be, we can expect that it probably won’t be tomorrow, or even the day after. Since these goodbyes will be so long, we naturally want to take the opportunity to say something important. What would be the most important thing you could say to someone, knowing you wouldn’t see them again for a long, long time?

God be with you till we meet again;
By his counsels guide, uphold you;
With his sheep securely fold you.
God be with you till we meet again.

We start by invoking the Lord’s protection on our loved ones. This isn’t to say that the Lord wouldn’t be willing to protect and watch over them if we didn’t ask, of course. He loves each of us dearly, without exception. Rather, His blessings are often made conditional on our asking for them. “Seek, and ye shall find,” we are taught, “knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” So we ask the Lord to watch over our friends, knowing that He will. He will lead them in righteousness and protect them as one of His fold.

God be with you till we meet again;
When life’s perils thick confound you,
Put his arms unfailing round you.
God be with you till we meet again.

The door swings both ways, though. It’s one thing to ask for the Lord’s aid, but it’s quite another to be willing to accept it. And so we pray that the Lord will protect our loved ones, but we also counsel them to allow Him to protect them. His arms are eternally stretched out to us, but as we sing, it’s up to us to put those arms around us. We welcome Him into our lives by following His teachings and keeping His commandments. We make and uphold covenants, and we do our best to remain worthy to keep the Holy Ghost with us. We try very hard to be like Him, and when we fall short (and we do often), we repent and try again.

That’s a daunting enough task in the best of times, but when things aren’t going our way, it’s even more difficult to turn to Him. This is why, when presented with an opportunity to tell our friends and loved ones from whom we will soon be separated something of surpassing importance, we choose to remind them to endure to the end. We remind them that “press[ing] forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope” is the only way toward eternal life, and it’s a long road. It’s not enough to make covenants and changes in your life and fail to keep them. We must choose to uphold those choices every day to stay in the path.

So, when given the chance to share one last message with our friends and loved ones before we part ways, we ask the Lord to reach out His hand to them. We also ask our friends to take that hand, so that they can walk together down the strait and narrow path toward eternal life. We hope to meet them there someday.

Hymn #187: God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son

Jesus Christ teaching

Today’s hymn, “God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son” is a commemoration of the great Atonement, when Jesus Christ offered his life as a sacrifice for sin. For all sin. It emphasizes the perfection of Christ, his role as our Savior and exemplar, and the covenant we make in partaking of the bread and water that we will always remember him.

This Atonement is the key part of God’s plan to save and exalt us, his children. It provides a way for us to learn from our mistakes instead of being condemned by them. It makes divine forgiveness possible. To the believing soul, it is easily identified as the most important event in the history of the world.

It’s critical, though, that while the Atonement itself is given to us freely, the greatest blessings it makes available to us are only available if we take action ourselves. Each of the following phrases reminds us of our own role in receiving this divine gift:

To show us by the path he trod
The one and only way to God. (verse 1)

That in his off’ring I have part (verse 3)

In word and deed he doth require
My will to his, like son to sire, (verse 4)

Learn conduct from the Holy One. (verse 4)

Partaking now is deed for word
That I remember him, my Lord. (verse 5)

To receive true forgiveness, we must enter into an agreement with Christ: He shows us the way and we follow him. We are trained by Christ—we enter into a sort of apprenticeship with him. Though we may be weak and imperfect, as we “learn conduct from the Holy One” we will find the “one and only way to God.”

This is a beautiful, contemplative hymn. If we ponder the lyrics as we sing, it will guide us toward a more sacred experience as we partake of the sacrament.

And yet, despite all this, the line that stands out to me the most is the very first one: “God loved us, so he sent his Son.” In October 2003, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a conference talk that I’ve never forgotten titled “The Grandeur of God.” He suggested that everything Christ did, up to and especially including the Atonement, was intended to demonstrate to us not just his own love, but the love of our Heavenly Father. Take a moment to read (slowly, please!) what Elder Holland said:

Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God and to plead with them to love their Heavenly Father as He has always and will always love them. The plan of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, yes, even the anger and the judgment of God they had occasion to understand. But the love of God, the profound depth of His devotion to His children, they still did not fully know—until Christ came.

So feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father, He who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness.” In His life and especially in His death, Christ was declaring, “This is God’s compassion I am showing you, as well as that of my own.” In the perfect Son’s manifestation of the perfect Father’s care, in Their mutual suffering and shared sorrow for the sins and heartaches of the rest of us, we see ultimate meaning in the declaration: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Indeed, God loved us, so he sent his Son. I hope we’ll follow him.

Hymn #180: Father in Heaven, We Do Believe

My reflections today are drawn primarily from the title of this hymn. I’m struck that all of the actions this hymn describes–repenting, coming with a broken heart, being baptized, taking the sacrament, etc.–are all things we perform because “we do believe,” rather than “we do know.”

In the church we talk a lot about testimony and how righteous behavior follows from “knowing” that the church is true. This hymn seems to suggest that righteous living follows from faith rather than knowledge.

Most of us (especially returned missionaries!) know someone–less active members or investigators, for instance–who absolutely knew that the church was true, but refused to change their lifestyle. What these people were lacking was faith. Faith is an active principle, whereas knowledge is primarily a kind of intellectual affect.

In all our rhetoric about knowledge and testimony, we sometimes miss how powerful faith is. Faith is the truly transformative virtue, a point that the scriptures try to teach us over and over again.

Think, for instance, of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:

“… Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. … And now abideth faith, hope and charity.” (1 Cor 13:8-9, 13)

Paul reminds us that knowledge is transitory and passing, but faith is one of the only three virtues that will abide eternally.

I would hope that we can each examine our lives and look for places where our faith has waned, where perhaps we’ve granted knowledge too much room, where we’ve become complacent and stopped experiencing the transformative power of faith.

It’s only through faith, after all, that the ultimate promise of this hymn is obtained:

Baptize us with the Holy Ghost
And seal us as thine own,
That we may join the ransomed host
And with the Saints be one.

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Hymn #127: Does the Journey Seem Long?

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Chances are that if you’ve been alive for virtually any length of time, you’ve found that life is hard. Things go wrong, and they do so often. Personally speaking, I’m sitting here with a mild headache caused by corn stuck in my teeth, my daughter is screaming and won’t go to sleep, I’m hot and sweaty, and I know I get to get up early to go try to resolve a whole snarl of problems at work. And compared to many people, my day was absolutely charmed. Sometimes, things just don’t go the way we’d like. That’s life.

And even if we recognize that suffering and unpleasantness is part of being alive, sometimes those minor bumps and scrapes can add up and begin to feel overwhelming.

Is your heart faint and sad,
Your soul weary within,
As you toil ‘neath your burden of care?
Does the load heavy seem
You are forced now to lift?
Is there no one your burden to share?

That last line cuts deepest. Each of us has our own burden to carry through life. My challenge is that I’m shy, and that makes going through everyday tasks difficult sometimes. For you, it might be a struggle with depression, or the too-early loss of a loved one. Everyone struggles, and that’s part of why we covenant at baptism to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We do our best, and we’re able to help each other soldier on down the path of life. And yet sometimes, despite all that, we still feel alone during our trials. We feel as though no one can understand our pain, and that we don’t have a friend willing to lend a hand to help us back up.

This all feels like a buildup to a hackneyed poem about footsteps in the sand, but it feels cliche because it’s true. We may feel alone, but it’s at those times most especially that the hand of the Lord is stretched out to us:

Let your heart not be faint
Now the journey’s begun;
There is One who still beckons to you.
So look upward in joy
And take hold of his hand;
He will lead you to paths that are new.

His hand is always reaching out to us. He doesn’t take days off, and He doesn’t let His hand down when He doesn’t feel like making the effort. He is always there to aid us in our struggles, whether it’s through the comfort of the Holy Ghost, through the kindness of a stranger, the closeness of a friend, or even the tender mercy of your baby finally drifting off to sleep.

His hand is stretched out still. He is always there for us. And He is always there, yearning for us to come away from the paths we’ve wandered down and return to Him so that He can lead us to “paths that are new.” He wants us to come and be like Him. He wants to bring us to a place where we can, well, listen to the fourth verse and see:

A land holy and pure,
Where all trouble doth end,
And your life shall be free from all sin,
Where no tears shall be shed,
For no sorrows remain.
Take his hand and with him enter in.

If the journey seems long, and you and I can both attest to the fact that it often does, it’s only because the destination is worth struggling to reach. There will be no more suffering. There will be no more pain. There will be no more death, and we will live with our God and be His people. He himself shall wipe the tears from our eyes, for the former things are passed away. Yes, the journey seems long, but we don’t have to make it alone. There is One who is reaching out His hand to us; we can take it, and the path will be easy and our burdens feel light.

Image credit: “Lone tree north of the Island Thorns Inclosure, New Forest,” Jim Champion.

Hymn #178: O Lord of Hosts

This is one of my favorite sacrament hymns. The music and poetry are both simply lovely! There are a lot of important elements within these verses, so I’d like to briefly comment on a few that jump out at me:

“We now invoke / Thy Spirit … / to cleanse our hearts”

This reminds me of a wonderful quote from Truman G. Madsen:

“The most inclusive attendant blessing of the sacrament is his Spirit. The gifts and fruits of the Spirit engulf all our deepest needs: insight, flashes of guidance—all the virtues that center in Christ, and through them, all the fire that purifies our feelings and our aspirations. So, yes, we come to renew our covenants. But we also come to be renewed.”

“The broken bread and wine”

These are the two most potent and obvious symbols of the sacrament.

The bread is a powerful symbol of Christ’s body, not just in that bread is one of the hallmarks of mortality (cf. Gen 3:19), but also because it is broken, and broken specifically by us. When we watch those young priests tear the bread upon the altar, we’d do well to remember that we are watching the body of Christ being torn, and that, because He died for our sins, we are responsible. We ought to mourn when we take the bread.

But we ought to rejoice when we take the wine. Wine represents blood and life. It’s something you drink at parties, when you’re having a good time or celebrating an event. When we take the wine (now substituted with water), we ought to be rejoicing in the power of the resurrection and what the atonement has accomplished for us personally.

“May we forever think of thee”

This obviously bears affinity with our sacrament covenant to “always remember Him” (D&C 20:77, 79). What does this promise mean?

I think the prefix “re-” at the beginning of the word “remember” is suggestive. “Re-” means “again,” and so the Latin re-memor means to “be mindful again.” This leads me to think that my covenant is less about having Jesus as a particular topic in my mind at all times, and more about my practice of looking for the relevance of the atonement in the current moment.

For instance, I may be vacuuming my living room floor when I realize that I haven’t thought about the Savior in a while. My task in that moment is to see how the atonement and Christ’s grace is present even in this mundane task. My home and my vacuum are gifts from God. I don’t deserve them, but the goodness of the Lord has granted that I possess them for this moment. My vacuuming is an expression of love for my family—a family that, again, is a gift from God, and a family to whom I can be sealed only through the atonement and the resurrection.

I like to think that part of my covenant is that I will take notice of how the atonement affects every moment of my life, and then take notice again, and again, and again. I will constantly be drawing my mind back (“re-membering”) to the eternal perspective that allows me to see my life as saturated with grace.

“Salvation purchased on that tree”

For my previous thoughts on the symbolism of the cross as a tree, see here.

“May union, peace, and love abound”

This is an important element of the sacrament, too, though it is rarely talked about. One of the most crucial details of the sacrament is that it is something we take together, as a ward community. Part of what the sacrament accomplishes for us a kind of unity.

This was even beautifully symbolized in the way the sacrament used to be administered in the early church. The bread was still broken and distributed as it is now, but the water was sent around the congregation in one communal cup (we made the switch to individual disposable cups when sanitation and the flu epidemic became national concerns). In the sacrament, we ritually enact the drama of coming as scattered individuals (bread) to find our hearts knit together in unity (water) as we seek together to do the work of the Lord.

 

I love the sacrament. It truly is, as Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “one of the most holy and sacred ordinances of the Church.” If we will be more mindful of the symbols of its component parts, I think we will find a greater measure of what this hymn promises in its last verse: “Joy in one continual round / through all eternity.”

Hymn #196: Jesus, Once of Humble Birth

“Jesus, Once of Humble Birth” is one of seven hymns in the hymnbook written by Parley P. Pratt. While a couple of them are Restoration-focused (The Morning Breaks, An Angel From On High), Elder Pratt’s hymns tend to instead focus on more general Christian themes, such as the life and second coming of Jesus Christ. This is one of those hymns.

This well-known sacrament hymn contrasts the Savior’s first and second comings. It’s written in couplets. The first half of each line starts with “Once…” and describes the Savior’s coming in the meridian of time; the second half starts with “Now…” and tells of His coming to usher in the Millennium. While we’re used to organizing hymns into verses, this hymn is perhaps best understood as a table:

Once… Now…
Of humble birth In glory comes to earth
He suffered grief and pain He comes on earth to reign
A meek and lowly Lamb The Lord, the great I Am
Upon the cross he bowed His chariot is the cloud
He groaned in blood and tears In glory he appears
Rejected by his own Their king he shall be known
Forsaken, left alone Exalted to a throne
All things he meekly bore Will bear no more

The dichotomy could not be more pronounced. While the Savior’s first coming was marked with humility, His second coming will be replete with glory.

But why is this difference important to understand? Some of those is Judaism at Christ’s time certainly did not properly distinguish (or at least misunderstood) the two, as they expected Christ to come anything but humbly and free them from political oppression. But what about now, where we know the circumstances of Christ’s first coming, and presume to have some idea of how His second coming will begin?

I see it as a model for us to follow. In the left column above are a number of circumstances that may befall us in this life, in the name of righteousness. While mere mortals, we may suffer tremendous grief and pain; we may be rejected by those we call our own; we may be forsaken and lonely and left to bear impossible burdens.

But when the time comes that He returns to earth in His glory, the script will be flipped, and we will see our reward. We may discover for ourselves, in some small way, our own glory; our own kingdoms and thrones as exalted sons and daughters of God. All the struggles and suffering we experience in this life, in struggling to live the Lord’s gospel, will be replaced by joy incomprehensible.

The Savior will live two lives, one a mortal life of quiet pain and the other a resurrected eternity of triumphant happiness—and so can each of us.

What I choose to learn in this hymn’s text is to understand that our day-to-day struggles fit squarely in the left column, and that if we bear them well we will be worthy to receive whatever is in the right column for us. The gospel gives us that perspective—we know that this left column isn’t all there is—and allows us to look forward with hope and faith.

In the end, maybe we’ll look back and realize that our own life, here on Earth and beyond, was also written in couplets.

Hymn #183: In Remembrance of Thy Suffering

How many times have you heard the Sacrament prayers? As two of only a handful of rote prayers in the church, we hear them said exactly the same every week. Those raised in the Church may have heard them thousands of times; for myself, assuming weekly church attendance since birth, that’s 1,612 times.

But when was the last time you really listened to the words and the meaning of the prayers over the bread and water? They’re remarkably easy to take for granted, given the repetition. The two prayers are even similar to each other—note that the words are the same up until “bread” and “water”, and similar after. One prayer is given in remembrance of the body of Jesus Christ, the other in remembrance of His blood. Together, they are in remembrance of His suffering; and that, in those words, is what this hymn is about.

In remembrance of thy suff’ring,
Lord, these emblems we partake,
When thyself thou gav’st an off’ring,
Dying for the sinner’s sake.
We’ve forgiven as thou biddest
All who’ve trespassed against us.
Lord, forgive, as we’ve forgiven,
All thou seest amiss in us.

The first verse, indeed, could pass as a rough paraphrase of the sacrament prayers. In the prayers we take upon us Christ’s name, promise to always remember Him, and keep His commandments; in return, we’re promised His Spirit to be with us. In the first verse of this sacrament hymn, we remember Him, and aver that we have kept one of those commandments.

How many times have we sat through the Sacrament prayers plus a hymn that reiterates them—and still taken the Sacrament while thinking of something other than the Savior?

Purify our hearts, our Savior;
Let us go not far astray,
That we may be counted worthy
Of thy Spirit day by day.
When temptations are before us,
Give us strength to overcome.
Always guard us in our wand’rings
Till we leave our earthly home.

The second verse goes further by asking for additional help: guidance, strength, and protection. It’s a reminder that the Gospel doesn’t end with the closing prayer; we need the Spirit with us “day by day” to keep us on the strait and narrow path.

How much easier would our journey down that path be if we regularly stopped our day-to-day routines to evaluate our spiritual progress? It would give us a chance to lose our troubles in remembering the Savior, and where we always stand in His eyes. Stepping back would let us see both the trees and the forest, and renew those promises we have made with God.

When thou comest in thy glory
To this earth to rule and reign,
And with faithful ones partakest
Of the bread and wine again,
May we be among the number
Worthy to surround the board,
And partake anew the emblems
Of the suff’rings of our Lord.

The third and final verse adds new and compelling imagery of the Sacrament. There will come a time when the Savior, having come again and reigning personally on the Earth, will take the Sacrament with the faithful who abide His coming. Will you be there? Will I? Will we have lived our lives in such a way that we will be able to sit at the table at our Redeemer’s side, partaking next to Him the emblems of His suffering?

I suppose that’s up to each of us. But the Sacrament gives us that time, every week, to step back and evaluate how well we’re doing. If we pay attention to the prayers and hymns, as well as the sacred ordinance itself, we’ll be reminded of the specific covenants we’ve made; covenants where we’ve promised obedience, and in return receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost—which helps us further stay on the strait and narrow.

I’ve heard those Sacrament prayers quite a few times. But I’m going to listen a little closer next time.

Hymn #157: Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls

Thy Spirit, Lord, has stirred our souls
And by its inward shining glow
We see anew our sacred goals
And feel thy nearness here below.
No burning bush near Sinai
Could show thy presence, Lord, more nigh.

The first topic listed for this hymn is “closing,” and it’s not difficult to see why. We sing that we have felt the Spirit of the Lord, and while that’s often something we can feel at the start of a meeting, it’s generally a sentiment we express after we’ve heard inspiring words and music. The Spirit inspires our brothers and sisters to speak the words of Christ in our meetings (in accordance with their faith and preparedness, of course), and that same spirit softens our hearts to accept and ponder the truth of the things they share. A good meeting, whether it be a sacrament meeting, a Primary class, or anything else, will invite the Spirit into the hearts of its participants, allowing both teacher and student to be edified.

We often speak of the Spirit softening our hearts. The metaphor is an apt one. Our hearts represent the most core aspects of our personality. They symbolize our most cherished beliefs, as well as our emotional sense of self. We can choose whether or not we want to let anyone else (or any other ideas) in. If we choose to reject other ideas, we harden our hearts, determined to keep everything out that isn’t already in. And when our hearts are softened, we are more willing to listen to other ideas and influences, possibly even adopting them as our own. The Spirit can soften our hearts if we allow Him to do so. When we invite the Spirit into our lives, He testifies to us of Christ, causing those words to sink deep into our hearts. When we give ourselves over to the Spirit, we offer no resistance to the teachings of the Savior. Our hearts are soft.

When our hearts are softened, we can, as we sing in this hymn, “by its inward shining glow see anew our sacred goals.” Each of us has goals in our lives. We may strive for a better job, a nicer car, to complete our education. We have spiritual goals, too; we may be working toward being kinder to others or removing bad habits from our lives. As we allow the Spirit to influence our lives, we see these goals in a new light. Our priorities shift as we see our lives the way the Father sees them. Perhaps our goal of earning enough money to afford a better TV package isn’t as worthy of our time as our goal to be worthy to attend the temple, or to become a missionary. We see our goals anew, and we are filled (or re-filled) with a desire to achieve those goals that will have a lasting spiritual impact.

The last couplet of the first verse goes hand in hand with the first line of the second: “Did not our hearts within us burn?” This song recalls the story of the road to Emmaus, in which the resurrected Lord appeared to two of His disciples, and, unknown to their eyes, opened the scriptures to them. When they finally realized who He was, He vanished, leaving them to say to each other that they should have known Him for the burning in their hearts. The Holy Ghost testified to them that it was the risen Lord who spoke to them, had they only realized it. Though the Lord does not appear to us at our meetings, our hearts will often within us burn. The Holy Ghost testifies to us that this is the Lord’s church, and that His teachings and gospel are true.

The couplet “no burning bush near Sinai could show thy presence, Lord, more nigh” places us in the shoes of those disciples. It was not the presence of the Lord Himself that testified to their hearts that He was risen. He stood before them, walked with them, talked with them, and ate with them, and they never for a moment suspected who He was. To be fair, His crucifixion was fresh in their minds, and they could be forgiven for not expecting Him to be alive (in fact, they mention that Mary and others claimed that He had risen, but they themselves seem skeptical), but the fact is that the prompting of the Holy Ghost is what convinced them that it was the Savior who was in their midst. The burning bush itself could have born no stronger witness to them than did the Spirit of the Lord.

So it is in our meetings. The presence of the Lord Himself would bear no more powerful a witness of the truth of His gospel as it is taught by inspired men and women in our meetings than does the Holy Ghost, whose presence and influence we feel as we hear those inspired words and prepare ourselves to receive them. This is by design. The Holy Ghost’s mission is to testify of the Father and the Son. When we allow Him into our hearts and allow Him to soften them, that mission can be fulfilled. As we sing, “it makes our souls for service yearn, it makes the path of duty clear,” and it can do so every week, so long as we prepare ourselves to receive that Spirit.

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Hymn #184: Upon the Cross of Calvary

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With three verses that begin with “upon the cross,” it’s not surprising that this hymn is mostly about the crucifixion and Jesus’ death. And, like most sacramental hymns, it’s not surprising that we sing not only about death, but also about the Savior’s (and our) eventual triumph over death.

We sing in the second verse that His death “unlocks the passageway into eternity.” That’s not strictly true if you define “eternity” as simply the hereafter–we’re all headed to the spirit world after we die whether there was an Atonement or not–but if you choose to understand it as eternal life, and specifically one like the Father’s, then we start to understand a little more clearly. It’s worth mentioning, as we did yesterday, that His sacrifice provides us not with a free ride back to the Father’s presence, but rather opens a path for us to walk back home. It’s up to us to take the steps necessary to travel that path.

The third verse phrases the flip side of death nicely, I think. We’re tempted to always think of death as a negative thing as mortals. Death separates us from each other, and we associate it with pain, both physical and emotional. We have an instinct rooted deep within us to avoid and fear death in order to survive. It’s only natural that we wouldn’t want to deal with death any more than we have to. And yet, the phrase “but, dying, brought new birth” helps us to look a little past those connotations. Just as death is another step we take toward this corruptible putting on incorruption, so too did the Savior’s death bring the whole human race one step closer to to putting on immortality. Through resurrection’s miracle, all the sons of earth can shout, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” His death, and more specifically His sacrifice on our behalf, allows us to be reborn spiritually. We can cast off the natural man and become saints through the cleansing power of His Atonement, provided we are willing to walk the path He has laid out for us as He taught during His life.

Those teachings, incidentally, would have been for nothing had He not been willing and able to make the ultimate sacrifice He did in the garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross of Calvary. The words He spoke were lovely. I could read the Sermon on the Mount for the rest of my life and be content. And yet those words, beautiful, inspiring, and poetic as they are, only gained meaning and force after the Atonement was completed. The first verse makes this plain:

Upon the cross of Calvary
They crucified our Lord
And sealed with blood the sacrifice
That sanctified his word.

We are taught that “where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” The willingness to die for one’s belief lends credibility and force to those beliefs. For the Savior, not only that is the case, but in fact, had He not been willing to die, everything He taught would have been utterly false.  Teachings such as “I am the resurrection and the life” become meaningless. Everything He taught gained meaning and significance as He fulfilled His mission on earth on Calvary. In so doing, those teachings became holy. His sacrifice sanctified His words.

When we sing this hymn, we are reminded of the suffering of our Lord, but also of the meaning and significance His death carries. It sanctified all of His teachings, and as we follow those teachings and adopt them into our lives, walking the “passageway into eternity” we sang about in the second verse, it sanctifies us, too. It makes us pure, more like Him, and able to walk that path back to life eternal.

Image credit: “Calvary Crosses,” flickr user Waiting For The Word, CC BY 2.0

Hymn #194: There Is a Green Hill Far Away

It’s a short hymn with only eight lines, but despite its brevity and simplicity, it packs a punch. The lyrics “we may not know, we cannot tell what pains he had to bear” speak volumes, as do the lyrics that complete that thought: But we believe it was for us He hung and suffered there.

The Atonement is unfathomably deep and impossibly broad, and we can’t hope to understand it in its fullness. And that’s alright, because we aren’t asked to. We can understand how it applies to us personally. We can make use of it in our own lives, striving to repent and exercise faith in the One who has made it possible to become clean again. For me, it’s overwhelming to think of the staggering magnitude of the Atonement and the suffering the Savior endured on the cross and in the garden of Gethsemane. I feel so inadequate when I try to think of that. So I don’t think of that. Instead, I can think about how He suffered for me, and while that’s still an overwhelming thought, it’s more personal, and somehow more manageable for me.

There’s a lovely bit of wordplay in the third verse that I’ve noticed every time I’ve sung this hymn for the last ten or fifteen years. I don’t know that it appears in other languages (wordplay is notoriously difficult to translate), or even that it’s intentional, but I’ve always liked the double meaning that can come from these words:

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in.

The lyrics ostensibly refer to the fact that there was only One who was able to suffer the consequences of sin for everyone, thus allowing us to return to the presence of the Father. And yet you can just as easily read a different meaning into that word “only.” While it’s true that He only could unlock the gate, it’s also true that He only could unlock the gate. He cannot force us through, nor will He. He paid the terrible price to open the door for us, but it’s up to us to make that first step. Both readings impress themselves on my mind when I sing this hymn.

The lyrics of the fourth verse seem to drive home that same idea. Listen:

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do.

We place our trust in Him. We cannot know that our sins will be forgiven simply by hearing those words. We receive that confirmation as we act on those words, and as we do so, we feel the purifying influence of the Spirit washing us clean. The Spirit brings our knowledge of the power of the Atonement back to our remembrance, helping us to strengthen our faith and trust in the Savior. Our love for Him is strengthened, too.

There’s a double meaning in this verse, too, convincing me further that I’m not simply seeing something that isn’t there in the third verse. We are told that the Savior has loved us “dearly,” and both meanings hold true. “Dear” can refer to deep affection or regard, and that’s certainly true of the love our Savior holds for each of us on a personal level. During those moments of insight when I can feel His love without reservation, I can feel how much He cares about me in particular. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better description of that love than “dear.” But it can also mean “at a high cost,” and that’s a meaning that brings a gasp to my throat when it comes to mind as I sing. Surely no one paid a higher price for love than our Savior did in the garden of Gethsemane. When he begged the Father to “remove this cup,” we are given the slightest glimpse into the terrible agony He felt. And when we read further the phrase, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done,” we feel the love He had not only for His Father, but for each of us for whom He suffered.

He has loved dearly, no matter how you choose to define it, and we must love Him, too. And we do, as we place our trust in Him and do the things He has asked. We remember the suffering He felt on that green hill far away, but we also remember the depth of the love that led Him to that hill. And we trust in His redeeming love, and try His works to do.

Hymn #188: Thy Will, O Lord, Be Done

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In this common Sacrament hymn, we sing of the Savior deferring His will to that of the Father. First it is in the Council in Heaven, where our elder brother volunteers to come to Earth as our Savior; in a later verse it is Jesus Christ again submitting to the Father’s will as He suffers crucifixion and infinite pain. As you read through the text of this hymn, pay special attention to the parallelism—the same line ends each verse.

When in the wondrous realms above
Our Savior had been called upon
To save our world of sin by love,
He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

The King of Kings left worlds of light,
Became the meek and lowly One;
In brightest day or darkest night,
He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

No crown of thorns, no cruel cross
Could make our great Redeemer shun.
He counted his own will but naught,
And said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

We take the bread and cup this day
In mem’ry of the sinless One,
And pray for strength, that we may say,
As he, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

What makes the repetition interesting and more powerful is how the meaning of this repeated line changes in the different verses, especially in the last verse. This rhetorical device—repetition with different meaning—is called antanaclasis or antistasis, and it isn’t uncommon in music. Interestingly, it seems to show up particularly frequently in country music, with the chorus taking on new meaning following different verses (see Watching You by Rodney Atkins, All-American Girl by Carrie Underwood, or Down the Road by Kenny Chesney, among many other examples).

In this case, the Savior says “Thy will, O Lord, be done” in the first three verses, and in the last verse we aspire to say the same thing. Could be there be a greater goal than to submit our will to what the Lord would have us do? And if that’s what we all try so hard to do, why is it so difficult?

I often find that lessons at Church and elsewhere are designed to try to convince me of something, whether or not the teacher has a vested interest in me doing it. It may be a call-to-action to share the gospel with my neighbors, or the all-too-common call to do my home teaching. But in a few decades of hearing these lessons I’ve found them to generally be ineffective; e.g., if lessons about home teaching were so effective, why do we have to keep having them?

We each have a stability, an inertia, that—despite our best efforts—permits us to sit idly by even when the Lord’s will would push us to act. Honestly, I’ve found that nobody can push me out of it. It’s my own tiny false god I worship. The scriptures verify that we should act for ourselves, but that as natural men we tend to wait to be acted upon.

The only way to align our will with the Father’s, then, is to act for ourselves. Harvard business professor and management guru Clayton Christensen, in his outstanding book The Power of Everyday Missionaries, suggest the way to do this that has been the most meaningful to me:

Under license given to each of us in section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, I ‘called myself’ on a mission. I love my life as a missionary, keeping myself on the front lines. The image in my mind is that God, my general, stands at the door when I go out every morning; and, knowing what the war is like, day after day he gives me his most powerful weapon: his Spirit.

Whether in missionary work, home teaching, or something entirely different altogether, the principle holds true—we simply can’t align our will with the Lord’s until we act. It may be inconvenient, and it will likely push us out of our respective, inert comfort zones. But the motivation to act in this way can not come externally; we must call ourselves. It must come from within.

Then—and only then—can we say, as our Savior said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

Hymn #176: ‘Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love

What is “matchless love?” It is love that is unrivaled, unparalleled, and incomparable—literally, love without match. In praising God for his “matchless love,” this hymn contemplates what is so remarkable and unique about the atonement: there has never been love like the Savior’s in either its scope or its effects or its purity. The atonement is the unparalleled instance of love and self-sacrifice, and there is no love like it.

This means that throughout the hymn, when we sing that “Jesus died on Calvary” or that he “left his home above” and “came … to suffer, bleed, and die for man,” we are not praising Him for his individual actions, but the love that manifests through all of those actions. In other words, we worship the Lord not for his individual behaviors, but for the charity that motivates them.

Although this hymn, like all sacrament hymns, is about the atonement and the love it manifests, it is just as much about our response to the atonement, as well. According to this hymn, our response is “to sing:”

Then sing hosannas to his name;
Let heav’n and earth his love proclaim.

And, in remembrance of his grace,
Unite in sweetest songs of praise.

Unparalleled love calls forth an unparalleled response.

I’ve been teaching Gospel Doctrine for the past few months, and as we we’ve studied the Exodus, I’ve been impressed with the way Israel responded to their liberation: they sang a song of praise, and instituted the Passover as a way of reliving that experience every year and keeping it fresh and alive in their minds. We can think about the sacrament the same way—we sing a hymn of praise, and then watch as the Savior’s atonement is reenacted in front of us (we watch his flesh being broken); it’s something we relive each week.

And tucked away in a single line of the second verse, this hymn also shares the promise of the sacrament for us:

And thus renew our love and faith

Once again the hymn mentions “love,” but this time it’s our love that is being brought into the equation. I like to think of the Savior’s love, manifest in the atonement and reenacted in the sacrament, as a great fire. Each week we come to relight the candle of our love. We put all our hurt feelings and weariness and unrighteous desires on that altar and rekindle a bit of His love in our hearts to carry back out with us for the rest of the week.

If we use the sacrament as an opportunity to rekindle the flames of our love and faith, and bear that renewed flame and “songs of praise” throughout the week, I believe we will find our lives in tune with the “sweetest songs” possible.

Hymn #200: Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

“He is not here.”

These four words sum up one of the most profound and beautiful stories in the Bible: the story of the empty tomb.

I imagine Mary Magdalene and other women arriving at tomb just after dawn, slightly out of breath and armed with oils and spices and cloth to dress their Lord’s body. Their heartache mixes with fear to find the empty tomb they can only assume has been plundered. In John’s account of this moment, Mary Magdalene stands weeping outside the empty tomb, assuming the grave has been opened by one of the angry mob that called for the crucifixion of the innocent Jesus in the first place.

I imagine the moment Matthew records in his account when heavenly beings deliver the message to these women, those words that would their lives and the course of history: “He is not here, for he is risen.”

This hymn so perfectly catches the heart-pounding joy tinged with fear Matthew relates as they run from the sepulchre to tell the disciples the good news. When I sing these verses I see those women running in my mind’s eye, their sandals slapping up the dirt, perhaps sobbing a little in breathlessness but also tasting hope for the first time.

“Alleluia!” they cry. “Christ the Lord is ris’n today! Alleluia!”

Their Lord had suffered an ignominious death, his body cruelly broken and hastily buried. But this morning, that tomb stood empty and in that empty space was the promise Jesus had delivered when he pulled Lazarus from the grave: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

I hope to someday be reunited with my own beloved dead and say with other followers of Christ, “Where, O death, is now thy sting? Where thy victory, O grave?”

And in that day, I will open my mouth and sing out from the very marrow of my bones, Alleluia!

Hymn #189: O Thou, Before the World Began

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I’m grateful for the opportunity to write about this sacrament hymn during the Easter season, because it contains a number of important doctrines about the Savior and his atonement. I’ll begin by listing just a few:

  • “O thou, before the world began / Ordained a sacrifice for man” – The atonement was not a response to the Fall, a reflexive stop-gap measure hurriedly put in place after Adam and Eve screwed things up. Rather, it was prepared before the creation, part of the plan from the beginning. Adam and Eve are not so terrible as they have sometimes been portrayed, and we follow a God who is in complete control.
  • “An offering in the sinner’s stead” – Christ suffers in our place, experiencing whatever our punishment would have been. He took all our stripes so we can experience all his healing (cf. Isa 53:5).
  • “Our everlasting Priest art thou” – The atonement makes Christ our “priest”—an intermediary figure between us and the Father, someone to whom we can turn for guidance and absolution, and who intercedes for us before God.
  • “Thy off’ring still continues new” – The atonement is still in effect for us; it has no expiration date. And it remains “new”—as fresh and present and available as it was when it was first offered. No sin we commit ever comes too late for the atonement to redeem us from it.

But the most poignant image, for me, and one particularly relevant to this Easter season, comes in the very last line:

And view thee bleeding on the tree:
My Lord, my God, who dies for me.

Although the New Testament is emphatic about the historical reality of Jesus dying on a cross, a handful of verses depict him hanging from a tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24)—an image that I find deeply symbolic.

First, it’s easy to see a visual connection: a cross naturally looks like a tree, with a trunk and two outstretched branches. And trees, in themselves, are powerful symbols of life and resurrection. Every winter a tree “dies,” losing its leaves and growing brown and brittle; but each spring, it miraculously “resurrects,” growing new leaves, bearing life-sustaining fruit, and providing life for birds and insects. The Christian parallel is obvious. Christ came back to life, and we can rest assured that no matter how hopeless and barren a situation may appear, the Savior is able to breathe life and redemption back into it.

The atonement itself was also connected with trees: Jesus began the atonement in a grove of olive trees at the garden of Gethsemane. Might we think of olive trees as symbolic of the Tree of Life? Joseph Smith called an olive tree “the tree of paradise” (D&C 88 section heading), and if the parallel is justified, there’s a beautiful poetry to Christ performing the atonement in association with a tree symbolic of eternal life.

Just as Adam and Eve fell because of a tree, the Savior redeemed us by “bleeding on the tree.” That the Savior of the world, who was crucified precisely to bring us life eternal, should suffer the atonement in an olive grove, among trees that represent eternal life, is a beautiful reminder that there is far more to the atonement than simple expiation of sin or avoiding some kind of cosmic punishment. What Jesus gives us is life in abundance—“good measure, pressed down, and shaken together” (Luke 6:38). His grace is an enlivening power that not only overcomes literal death, but also takes root in our lives to become “a tree springing up unto everlasting life” (Alma 32:41).

Hallelujah! And Happy Easter.

Hymn #199: He Is Risen!

Today is Good Friday, acknowledged (if not necessarily “celebrated”) by Christians all over the world as the day Jesus was crucified. The events of that day have come to represent Christianity itself, as the cross and crucifix are now universally recognized symbols used by nearly every Christian faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not alone in eschewing the use of these symbols, but why don’t we use them? Given that so many believe we are not Christians, why don’t we prevent that misunderstanding by adopting the cross into our religious iconography? This beautiful Easter hymn gives a pretty compelling reason.

He is risen! He is risen!
Tell it out with joyful voice.
He has burst his three days’ prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered; man is free.
Christ has won the victory.

He didn’t “win the victory” by suffering in the garden or dying on the cross, although both of those things were essential parts of his Atonement. Jesus was required to pay the price for every sin, sickness, and sorrow of mankind. The events that took place in Gethsemane and Golgotha are incomprehensible to me and invaluable to each of us.

But the final victory was won when he rose from the grave, shattering death’s hold on humanity, erasing the effects of the Fall, and bringing hope to  everyone because death is no longer the end. His resurrection was the final necessary step to ensuring our salvation. Without it, what good would any of the rest of the Atonement be?

President Gordon B. Hinckley explains the significance of the resurrection beautifully in his 2005 Ensign article, “The Symbol of our Faith“:

“On Calvary He was the dying Jesus. From the tomb He emerged the Living Christ. The cross had been the bitter fruit of Judas’s betrayal, the summary of Peter’s denial. The empty tomb now became the testimony of His divinity, the assurance of eternal life, the answer to Job’s unanswered question: ‘If a man die, shall he live again?’ (Job 14:14).

“Having died, He might have been forgotten, or, at best, remembered as one of many great teachers whose lives are epitomized in a few lines in the books of history.

“Now, having been resurrected, He became the Master of life. Now, with Isaiah, His disciples could sing with certain faith, ‘His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace’ (Isa. 9:6).”

We don’t wear the cross because we celebrate the risen Lord. Rather than focusing our worship on his agony, we “come with high and holy hymning” to “chant our Lord’s triumphant lay.”

“He is not here: … he is risen, as he said” (Matt. 28:6). Do those words not make you want to shout for joy? He has won! He has redeemed us!

He is risen!

Hymn #198: That Easter Morn

empty-tomb

From the General Conference pulpit in April 1992, Elder Marion D. Hanks, then of the Presidency of the Seventy, shared this sweet story:

As Easter time approaches, let me share with you the tender story of an eleven-year-old boy named Philip, a Down’s syndrome child who was in a Sunday School class with eight other children.

Easter Sunday the teacher brought an empty plastic egg for each child. They were instructed to go out of the church building onto the grounds and put into the egg something that would remind them of the meaning of Easter.

All returned joyfully. As each egg was opened there were exclamations of delight at a butterfly, a twig, a flower, a blade of grass. Then the last egg was opened. It was Philip’s, and it was empty!

Some of the children made fun of Philip. “But, teacher,” he said, “teacher, the tomb was empty.”

A newspaper article announcing Philip’s death a few months later noted that at the conclusion of the funeral eight children marched forward and put a large empty egg on the small casket. On it was a banner that said, “The tomb was empty.”

Have there ever been more important words spoken? When Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled away from the door of the Garden Tomb, she was the first to know that the greatest miracle in history—the greatest miracle possible—had been performed. Those that had followed Jesus, those that took His divine Sonship on faith, had their devotion validated because of one thing: the tomb was empty.

Decades before telling that story about the boy with Down syndrome, Elder Hanks composed the hymn “That Easter Morn,” which has been in our hymnbook since its revision in 1985. The first two verses tell what the Savior did, when He rose and left the tomb empty:

That Easter morn, a grave that burst
Proclaimed to man that “Last and First”
Had ris’n again
And conquered pain.

This morn renews for us that day
When Jesus cast the bonds away,
Took living breath
And conquered death.

It seems remarkable to describe the Savior’s resurrection as the grave “bursting.” It’s as though the tomb could not possibly hold the resurrected Jesus Christ, and indeed it couldn’t—He had risen again, cast the bonds away, and taken living breath. This simple tomb, made of stone created by the Savior Himself at the foundation of the world, was the lone observer of Christ taking up His physical body again and overcoming death for every man, woman, and child who would ever live.

This hymn, simultaneously somber and triumphant, is an Easter celebration; in living again, He conquered pain, and He conquered death. He lives, and because He lives we too shall live again. None of us were there that morning with Mary Magdalene, but we know these things are true by faith—all possible because the tomb was empty. But what do we do with this knowledge?

Thus we in gratitude recall
And give our love and pledge our all,
Shed grateful tear
And conquer fear.

Knowing that Christ overcame death should instill us with gratitude and empower us to commit our lives to the Lord’s service, but it’s perhaps more important that the Atonement allows us to conquer fear. Christ conquered pain and death, but conquering fear is up to us—we can replace fear with faith, knowing that death with ultimately have no sting, that we have a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for each of us, that the Lord has called a prophet in our day, and that our mortal sojourn is but a way station on our journey to return to live with Him again. But we each have to overcome our fear with that knowledge, and no one can do it for us.

As we celebrate Easter this week, I hope we can take some time to recognize not only why we have the holiday, but what it really means to us individually. Christ lives—what will we do differently because of it? What fears do we still cling to, that we can conquer in the name of the Savior and His resurrection? He burst the grave, and made our Heavenly Father’s plan viable. He lives again, each of us will live again, and we can live eternally with our families in the presence of God.

Because the tomb was empty.

Hymn #179: Again, Our Dear Redeeming Lord

“Again, our dear redeeming Lord.”

Again.

From its very first word, this hymn highlights the repetitive nature of the sacrament. Here we are. Again. The priests offer the same prayer, the bishop gives the same nod, the same deacons exchange the same confused glances, your toddler takes the same fistful of bread. You repeat your tired attempt to focus on Jesus and your distracted observation of fellow congregants. You eat the same bread, you drink the same water, seated next to the same people. You’ve done this a million times, and you’ll do it a million more.

Why? What is so valuable about repetition, and what is the benefit of doing something “again?” On the one hand, by opening with the word “again,” this becomes a hymn of familiarity. The repetition grants the sacrament a sense of intimacy. Because we know these symbols inside and out, because we know what’s coming, the sacrament is “comfortable”—able, quite literally, to give comfort. Repetition also reminds us what is important by making sure it takes up a consistent and recurrent place in our lives; it orients and re-orients us toward things of value.

But repetition is more than a feature of just the sacrament; it’s a feature of life itself. Every day you: shower, eat breakfast, do the dishes, fix your hair, button your shirt, make your bed, yawn, stretch, and walk the dog. The gospel recognizes this. Repetition is, in some ways, the heart of this religion. You read your scriptures this morning? Good. Do it again tomorrow. You prayed with your family over lunch? Good. Do it again over dinner. You’ve been to the temple already? Good. Do it again. You completed your visiting teaching? Donated a generous fast? Helped a ward member load a moving van? Good. Do it again and again and again. To live is to repeat; thus, what we choose to repeat determines what we choose to live.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

So here we are, again, at the sacrament table. If we attend in repeated patience, looking for comfort rather than entertainment, embracing the banality as a grace instead of resenting its tedium, we shouldn’t be surprised to find “the Spirit kindle[d] like a flame” or “our hearts … renewed in  faith and covenant.” There is a purification that comes only through repetition, and in time the repetition itself can become a kind of lived prayer: “Again, our dear redeeming Lord.” Again.

Enchanted Path

Hymn #165: Abide with me, ‘Tis Eventide

Enchanted Path

This hymn, like its cousin “Abide with Me!”, recalls the story of the road to Emmaus. Two men are walking toward Emmaus, when they are joined by a stranger, who is, unbeknownst to them, the Savior. They walk with Him and describe the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. They also talk of His empty tomb, but they don’t seem to be sure that He was actually resurrected. The Savior gently rebukes them, laying out the scriptures for them and showing them the prophecies about events that were happening before their very eyes.

They arrive at Emmaus at dusk. The Savior makes as if to continue on His journey, but the two men, clearly intrigued by what He had to say, invite Him to stay with them, saying, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” He stays with them, and breaks and blesses bread, which jolts their memory; they’ve seen this before. And at that moment, He vanishes from their sight, leaving only the Spirit, burning within them, to testify of who He was.

In this hymn, we too invite the Savior to stay with us, but our experience is a little different. The two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t know who He was, although they felt the Spirit as He spoke. Here, we know who He is. We call Him by name. We beg Him to stay with us and bring light into our home. Our experience, then, is more like that of the Nephites as He was about to leave them. Having spent a day with them, allowing thousands to come and feel the wounds in his hands and feet and delivering sermon after sermon, He announces that He must return to the Father. The Nephites react by, well, see for yourself:

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them. (3 Nephi 17:5)

They knew who He was. The Spirit confirmed it to them, certainly, but they could see Him with their own eyes, and having done so, they wanted Him to stay. And so He did, healing and blessing them before at last returning to the Father.

We may not see Him with our own eyes, but we know Him. The Spirit testifies it to us, and our hearts too are filled with longing for Him to stay with us a little longer as we sing:

Within my heart a welcome guest,
Within my home abide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

We spend our lives preparing ourselves to meet Him. We obey His law and keep His commandments. We try to act and do as He did so that we can reach our goal of becoming more like Him. And once we meet Him, it’s no surprise that we wouldn’t want the encounter to end so quickly. “Lone will be the night,” we sing, “if [we] cannot commune with thee nor find in thee [our] light.”

I don’t know if you’ve felt that degree of longing for the companionship of the Savior. I know it’s a rare feeling for me. But as I sing this hymn, with its gentle ups and downs, soothing melody, and the soaring Ds and Es on the word “Savior,” I can’t help but feel that pull. I want to be with Him, to feel His embrace, and to stay and talk with Him as the shadows of the evening fall.

It fades as the song ends and the Spirit no longer testifies to me as strongly, but then, I think that’s why we sing these hymns so many times. Just as we wouldn’t want our visit from the Savior to end after just an hour on the road, why would we want the confirmation of the Spirit to end after just three verses?

Image credit: “Enchanted Path,” deviantART user thiselectricheart.

Hymn #191: Behold the Great Redeemer Die

©2008, Mike Vondran, via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/5RvC6E). CC BY 2.0

There is nothing more central to our religion than the Atonement of Jesus Christ. His suffering in Gethsemane, his death at Golgatha, and his resurrection in the Garden are the very core of the entire message of Christianity. Without these things, there is no salvation to proclaim, no redemption to offer. Without these things, Christianity has little to give.

It is fitting, then, that as we prepare to make sacramental covenants each week, we remember these central events. After all, the covenants we make when we partake of the sacrament can only have meaning in the context of Christ’s Atonement.

Behold the Great Redeemer Die reviews the events around the death and resurrection of Christ. However, the doctrine of the Atonement is not merely that he died and was resurrected. Rather, it is that through his sacrifice, we can receive forgiveness, strength, and eventually exaltation. If we desire to be spiritually nourished as we sing this hymn, we must do more than merely sing the words—we must ponder how these events apply to our own lives.

Behold the great Redeemer die,
A broken law to satisfy.
He dies a sacrifice for sin,
That man may live and glory win.

What broken law did Christ satisfy? Divine law decrees that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. We all sin, and thus we have all broken the law. By that law, we cannot dwell with God.

Sometimes we get caught up in judging each other, trying to determine who has broken divine law most severely. This misses the point—we have all broken the law, and thus are all in equal need of redemption. Whether you have sinned once or a thousand times, you are still in violation of divine law. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice for sin that man be redeemed. It is only through him that glory may win.

His high commission to fulfill,
He magnified his Father’s will.

Christ was submissive to his Father’s will in all things. His atonement for our sins was not an easy thing; if possible, he would have preferred another way. Yet despite the physical and spiritual pain, he remained true to his Father. How thankful we should be for his faithfulness. How humbled we should be by his sacrifice.

I’ve noticed we have an unfortunate habit in church meetings: we tend to only sing those verses that are written within the music notation. Additional verses listed below the music are only rarely used. We should remember that most hymns were not written with the current print layout in mind. (Until 1889, all official LDS hymnals contained only words, with no printed music.) The text of the hymns is meant to be read as a whole; just as you would not skip over the last third of a novel, we should not discard the last verses of our hymns.

The sixth and final verse is one such verse that we often pass over, and yet it provides meaning to the whole hymn. After recounting the terrible scene of His death, we return to our own preparation for the Sacrament and sing this:

He lives–he lives. We humbly now
Around these sacred symbols bow
And seek, as Saints of latter days,
To do his will and live his praise.

This hymn is written to be a sacrament hymn. It seeks to prepare us to make sacred covenants—covenants to take his name upon us, to always remember him, and to keep his commandments. We remember Christ’s death not just to acknowledge the gravity of the Atonement, but also to bring to mind the symbolism present in the sacramental symbols, the bread and water. The water reminds us of blood shed in our behalf. The bread reminds us of his broken body, risen again. In coming weeks, don’t just “take the sacrament.” Rather, use these symbols to make a covenant with our Father, a covenant that can bring rich blessings to your life if regarded and kept properly.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a question, one that has intrigued me as I’ve written. The very last words of this hymn suggest that as saints we should seek to “live his praise.” What does that mean to you? How might you live his praise? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image Credit: “Christ the Redeemer”, Mike Vondran, ©2008 via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/5RvC6E). CC BY 2.0

night

Hymn #159: Now the Day Is Over

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I’ve never heard this hymn sung in church before. The topics indicate that it’s a hymn of closing, but the topic “evening” seems a better fit to me. It’s less a hymn to sing at the close of a meeting and more one to sing before heading to bed. Since I’m rarely at church just before bed, I’ve never really been in a situation where I’d expect to hear it at church.

At just four lines and sixteen bars (and a scant 44 syllables), this is one of the shortest hymns in the book. In fact, it’s short enough that I’m going to quote it to you in full below. Listen:

Now the day is over;
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With thy tend’rest blessing
May our eyelids close.

That’s it. It’s getting dark, we’re getting tired, and we’d like His blessing as we go to sleep. We ask Him to watch over us as we sleep. We’re the ones singing to Him, but with just a bit of tweaking, it wouldn’t be hard to see this as a lullaby He sings softly to us as we drift off.

The image of a protective Savior keeping watch over us is a tender one. I have a little girl we’re training to go to sleep by herself, and while she’s getting better at it, she’s still resistant. One of us will set her down in her crib, and she’ll stay calm as long as she can see us. But the moment we step away and turn off the light, she starts to cry. She wants someone to be there with her. She wants to know that someone is there to protect her.

We’re much the same. We go through our adult lives having to take responsibility for ourselves, and in time, for others, but we all have moments where we want someone to protect us, and more often than not, those moments come when it’s dark. I think it’s no accident that we are counseled to pray before we go to bed for the night. It not only serves as a benediction on the day, but also as a safeguard against the time when our fears and anxieties often come out most powerfully.

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma counseled as much to his son Helaman:

Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

We are to pray always, but praying just before bed is mentioned explicitly as an ideal time to pray. (It’s also mentioned in Proverbs.) As we sleep, we entrust ourselves to His gentle care.

The catch, though, and what makes me different from the Lord (among many other things), is that while I love my daughter, I also don’t want to have to maintain unbroken eye contact with her all night, every night. I’d like to get some rest, too. My goal is to get her to a point where she feels secure enough that she can go to sleep without seeing someone standing over her. He, however, has no difficulty standing watch for the entire night, and for all of the nights. His love is all-encompassing. He can be, and is, there for us every time a bad dream wakes us in a cold sweat. He’s there for us when worries and doubt keep our rest fitful and fleeting. He’s there to pull the blanket back over us so that we can sleep soundly. And when we pray at night, we invite Him to keep that watch and trust ourselves to His care. Our eyelids close, knowing that we will surely enjoy His “tend’rest blessing.”

 

Image credit: “Starry Night,” Flickr user KΛ13, 2005, via Flickr. CC-NY-NC-ND 2.0

Hymn #168: As the Shadows Fall

As the Shadows Fall is one of the “evening hymns”—a hymn whose lyrics are set at the close of the day, and which fulfills the admonition in Alma 37:37:

“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”

I want to focus on the phenomenon of singing a hymn in the evening, and what it might mean to “lie down unto the Lord” like Alma counsels.

In verse 1 we address the Savior and ask:

As the shadows fall, O Savior
Turn our thoughts and minds to thee.
Help us, Lord, that we may strive for
Peace, and find our rest in thee.

First, it’s interesting that we sing this hymn “as the shadows fall,” not after they’ve fallen. Hymns are frequently sung at times of transition as a way of focusing our minds and hearts. We open sacrament meeting with a hymn to transition from chatting with our friends to focusing on the meeting. We precede the sacrament with a hymn as we move from opening remarks to the central ordinance. We close the meeting with a hymn to signal the move from passive listening to the more active work of chasing toddlers around nursery. This hymn fulfills a similar function—it signals the transition from day to night.

Second, we pray that the Savior will “turn our thoughts and minds” to him. Evening is not a time when I naturally focus on the Lord. Although certain commandments help me remember God throughout the day (studying scriptures in the morning, praying over meals, etc.), by nighttime I’ve already completed those and a million other little tasks besides; the Lord has slipped my mind. What’s more, I usually treat evening as my time—the kids are finally in bed, the dishes are (hopefully!) done, and now I can talk to my spouse, read a book, or watch TV. This hymn counsels us to take that under-examined time of our day and consciously consecrate it to the Lord. Evening is a perfect time to settle down, refocus, and reconnect with the “peace” and “rest” the Lord offers.

In verse 2 we address the Father with a request to protect our families:

Father, please watch o’er our loved ones
As the evening round them flows.
Lord, accept our supplications;
Be with us in our repose.

Sleep is a time of uncertainty. It’s dark, you can’t see, and you’re unconscious for eight straight hours; who knows what might happen in that time? In sleep, we don’t know what’s going on around us. Sleeping is an act of trust and surrender, in particular, trust that the Lord will take care of things in our absence, including the well-being of our family.

It’s almost as if sleep is a kind of mini-Sabbath for our day. Like the Sabbath, sleep forces us to stop our frenzied work pace and let go of our concerns; when we do so, we are reminded that the Lord is in charge, and that despite our self-important opinions to the contrary, our labor is not so crucial. In the end, it is God’s grace that upholds creation and maintains our lives.

I love this hymn for its gentle reminder that God ought to be found in every part of our day, even its very last moments, and that when I surrender my daily concerns into his care he exchanges them for a tender breath of grace.

Hymn #193: I Stand All Amazed

i-stand-all-amazed

There are hymns of praise. There are hymns of prayer. There are hymns of mourning, hymns of worship, and hymns of rejoicing.

“I Stand All Amazed” is a hymn of wonder.

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.

I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.

I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.

The first-person verbs tell the story of each of us standing before our Savior, stripped bare of pretense and overwhelmed by the gravity of the moment. In the first verse we stand, confused and trembling. In the second verse, we marvel at the condescension of God. In the third verse, we think—ponder, perhaps—on the mercy and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

While we stand agape at what He has done for us, what is the Lord doing? He is reaching out to us. In the first verse, He is offering his love, and proffering his grace. Beyond just rhyming with “offer”, “proffer” has a similar meaning; the Oxford Dictionaries define it, with vivid imagery, as “to hold out (something) to someone for acceptance.” He holds out His love and His grace, and simply waits for us to take hold and accept them.

That love does so much for us. The last line of the second verse is a sermon unto itself, describing the Savior’s love as “sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.” We find that His love alone is enough to:

Speaking to mission presidents in 1997, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about Christ’s love as Charity, with a capital C: “As much as we try, we fall short. But one time, by one Person, the pure love of Christ was demonstrated. Real charity was given to this world. Christ loved us perfectly and it lasts forever. That’s why we can say that real charity never faileth. He never fails us.” It’s that unfailing love that causes us to stand in amazement, wondering at His greatness.

After spending two and a half verses contemplating the magnitude of this love, we gain resolve at the end of the third verse. First, we will praise and adore at the mercy seat. “Mercy seat” here is the English translation of the Greek hilasterion, and the term appears in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the mercy seat was a feature of the Ark of the Covenant, on which the blood of animals was sprinkled—animals sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. In the New Testament, it is translated as “propitiation”—referencing Christ’s atonement, where He Himself stood as the sacrifice to atone for our sins. When we sing that we will praise and adore at the mercy seat, we singly deeply and symbolically of accepting the atonement of Jesus Christ, which He holds out to us with extended arms.

When we have done this, we will qualify to kneel at the feet of Jesus Christ, before His glorified throne—still amazed, but no longer standing.

It’s wonderful. It really is.

Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

Hymn #164: Great God, to Thee My Evening Song

Candles

I’m not sure I’ve ever actually heard this hymn. The lyrics suggest that it would be most appropriately sung at the end of day, as one is preparing for sleep. Since we rarely have church meetings right before bed, it comes as no surprise that it’s not in the devotional Top 40. If you, like me, are not familiar with this song, you can hear it in the LDS Music Library.

When I find an unfamiliar hymn like this, I like to read it through a couple times and look for the phrases that draw me in. I find that often, there’s something that resonates (or should resonate) with my own life. As I wrote this article, I found myself asking lots of questions. I hope you’ll take the time to consider some of them. Let’s examine a few phrases.

Oh, let thy mercy tune my tongue
And fill my heart with lively praise.

Usually we speak of “tuning” a musical instrument, yet here it is applied more broadly. I don’t believe that the author was pleading that God would help us sing in tune with the organ, much though she might appreciate it. Rather, the text imagines our every word as music, a hymn unto God. This extends beyond the duration of this hymn; in every word and deed, we strive to act as Christ would do. If God were to “tune your tongue,” how would your speech change? Would you be more kind and patient? Would you be quicker to express gratitude? How could your day-to-day speech be brought more in tune with God?

[...] And ev’ry onward rolling hour
Are monuments of wondrous grace
And witness to thy love and pow’r.

Is “every onward rolling hour” of your day a testament to God’s grace? Does your life constantly witness of God’s love and power? I’m reminded of Alma 37:36, where Alma counsels his son:

Let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord

We’ve probably all known a child (or an adult) with an obsession. I have a two-year-old daughter who loves hats. Everything she sees is evaluated based on its potential to be a hat. Crocheted hats are wonderful. Baby blankets work just fine. Even dirty dishrags work pretty well as a hat, it turns out. Pants can be hats. Shirts can be hats. If it’s made of cloth and is not too heavy, it can probably be a hat.

In the same way, our thoughts can be centered around the Lord. We can evaluate everything we do against the Light of Christ. We can consider how our words and our actions reflect the covenants we have made. This need not be a paralyzing over-evaluation, but simply a constant acknowledgement of our eternal purpose. As we strive to center our thoughts around Him, we will find that it becomes easier with time—eventually, such thoughts can become habit.

With hope in thee mine eyelids close;
[...] And wake with praises to thy name.

We’ve been counseled to begin and end each day with prayer. If “all our thoughts” are to be directed unto the Lord, there’s no point in waiting until we roll out of bed for our morning prayer to start. What do you think about when you wake up? What is the “natural state” of your thoughts, the place where they go when you don’t have anything else to think about? I hope that someday, my thoughts will naturally turn to Him of their own accord. Our thoughts can be trained; that which we think about most will continue to fill our thoughts, but we can choose to redirect them and to build habits of thought.

This hymn reminds us that when our priorities are in order, our thoughts will naturally turn to God. Have we not covenanted to “stand as witnesses of God, at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in?” What better way to fulfill that promise than to make our every thought centered around Him?

Image Credit: magnuscanis, Candles, 2003 via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hymn #195: How Great the Wisdom and the Love

The first verse of this hymn illustrates the forethought that went into Heavenly Father’s plan. “How great the wisdom and the love that filled the courts on high.” Wise and loving, God the Father needed for us to have a way to repent and return to him, so he sent Jesus Christ to earth “to suffer, bleed and die.” This is the Atonement, the penance that Christ would pay on our behalf.

Notice in verse 2, it talks about Jesus Christ giving himself as a sacrifice for guilt, not just a sacrifice for sin. This I think is where another facet of the Atonement comes into play: the rest from mental anguish. We have all felt the relentless prick of remorse and shame, the crushing load of sorrow. The Lord Jesus felt these emotions for us, to have a chance to understand the weight of sin, but also the sting of disappointment. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Surely he hath bourne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).  He carried them for us that night in Gethsemane.

A few weeks ago a sister in Relief Society challenged us to “apply the Atonement in our lives.” I nodded, then stopped myself. As a lifelong member of the LDS church I have heard that phrase hundreds of times and had never stopped to understand it. Didn’t Christ suffer in Gethsemane for our sins so we would have a chance to repent when we sinned? That was all the Atonement was about, right?

So I swallowed my pride and asked what it meant to apply the Atonement in my life, outside the context of repentance.

Well, the room erupted with women sharing stories of times they had been sick or injured or discouraged or ashamed or angry or totally alone. In these moments they cried out to the Lord for an extra measure of His grace to sustain them when their wells had run dry, and He had delivered.

How great, how glorious, how complete
Redemption’s grand design,
Where justice, love, and mercy meet
In harmony divine!

In these last few weeks, I have thought a lot about this aspect of the Atonement, the salvation not just of the spirit but also the body. My husband and I are puffy-eyed with exhaustion and we have eaten fish sticks for dinner three times in the last week. The children are full of light and mischief and it is all I can do to not crawl into bed after they conk out at 7 p.m.

But because of the Atonement we can ask the Lord God, in all his love and wisdom, for a portion of his power and mercy and He will deliver. Sometimes it’s an uninterrupted nights’ sleep. Other times it’s a favor from a friend or a kind word from a stranger. These gifts of grace come when our wells are empty. He delivers. He saves. Hosanna.

 

Hymn #182: We’ll Sing All Hail to Jesus’ Name

This stately sacrament hymn has been a favorite of mine for years. It starts off with this exclamation of praise to Jesus Christ:

We’ll sing all hail to Jesus’ name,
And praise and honor give
To him who bled on Calvary’s hill
And died that we might live.

In 2 Nephi 9: 10-12, Jacob is explaining almost jubilantly the depth of God’s goodness in delivering His children, by preparing “a way for our escape from the grasp of…that monster, death and hell…” What God has offered us is an escape from spiritual death, a chance to repent from sin and shake off our past selves. As Jacob says in verse 12, “Hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to another, and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.”

The concept of being able to shake off death, not just spiritual death but death death, is one of the most beautiful doctrines of our gospel. Our family was divided by death when I was 12 years old and my dad succumbed to a stroke with almost no warning. I clung to this belief that we would put Dad in a grave, we’d have to wait for a few years, (maybe a lot of years) but then Jesus would come back to the Earth and  because He was resurrected, he would help resurrect all our beloved dead.

The second verse of this hymn, to me, paints a portrait of Christ, the Risen Lord, calling the dead and soul-sick to Him with a song that is too beautiful to be resisted.

He passed the portals of the grave;
Salvation was his song;
He called upon the sin-bound soul
To join the heav’nly throng.

That verse makes me think of the end of the book Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, where one of the main characters passes into what he calls “the next country,” the plains that await us after death:

“The pulse of the country worked through my body until I recognized it as music. As language. And the language ran everywhere inside me, like blood…Like a rhyme learned in antiquity a verse blazed to mind: O be quick, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! And sure enough my soul leapt dancing inside my chest and my feet sprang up and sped me forward, and the sense came to me of undergoing creation…And the pulse of the country came around me, as of voices lifted at great distance, and moved through me as I ran until the words became clear, and I sang with them…” (Enger, p. 302)

I first read those words in 2007, standing up in a crowded subway car in New York. I occasionally had to let go of the pole so I could wipe fresh tears off my face. Mr. Enger’s description of paradise was one that spoke to me because of this concept of a song of salvation, one so joyful and blood-stirring we cannot help but run to Him, singing it ourselves.
This triumphant Lord in verse 3 of the hymn is no longer pleading, but now He is commanding, bruising the serpent’s head (another beautiful bit of doctrine, this concept of eternal emnity between Satan and us), throwing open the prisons and commanding us to come out and join Him.
And in verse 4, our instructions: Keep His commandments. Stay faithful. Remember Him, and when that day comes, He assuredly will not forget us.

Hymn #158: Before Thee Lord, I Bow My Head

Joseph H. and Florence Dean in Samoa

Photo of Joseph H. Dean and his second wife Florence Ridges Dean, with baby Wilford and toddler Jasper Dean. Photo taken in Samoa in 1890, shared courtesy of the Polynesian Cultural Center, Laie, Oahu, HI. 

The author of this hymn, Joseph H. Dean, was a British immigrant who sailed across the Atlantic with his parents, Joseph and Cathrine Dean, in 1860 when he was just five years old. They trekked across the United States to join the Saints in the West, a journey that took them three months by ox and wagon. Cathrine went into labor before entering the Salt Lake Valley and delivered a baby girl who would die twelve days later. Her name was Cathrine Deseret, and they carried her body into Salt Lake City to be buried there.

Besides working as a stonecutter and later a custodian for the Salt Lake temple, young Joseph went on to serve three different missions in the Pacific Islands. On his third mission (1916-1919), with the help of his son Harry and Elder Kipeni Su’apa’ia, he translated and compiled “0 Pese A Siona” (Songs of Zion) in Samoan. He later translated a book of LDS hymns into Hawaiian. Wrote Dean, “I consider these two hymn books as one of the main achievements of my life.”

This background, I think, is significant. Joseph Dean and his parents came to Zion in the teeth of adversity. They suffered heart-wrenching loss and hardship, yet spent the rest of their lives in service in the LDS church. The way I see it, this hymn is Brother Joseph H. Dean’s pleading with the Lord for the strength to sacrifice.

How sweet thy word I’ve heard this day!
Be thou my guide, O Lord, I pray.
May I in patience do my part.
Seal thou the word upon my heart.
Do thou, O Lord, anoint mine eyes
That I may see and win the prize.
My heart is full; mine eyes are wet.
Oh, help me, Lord, lest I forget.

One of the corresponding texts for this hymn is in the 97th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and speaks to the Lord’s qualifications of what makes an acceptable sacrifice–not blood sacrifice, but a broken heart:

8 Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me. 

9 For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit.

This promise in verse 9 is incredible to me. If we sacrifice, the Lord accepts it and our sacrifice becomes almost a living thing, bearing precious fruit. As a mother myself, I weep to think of little Cathrine Deseret, only her little shell entering the valley of Zion. Her story as well as her mother’s are one of hundreds like it in the Mormon Exodus. And yet, the Lord promises that even a sacrifice such as that will be expunged of its pain and made beautiful.

The third verse is my favorite. In it I feel like I can taste some of Brother Dean’s sorrow threaded through the message of hope. Sometimes we feel chained to Earth instead of within spitting distance of Heaven. Sometimes we feel like the Spirit is far from us. Sometimes this is because we are linked to other mortals in this journey to eternity, and they make mistakes. Maybe sometimes we are the ones stumbling and bringing down the chain gang, so to speak.

Look up, my soul; be not cast down
Keep not thine eyes upon the ground.
Break off the shackles of the earth.
Receive, my soul, the spirit’s birth.
And now as I go forth again
To mingle with my fellowmen,
Stay thou nearby, my steps to guide,
That I may in thy love abide.

I would add to Brother Dean’s supplication a little prayer of my own:

Lord, help us lift our eyes to Thee.
And if we be not able to lift our eyes, lift our chins a little,
So we can glimpse the sky for a minute and forget our own troubles
And more easily consider eternity
And the point of it all.
Amen.

Hymn #173/174: While of These Emblems We Partake

This is one of two hymns (along with “Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love” in the hymnbook with two different tunes. Samuel McBurney wrote “Saul” (hymn #173) and Alexander Schreiner wrote “Aeolian” (hymn #174), but in either case, the lyrics are the same.

So why include two versions of the same song? When was the last time you even sang the other one in church? And for that matter, which one is the other one? Personally, I most closely associate “Aeolian” with this hymn; when I saw that this was next on the schedule for me, that was the tune I hummed while I thought about the lyrics. I don’t have any evidence to back it up, but I think “Aeolian” is the tune I hear with this hymn most often in church, too. And if I had to venture a guess, I’d say that’s because of the two, “Aeolian” is the more somber and reserved. (“Aeolian” is to be sung “fervently,” while “Saul” is to be sung “reverently,” for what it’s worth.)

The sacramental hymns tend to be serious and almost dark. Many incorporate minor elements to give us a sense of the Savior’s suffering. Each of these tunes uses those elements, and they’re not hard to pick out–just look for accidentals. “Saul” has them in the second phrase (“for us on Calvary’s cross he bled” in the second verse), while “Aeolian” has them in the third (“and thus dispelled the awful gloom” in that same verse). The choice of where to place those accidentals is, well, no accident; the following phrase relieves us of the tension caused by those accidentals by returning us to a major key.

So when you hear that transition from a temporary minor key back into a major, you know that the composer is trying to give you a sense of relief, and that the lyrics those transitions coincide with are also supposed to give you relief, hope, inspiration, you name it. And so it’s interesting that while “Aeolian” (which, again, is the one I feel we sing most often in church) resolves on the final phrase of each verse, “Saul” provides resolution for both the third and fourth phrases. This might be picking at nits somewhat, but I feel there’s a difference between taking hope from the phrase “our hearts and hands are clean and pure” and the phrase “let us remember and be sure/our hearts and hands are clean and pure.” A subtle difference, to be sure, but a difference nonetheless.

If you want to take a larger view of the hymn, it’s worth considering the third verse to see whether it provides tension or release, just as the third phrase in each verse does. The “Aeolian” model would place tension on the third verse, which reads:

The law was broken; Jesus died
That justice might be satisfied,
That man might not remain a slave
Of death, of hell, or of the grave.

Part of our psalmodic culture has us sing about death in a hushed, mourning way. There’s a subconscious fear of death reflected in our music. Think about the last time you sang or heard “Come, Come Ye Saints.” How was the phrase “and should we die before our journey’s through” handled? It’s common for arrangements of the hymn to dip to a minor key on that phrase to reflect sadness and struggle, even though, paradoxically, the following phrase is, “Happy day! All is well!” Death is not to be feared. Death, as Paul tells us, has no sting, and the grave no victory. It is the last enemy that shall be destroyed, yes, but it shall be destroyed. The Savior has won the victory.

The “Saul” model would have this be the release. Yes, Jesus died, but He did so that justice might be satisfied. We are no longer slaves to death thanks to His sacrifice. It’s not His death we sing about, but His sacrifice and the freedom that comes from it. We sing about his victory and conquest of death, even if we aren’t as exultant as we are during, say, hymns about Zion.

And if you don’t believe me, well, just listen to this final verse, which provides release for us in both “Saul” and “Aeolian,” and try to tell me you don’t hear anything about victory:

But rise triumphant from the tomb,
And in eternal splendor bloom,
Freed from the pow’r of death and pain,
With Christ, the Lord, to rule and reign.

reverentlyandmeeklynow

Hymn #185: Reverently and Meekly Now

reverentlyandmeeklynow

The lyrics were written by Joseph Townsend, but this is the first of the hymns we’ll cover this year whose tune was written by our site’s namesake, Ebenezer Beesley. The tune, fittingly named “Meekness,” adds an extra layer to the hymn that isn’t present in the lyrics. The lyrics, as are common with sacramental hymns, are about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, the emblems of the sacrament itself, forgiveness, and redemption, and the tune, as is also common with sacramental hymns, lingers in a minor key through much of the hymn, providing a discordant, unsettling feeling, which reminds us of the Lord’s suffering in Gethsemane.

The tune doesn’t stay in a minor key forever, though. Phrases like “sweat in agony of pain” and “oh, remember what was done” are in a minor key to highlight that suffering, but the phrase that follows each of them resolves to a major key, and fittingly, each of those final phrases is about us. The Savior suffered all those things that we might not suffer, provided we repent and turn our hearts to him. Those four phrases (“I have ransomed even thee,” “I have suffered death for thee,” “like a fountain unto thee,” and “that thy Savior I may be”) give us hope and remind us that His suffering was not for nothing, and the peace they bring is only amplified by the resolution of the key on those closing chords.

But take a closer look at those phrases.”I have ransomed even thee.” “That thy Savior I may be.” In this hymn, it is not we who sing to or about our Savior, but our Savior who sings to us. He tells us all that He has done for us, reminds us of the significance of the bread and water to be presented to us after the song concludes, and very gently asks us to “let [our] head most humbly bow” in reverence of the magnitude of His sacrifice. It’s not often that we’re permitted to put ourselves in the Savior’s place when we sing. We get the chance to see ourselves as He sees us. We realize that each of us can be addressed as “thou ransomed one.” We learn that He has no greater desire for us than we should “with [our] brethren be at peace.” And in the fourth verse, we get a sense of the depth of His love for us:

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

We know that He loves us. We learn it from the time we are very small, and we are reminded, at the very least, every Sunday as we sing to Him. But His description of us as His friends is awe-inspiring to me. We are not projects to Him, nor are we inconveniences He is forced to endure. We are dear to Him. The word “friend,” to me, implies not only love, but genuine interest in our lives. He redeemed us because He wants to be with us, and wants us to be able to return to where He is. It is His life’s sole mission to bring us home, and so He ever pleads before the Father’s throne for us. We fall short time and time again, and each time He makes the intercession for us. He stays the hand of justice, promising that we’ll do better this time. And He does it because we are His friends.

He asks nothing more than that we be obedient, prayerful, watchful, and constant, and we promise as much to Him as we take the sacrament of which we sing. We renew the covenant we made at baptism to do those things, and we resolve to try a little harder in the coming week. And as we do those things, we allow Him to become our Savior. We accept His sacrifice for us. We allow Him to take our hands in His and heal us. We allow, as we sing in the second verse, His Spirit to be a fountain to us, cleansing and purifying us.

And we fall short, again and again. But we remember He is our friend, and that His hand is always outstretched to us to help us up so that we can try again.