Tag Archives: Easter

Hymn #135: My Redeemer Lives

This hymn is probably best known for two reasons; first, it’s frequently mistaken for much better-known “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (it’s the next hymn in the book, and they even share the same first line), and its lyrics were written by Gordon B. Hinckley.

Like “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” we declare our witness that the Savior lives. We sing about all the wonderful reasons we have to rejoice in His life. He is “victorious over pain and death,” and He paved the way for us to be free from them as well. He is the “one bright hope of men on earth.” It is only through the path He teaches that we can return to Him and become like Him. That path is the “beacon to a better way, the light beyond the veil of death.” We sing joyfully, and there’s a lot to rejoice about.

All of that is wonderful, of course, but how do we know it?

I haven’t seen the Savior in person, and I very much doubt that I ever will during my stay here on earth. I suspect the same from virtually every other person on the planet. There’s speculation that the Twelve have seen Him, since they’re called to be special witnesses of Christ, but that’s all it is, speculation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them haven’t seen Him, either. Seeing Him in the flesh removes our need for faith, the bedrock principle of the gospel. We trust that He lives, and as we place our faith in Him, we are blessed and supported in our lives.

That’s not to say that we’re left to trust blindly that He lives, though. We are given every opportunity to know that He lives, loves us, and is eager to take an active role in our lives if we will but let Him. The third verse of this hymn begins, “Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still,” and therein lies the key. Relatively few of us are given the chance to see the Savior face to face, but all of us have the opportunity to receive the Holy Ghost. The Spirit testifies to us of the Father and the Son. He does so gently and quietly, inviting rather than compelling us to listen. When we hear truth, more often than not the Spirit confirms that truth to us softly, saying (although usually not audibly) something simple like, “Yes, that’s true, and you know it because you remember it, don’t you?”

The Holy Ghost brings all things to our remembrance. He doesn’t teach truth so much as confirm it. When it comes down to it, each of us already knows in some corner of our mind that Jesus is the Christ; after all, we lived with him before we came here, and chose the Father’s plan for our lives, knowing that He would be our Savior and Redeemer. We already know that He lives. We’ve seen Him and known Him. Our minds are covered with the veil that makes faith and obedience meaningful here on earth (there’s no need to have faith in a being you can constantly see before your face), but the Spirit can pull that veil back from time to time, giving us a dazzling glimpse of knowledge we once had.

That powerful feeling manifests itself differently for everyone. For some, it’s a rush of emotion, leading them to tear up. For others, like myself, it’s a powerful flash of insight and clarity. In any case, the word “sweet” is well-chosen to describe those feelings. The Spirit touches our hearts and helps to reconcile us to God. We can know that He lives, and that He loves us. And as we receive that sweet witness, reminding us of truths laying dormant in our hearts, we receive courage to carry on. We receive, as we sing in the conclusion of this hymn, “the faith to walk the lonely road that leads to thine eternity.”

Hymn #136: I Know That My Redeemer Lives

 

He lives, he lives, who once was dead.

This statement is, perhaps, the very foundation of Christianity. Jesus Christ, crucified between thieves and buried in a tomb, lives. None other ever had power to rise from death of his own accord. The resurrection stands as a testament to the divinity of Christ.

More than simply a witness of Christ, though, his Resurrection offers us hope. Because he lives, we will live again. More, because he lives he continues to bless us. Christ is not simply a great prophet who lived and died—he lives. He continues to act. Though his greatest work is complete in the Atonement, his mission is not yet complete because we are not yet complete.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives speaks directly of our relationship with Christ. He is not simply an unknowable force for good working in the background. Rather, he is our “kind, wise heavenly friend.” He comforts us when faint. He blesses us in time of need. He silences all our fears and calms our troubled hearts.  Christ is our guide and our companion.

Over the course of four verses, this hymn expresses four verses full of blessings we receive because He Lives. Four verses full of reasons to rejoice. This outpouring of simple gratitude makes this one of my favorite hymns.

I often quietly sing this hymn to myself, when I find myself alone. I did so just a few nights ago, on my back porch late at night while everyone else was asleep. Gazing up into the starry night and singing quietly, I watched as the Earth’s shadow passed over the moon, producing a beautiful lunar eclipse. I thought about the greatness of God, about the vastness of the Earth, the moon, and the Sun which he created. I thought about how amazing that the same being who was instrumental in creating such a beautiful scene also ”pleads for me above,” seeking to prepare a mansion for me there. I reflected on my own relationship with Christ—my own faith and willingness to follow him.

Perhaps on such occasions, I am not truly singing to myself. I am not singing to entertain, nor to pass the time. Rather, I sing to express my gratitude to our Father for his Son. I sing to orient my soul to Him.  When I sing this song, I sing to God himself, offering gratitude and awe for the resurrection and atonement of Christ. I sing to offer testimony. Scripture teaches that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God;” when I sing I Know That My Redeemer Lives, that prayer seems to draw me in.

He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Knowledge that Christ lives brings joy. When we sing this hymn, we express four verses full of reasons for that joy, but there are many, many more. Our relationship with Christ is personal, is intended to be personal. As we grow to know him, we will find more and more reasons to rejoice in his life.

So, as we conclude the Easter season, take a moment and read this hymn. Consider your own relationship with Christ. If you were to add a verse, what would it say? When you reflect upon his atonement and his resurrection, what thoughts bring you joy?

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 #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

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.