Tag Archives: Unity

Hymn #319: Ye Elders of Israel

It’s kind of a shame that this hymn was pigeonholed in the “Men” section of the hymnbook. It’s understandable, of course, given that it’s addressed to the “elders of Israel”, which could very easily mean “the men of the church”. But it’s such a marvelous missionary anthem, on par with “Called to Serve” I think, and much has changed since Cyrus Wheelock wrote it nearly 200 years ago.

There are now over 80,000 missionaries serving worldwide, with young women now making up about 25% of that number.¹ In order to better accommodate the growing number of sister missionaries, meet their needs, and take advantage of their unique perspective, the mission structure has changed to include a mission leadership council consisting of both Elders and Sisters.²

For the purposes of this post, and given the current demographic of missionaries in the field, I’m going to insert “and sisters” into the first line of this hymn like so:

Ye elders and sisters of Israel, come join now with me
And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be—
In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea—
And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.

Yes, it messes with the rhythm of things a bit, but I want to be clear that the exhortations in this hymn are not just for the boys.

Brother Wheelock served five missions of his own, including acting as a mission president of the Northern States Mission.³ Missionary work was undoubtedly a large part of his identity and a cause close to his heart. Not everyone feels a strong urge to spread the gospel message, though. I, for one, struggle to share my testimony and invite friends to church. Fortunately we’ve got Brother Wheelock to encourage us.

The harvest is great, and the lab’rers are few;
But if we’re united, we all things can do.
We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares
And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.

Sure, the harvest is overwhelmingly great, and the laborers are indeed few in comparison, but we aren’t asked to “seek out the righteous where’er they may be” by ourselves.

Members are invited to share the gospel with friends. Full-time missionaries teach and prepare these people for baptism. Ward mission leaders and ward missionaries provide support and help fellowship potential and new members. Ward leaders find callings for new members to help them feel welcome and needed. Home and visiting teachers check in with members at least monthly to ensure that their spiritual and temporal needs are being met. Helping one person become an active, participating, faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a massive group undertaking.

And so it is for all members, not just new ones. A united ward and stake should provide support for every member, new and old, young and not-so-young, single and married, parents and child-free. We ought to be united in helping one another learn about and use the Atonement so that none of us remains in bondage. We ought to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of being comforted” (Mosiah 18:9).

We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,
And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold;
We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore
And point them to Zion and life evermore.

Once we join God’s kingdom, we are committed to strengthening it and helping it grow. Whether that means serving a full-time mission or providing service for those in need, our goal is to be “like our Captain of old”: our Savior, Jesus Christ.

O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;
We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.

Let us, like the Elders and Sisters serving in Israel, rise above the world around us and commit ourselves to a higher standard. Let us turn our hearts and minds to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Let us seek out the “mountains of Ephraim”–whether they be temples, church meetinghouses, or the homes of the righteous–and dwell therein.

Ye readers in Israel, come join now with me!

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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 #246: Onward, Christian Soldiers

This is just about the most militaristic, jingoistic hymn we have available. There are soldiers right there in the title, and we sing about “marching as to war” and going “forward into battle.” It has a sharp, crisp cadence to it, making you feel like you want to stand up and march. You want to strap on a helmet, grab a sword and shield, and do battle with the adversary. It’s a pump-up song at its finest.

Only despite all the military zeal drummed up by the hymn, at no time do we sing about weaponry, injury, or even attacking at all. We gather behind Christ, the royal Master, we march into battle… and that’s it, right? Why are we marching into battle if we’re not even armed? How do we expect to come off conqueror against the enemy?

Well, it’s not as though we’re completely unarmed. We remember hearing Paul describe the armor of God as he taught that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We’re waging a war against an enemy that can’t simply be cut into little pieces. We’re battling an enemy composed of ideas, temptations, and allurement. So we protect ourselves with truth, righteousness, preparation, and faith. We take up the sword of the Spirit–not to take the offensive, but to defend ourselves against the enemy’s parries and thrusts.

We do have one weapon in our arsenal, though. In the second verse, we sing that “hell’s foundations quiver at the sound of praise.” We’ve heard that in the scriptures before, too. The children of Israel circled Jericho over and over, doing nothing but walking. But when they circled the city that seventh time, Joshua called out to them, “Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city,” and while the scriptures don’t explicitly say that they were shouts of praise, I imagine the knowledge that the Lord had given them the victory without having to raise so much as a hand couldn’t help but make those shouts of praise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God, but it’s not up to us to do the fighting. The Lord can fight His own battles, and He, in fact, does just that. We’re all too willing to leap into the fray, but more often than that, it’s not what He asks of us. He wants us to remain with the group and assume a defensive position. “We are not divided,” we sing of our united army. “One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” While the Lord fights our battles, we defend one another, building up faith, watching out for temptation, and looking after our fellow saints. The Savior leads out against the foe, and we follow, singing shouts and anthems of praise, causing the enemy to flee before us.

So we sing with military zest and precision. The snappy beat and meter fills us with pep and zeal. We stand up and begin marching as to war, but not to the actual war itself. We form ranks, fill lines, and assume our positions, ready to defend the kingdom of God and its citizens. Our job isn’t to take the offensive and deliver the crushing, finishing blow to Satan; that job has already been completed, as we remind ourselves by the fact that we are led by the “cross of Jesus going on before.”

Hymn #325: See the Mighty Priesthood Gathered

This is a great hymn. It has a regal tune and a great message. I hope you’ll take time to listen to it.

Every six months at the General Conference priesthood session, someone will note that this meeting likely represents the largest gathering of priesthood holders in the history of the world. This is significant, but not just for the obvious reasons.

Most simply, the growth of the priesthood parallels the growth of the Church as a whole, so a larger priesthood body implies a larger body of Latter-Day Saints as a whole. As the truths and covenants of the Gospel are necessary for all mankind, the growth of the priesthood body is a welcome indication that more of God’s children are finding the peace and understanding that the Gospel brings.

However, the growth of the priesthood is also meaningful in its own right. We are engaged in God’s work, and it is directed through his Priesthood. Our purpose is not merely to teach everyone about the restoration of the gospel—we also seek to make its accompanying ordinances and covenants available to all mankind. While in past dispensations the covenants of salvation have been available only to a few select nations, in these latter days God has made them available to all. The mission of the priesthood is to bring these ordinances and covenants to all the world.

This is no small undertaking. It involves planning for entire nations and concern for individual families. It’s no wonder that the priesthood body is often described in military terms—there’s organization and structure needed to effectively span the world.

Of course, when we talk about the spread of the gospel, we often talk about missionary work. And yes, missionary work is important. But the work of the priesthood is the duty of every ordained priesthood holder, not just those called on full-time missions. We are to spread the Kingdom of God to new lands, but also to establish it, to make it stable and secure.

So let’s look at some of the lyrics. The song opens with this phrase:

See the mighty priesthood gathered;
Firm in serried ranks they stand–
Son and father jointly serving,
Gathered in from ev’ry land.

The work of the priesthood is not just for 19-year-old missionaries, or just for bishops. It spans generations; fathers and sons serve together. In fact, fathers have a sacred duty to train their sons in this calling, to teach them the ways of the Lord.

Line on line, truth is revealed,
Till all darkness flees away
In the face of perfect knowledge,
Where celestial laws hold sway.

As we listen to our prophetic leaders, truth empowers us. We are better able to withstand the darkness of this world and the chaos it brings with it. Truth brings peace and order, and as the priesthood is strengthened throughout the world, peace and order will prevail.

Come, ye sons, and walk uprightly,
As your noble fathers trod

“Walk in the faith of your fathers.” Isn’t this same message repeated over and over throughout the scriptures? The prophets of ancient Israel taught it over and over. Nephite prophets taught the same. After all, sons and fathers can hardly serve together if the sons abandon the faith of their fathers. How great the importance, then, to teach our children, to guide them to a personal relationship with God.

Till Satan’s pow’rs are vanquished,
Bound in chains he conquered lies,
And our glorious hallelujahs
Loudly sound across the skies,

This is our goal: to vanquish Satan’s powers, and to bring praise of God throughout the world. Christ will come again, to reign personally upon the earth. Every six months as priesthood bearers throughout the world gather, we are reminded of this noble and holy purpose.

This is no small work. Let us not be easily distracted. The Kingdom of God is rolling forward, and it is our opportunity to be a part of that great work.

Hymn #71: With Songs of Praise

For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. (D&C 25:12)

Music is a huge part of Latter-Day Saint culture. Our first hymnal was published only five years after the church was organized. It is standard to sing at least three hymns (sometimes four or more) at any sacrament meeting, plus more during the other two hours at church and at any other meetings that we may attend. We have our own award-winning, internationally recognized choir, for heaven’s sake! Throw in Gladys Knight, the Osmonds, David Archuleta, Alex Boye, Lindsey Stirling, The Piano Guys…the number of musically talented Mormons is astounding, and I’m not surprised.

With songs of praise and gratitude
We worship God above,
In words and music give our thanks
For his redeeming love.

After moving into a new ward, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. The first was not yet old enough for nursery, and I worried that my already strained ability to worship would take another hit when baby #2 arrived. As things stood, my Sundays were largely taken up by cheerios and diaper changes and whisking a loud baby out of yet another meeting, and I missed being able to sit still and soak in the spirit.

Then the ward choir director invited me to come sing.

Against my usual inclination, I handed the baby off to my husband and nervously went to practice. I was welcomed with smiles and a folder of music and then we sang! And sang and sang and sang until I thought I might burst from the joy of it all. This was what I had been missing! This was the renewal and reconciliation with God that I needed to desperately.

If “a heartfelt song by righteous ones is prayer” then I am certainly praying when I practice those choir songs. The music we perform truly “unites us and invites the Spirit to be there.” Even when my almost-but-not-quite-a-true-soprano voice can’t quite reach that high G. Even when there aren’t enough tenors to balance out the basses. Even when nobody really likes the arrangement we’re singing. The Spirit is present and we sing together as one.

As this hymn indicates, the seed of Abraham sang their praises to God so many years ago. In years to come the Saints will sing “the new song of the Lamb.” Meanwhile I will be belting out my part as best I can. Sure, my Sabbath is still occupied largely with my babies and their accoutrements, but when I make my way up to the stand with the rest of the choir, this chorus fills my heart:

Then come before God’s presence!
With singing worship him!
Express the heart too full to speak,
In one exultant hymn.

-

(On a related note, the most recent comic from The Garden of Enid made me laugh. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?)

Hymn #17: Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake!

Awake, we’re told over and over in this hymn. We’re told twice in the title alone, and the tune, as with most hymns about Zion, is upbeat and powerful. We sing vigorously, an attitude about as far from sleep as possible. And yet it’s clear all of us (those of us singing, anyway), are quite literally awake. So why are we urging ourselves and other saints to awake?

What does it mean to be asleep?

Sleep is associated with refreshment and rejuvenation, certainly, but it’s also tied to fatigue and exhaustion. We sleep when we’re tired, and while we sleep, we’re usually completely unaware of the world around us. When we sleep, we dream, a word often associated with hopes and striving, but it can also represent unattainable ideas and goals, or even a state out of touch with reality.

In this hymn, sleep represents captivity and an inability to progress. The first verse urges us to “call on the Lord in mighty prayer that he will Zion’s bondage break.” There are times the saints of God have been in literal bondage; the children of Israel in Egypt immediately come to mind, but the people of Alma, held captive by the Amulonites in the Book of Mosiah qualify, too. They cried to their God that He would release them from their bondage, and He heard them and set them free.

In both cases, the promised deliverance only came after the people took action. It wasn’t enough for them to wish they were free; they had to exercise faith and ask God for His aid. Idle wishing for an escape from our trials is like, well, daydreaming. We may as well be asleep for all the good it does us. Instead, we call each other to action. We remind each other that while we rely on the Lord for all that we have, His blessing to us are conditional on our asking for them. We exercise faith through our actions, and the promised blessings come as we do so.

It’s right there in the fourth verse: Awake to righteousness; be one. We take action, we follow the principles we have been taught, and as we do so, we unite ourselves with others who do so. And if we do not – if we decide to blaze our own trial and stick to our own teachings rather than those revealed truths – the Lord says to us, “ye are not mine.” He will have a united and true people. He has given us the tools and teachings to do so, and has promised that we will find power in so doing. Our faith strengthens us, of course, but we draw power from the Father and the Son, who build us up and make us able to accomplish tasks beyond our own power.

We are reminded in the second verse that the “God of Jacob does not sleep.” He may not, in a literal sense (I won’t pretend to know), but in a symbolic sense, meaning that His attention is distracted from us, He assuredly does not. We are His work and His glory, and we are continually before Him. He dedicates His whole self and work to helping us to achieve what He has, perfection and eternal glory. He does that through calling us to action. Our action is essential to our progression; after all, we can’t hope to achieve anything by sitting around waiting for it to happen. So we are urged to awake, arise out of our too-deep sleep, rubbing our eyes and shaking off the last vestiges of dreams that call us back to bed. We get up, we remember our purpose here, and we move to action, helping others in their path along the way.

In short, we awake, we saints of God.

Hymn #3: Now Let Us Rejoice

Now Let Us Rejoice was included in the original LDS hymnbook, only five years after the church was organized. It was a time of great excitement within the church; significant new doctrines were being revealed frequently, and many had great spiritual manifestations. If you were a member of the Church at that time, you likely had a fairly strong belief that God was actively working in the world, and that revelation, visions, miracles, and so forth were not just things out of scripture. These were things happening last week, and happening now, and happening again soon.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost some of that faith today. It may seem easier to just focus on the things that affect us today, and let the future take care of itself. There are many wonderful things we teach and preach and discuss, of course—things that can help us become better people and draw closer to Christ. These are all very appropriate to discuss, and important for our salvation. We talk about how Christ’s Atonement can bring peace and healing to us now. We talk about service to others, and how we should strive to become Christ-like people. These are wonderful topics, and I’m glad we discuss them often. These are the things that will change us into the people God wants us to become. They will lighten our burdens and enrich our lives, and those are things we all need.

I wonder, though, if we get so caught up in the potter’s wheel or the refiner’s fire that we forget to have hope in the promises God has made. We are living in the long-prophesied last days before Christ’s return! His millennial reign, full of peace and happiness and glory, is close at hand! Shouldn’t that get us at least a little bit excited?

This hymn is excited about the millennium, and has no qualms about it. Here’s the chorus of the first two verses:

Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And none will molest them from morn until ev’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Jesus will say to all Israel, “Come home.”

Considering the persecution that early church members endured, the notion that “none will molest them” must have seemed pretty nice. We generally don’t face the same opposition they did, but it’s still not always easy to stand for faith and revealed truth in a world that has largely abandoned both.  Further, the millennium will be a time when “Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and the Earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (Article of Faith 10)  How could we not be excited for that?

And yet, sometimes it seems so distant. It’s easy to believe that God has acted in the past, and that he will probably act sometime in the future, but it’s sometimes hard to believe that it could actually happen now, during our own lives. I don’t know if Christ’s second coming will be in my lifetime. I hope that it is—I look forward to it. But whether it is or not, I have hope in these and all the other blessings promised in the revelations. God has exciting things planned for the Saints, and it is appropriate to anticipate them and to be excited about them. The third verse has a different chorus, one that applies not just to those who live to see the millennium, but to every one who will accept the covenants God offers us:

Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And they will be crown’d with the angels of heav’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Christ and his people will ever be one.

Let’s keep hope in the promised blessings. When life is hard, let’s rely with faith on the arm of Jehovah, and trust that the end will be glorious. Whether in the millennium or after this life, there is a wonderful world in store for us. Now let us rejoice!