Tag Archives: Zion

Hymn #34: O Ye Mountains High

First published in LDS hymnals in 1871, O Ye Mountains High is written in the context of the Mormon Pioneers and their travels to the Salt Lake Valley. Like a number of LDS hymns from the time, it references imagery from Isaiah 2, placing Zion “in the tops of the mountains.” At a time when the Saints were often driven from their homes and disowned by their families, the image of a strong Zion established in the Rocky Mountains was undoubtedly poignant.

O ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free,
Where the pure breezes blow and the clear streamlets flow,
How I’ve longed to your bosom to flee!
O Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,
Now my own mountain home, unto thee I have come;
All my fond hopes are centered in thee.

Times have changed. Today, a large majority of Latter-Day Saints live far from the Rocky Mountains. They may not live near any mountains at all. Is “O Ye Mountains High” relevant to the saints at large? Or does it only persist as a memorial to our pioneer heritage?

In April 2008 General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a talk entitled “Faith of Our Fathers“:

The faith of our fathers—I love that phrase.

For many members of the Church, these words bring to mind valiant pioneers who abandoned the comfort of their homes and traveled by wagon and on foot until they reached the valley of the Great Salt Lake. I love and honor the faith and courage of those early pioneers of the Church. My own ancestors were living an ocean away at the time. None were among those who lived in Nauvoo or Winter Quarters, and none made the journey across the plains. But as a member of the Church, I claim with gratitude and pride this pioneer legacy as my own.

With the same joy, I claim the legacies of today’s modern-day Church pioneers who live in every nation and whose own stories of perseverance, faith, and sacrifice add glorious new verses to the great chorus of the latter-day anthem of the kingdom of God.

 We may not live in the mountains high—we may not even have clear streamlets or pure breezes!—but Zion is not stuck in the mountains. Zion has spread forth throughout the world. The hymn speaks of Zion as a place of freedom and strength, of temples and triumph. And indeed, eventually the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the lord. Eventually, the peace of Zion will prevail everywhere, not just in the mountains. Some day, Christ himself will personally reign upon the earth, and Zion will fill the whole earth.

Until that time, we can still establish Zion in our own homes. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that Zion is the home of the pure in heart. Is your home a place where the pure in heart dwell, where the Lord is welcome?

Just as the pioneer saints had hope in their new mountain home as a place of peace and worship, so too can we hope for our homes, wherever they may be, as a place peace and worship, refuge and rest. We can build our home in spiritual ”mountains high”, and we can build an environment of pure spiritual breezes and clear spiritual streamlets. As bearers of the Gift of the Holy Ghost, revelation and inspiration can be part of our daily lives.

You can bring Zion to you.

Hymn #42: Hail to the Brightness of Zion’s Glad Morning!

Note: Today’s essay is by Tyler Severson, who is a new contributor here at the Beesley Project. We’re pretty excited about having him on board, and we hope you will be, too.

Today’s hymn deals with the shift of darkness to light, the dawning of the “glad reign” of Zion. The light of this new day pushes back the shadows of sorrow and mourning, and the hymnist rejoices in this, praising the morning for doing nothing more than arriving.

Morning always shows up. It’s not a surprise to anyone. The morning in question here was, in fact, “long by the prophets of Israel foretold.” The information was there. Anyone who wanted to see the morning just had to wait long enough. It was going to come the whole time.

That’s why, I think, mornings make for a pretty easy analogy. One of the first things in the natural world that we notice and come to rely on is the fact that, without fail, it will get light in the morning. Some days are brighter than others, but the sun is there, and it will always show up when it should.

This is especially fertile ground for gospel metaphors. Morning, dawn, new beginnings. Think of the morning of the resurrection, or the day dawn breaking of the beautiful, bright Millennial day. Consider the morning breaking, the shadows fleeing before the dawning of the Restoration’s brighter day.

It’s easy, then, for us to take morning–the literal end of darkness–and extrapolate it into our lives. We associate our hard times, sadness, depression, anger, loneliness, and every other negative thing with darkness, and we hope that just like it does in the natural world, every dark night is guaranteed its ending with the breaking of the dawn.

Think of the last horrible period in your life. Think of the misery and pain, the suffering emotional, physical, spiritual, or a sordid combination of them all. It probably seemed endless. Think of our lives, the trials and daily hardships, and how easy it is to become discouraged, coming to the conclusion that the sun will never rise again.

Our Redeemer promised us that this would not ever be the case. “I will not leave you comfortless,” he assured us. But how are we to trust that, when we’re all so desperately familiar with sorrow, grief, pain, and darkness? Many times comfort simply does not exist and cannot be found. We’re sure of this, convinced. Christ then explains the source of the comfort: “I will come to you.”

We’re not promised that he’ll be hovering over us, waiting for a bad thing to happen so he can snatch us up. In fact, he never promises the absence of discomfort. He seems to be promising that it will happen, that we will all be comfortless at some point. His promise is not that nighttime will not come; it is that the dawn will always break. Our Savior is the sun to our blackest nighttimes. He promises comfort, warmth, and–taking the long term view–an end to darkness for all time. And he promises that we can count on him to bring it.

And what with it? What does the Rising of the Son have to offer us? Flowers of joy and righteousness from deserts of sorrow and sin. Places of waste–wasted time, wasted virtue, wasted opportunities–rising in verdure and mingling in the song of redeeming love. Most importantly, the return for bondage for millions of people lost in the darkness of sin. Christ’s light and warmth let us see just how lost we are and let us find our way back to the right path. It makes so much sense that his birth, the dawn of salvation, would be marked by a day and a night and a day with no darkness.

Hail to the brightness of Jesus’ morning; joy to the hearts that in darkness have lain. Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning. Jesus, our Savior, begins his glad reign.

Hymn #39: O Saints of Zion

O Saints of Zion, hear the voice
Of Him from courts on high.
Prepare the pathway of the Lord;
His reign on earth is nigh.
(O Saints of Zion, verse 1)

When Joseph Smith was guided to restore the true church of Christ, he needed to know what it should be called. By revelation, the church received this name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is indeed the Church of Jesus Christ, and we are indeed in the latter days, the last days before the second coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

However, many of us don’t really pay any attention to that. We certainly recognize how the Gospel makes our own lives better, and we express appropriate gratitude for those blessings. But the mission of the church is not simply to bless the lives of its members—the Church exists to prepare the whole world for his coming. When we read the revelations, that mission is undeniable. (See D&C 65)

Of course, the work of preparing the world does not just fall upon the church collectively—it falls upon us individually. Along with the Gifts of the Spirit and the Priesthood blessings we receive are covenants we have made; covenants to be witnesses of Christ at all times, in all things, and in all places that we may be in. Covenants to make known His works and His words. We are active participants in this preparatory work—or at least we should be. We have been called to “make straight the way of the Lord.”

Sometimes it’s easy to just ignore all that, and focus living the Gospel privately. Yes, we do believe in doing good for the sake of good without any need for public recognition. Christ chastised the Pharisees for making obedience a spectator event, after all. But while our obedience to God’s commandments is a personal matter, His call to obey is for the entire world.

It’s hard to look at the world around us and see how it could ever be prepared to receive the Lord. There are many wonderful people here, of course, but there is also so much hatred and bitterness and simple spiritual apathy. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the enormous task before us. And yet, God has prepared us for this very task. The Book of Mormon tells of the sons of Mosiah who went among the Lamanites, a people who had rejected every previous invitation to come unto Christ. Through their prayers, fasting, service, faith, and diligence, many of the Lamanites were brought unto Christ—including their king himself!

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored. Priesthood authority is spreading throughout the world as it never has before. The Gift of the Holy Ghost, the very Comforter that Christ promised to send, is available to more and more people every day. The mighty blessings of the temple roll forth throughout the world, touching hearts and guiding minds in preparation for the return of the Lord himself. There has never been a better time for inviting the world to come unto Christ!

Prepare the supper of the Lamb;
Invite the world to dine.
Behold, the mighty Bridegroom comes
In majesty divine.

Hymn #83: Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah

No matter what your personal views on morality are, it’s clear that there are a lot of different voices competing for attention. We hear some people telling us that something is good and right and others telling us that it’s evil. These voices seem to surround us and shout so loudly that it’s difficult to hear ourselves think. It can be confusing and disorienting. What are we to believe?

When it’s hard to know what to cling to, it’s reassuring to know that there is at least one source out there that we can count on to be constant and unchanging. We can count on the Lord to teach us truth, no matter what. It doesn’t matter what we hear, or what circumstances the world finds itself in. He is the source of truth and light. And since we know that He will always tell us the truth, we can count on Him to guide our way forward.

Guide us, O thou great Jehovah,
Guide us to the promised land.
We are weak, but thou art able;
Hold us with thy pow’rful hand.
Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit,
Feed us till the Savior comes,
Feed us till the Savior comes.

We will struggle in the face of so many competing influences. We can’t help it, being human. But while we are weak, He is able to withstand those temptations, and He can help us to proceed forward. And we can count on the Holy Ghost to be a positive influence on us, helping to steer us back to Him. He is not here on earth with us, and we don’t know when He will be, but we can rely on the Spirit to nourish us spiritually and keep us well-fed until His triumphant return.

He guides us in the same way he guided the children of Israel during their flight from Egypt, although perhaps not as visually impressively. As Israel left Egypt, the Lord went before them as a cloud by day, serving not only to keep the hot desert sun off of them, but also showing them clearly which direction they needed to travel. At night, He stood before them as a tremendous pillar of fire, not only providing them light, but also keeping the Egyptians at bay. While we don’t see a pillar of fire before us today, he can still be a “fiery, cloudy pillar” for us. We have His words that show us the direction we need to take, and that can also act as a cover from trials and temptations. His Spirit can light our way as we trust in Him just as clearly as can a pillar of fire. He is there to guide us the same as He did the Israelites, provided we are willing to accept His guidance.

It’s when we don’t listen to His counsel and instead let the din of the world drown it out that we fall into trouble. That’s an easy enough trap to fall into. And by the same token, it’s an easy trap to avoid. We just have to find the one voice, the one influence in our life that never changes.

When the earth begins to tremble,
Bid our fearful thoughts be still;
When thy judgments spread destruction,
Keep us safe on Zion’s hill.

When we are confused, scared, or fearful, we can take courage in what the Lord tells us. We can trust that He is constant and unchanging, and that He will always lead us in the right. And as we place our trust in Him, we can know that He will keep us safe on Zion’s hill, singing praises and glory unto Him.

Hymn #43: Zion Stands with Hills Surrounded

Zion Stands with Hills Surrounded” is today’s hymn. The title alone evokes powerful imagery—the righteous city of God besieged by enemy armies, surrounded by attacking forces. And yet, Zion stands. Preserved by divine power, Zion stands in the face of overwhelming odds.

Zion stands with hill surrounded–
Zion, kept by pow’r divine.
All her foes shall be confounded,
Though the world in arms combine.

Scriptural prophecy speaks of Jerusalem being attacked by wicked nations immediately before the second coming of Christ. Certainly, as a church whose name includes the phrase “Latter-day,” we take interest in such prophecies. Much of the work we do as a church is to prepare the world for Christ’s second coming. And yet, as with many prophecies, the literal fulfillment is perhaps not the most relevant one.

While the literal city of Zion may in the future be surrounded, many of God’s children feel spiritually or emotionally surrounded today. We often feel that everything is conspiring against us, that the easy choice is never the right one, that we are constantly being worn down by the comments, crusades, and sometimes even cruelty of the world around us. Everyone seems eager to tell us that what we’re doing is wrong in some way, or to point out all the ways we could be better.

In the midst of all this, we have a hope-filled promise: God himself remembers us, and will not forsake us. Isaiah prophesied:

But, behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me—but he will show that he hath not.

For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.

When we are beset by taunts, trepidation or trials, we can take comfort in this fact: the Lord is always with us. He will defend and sustain if we will trust in him. Of course, this does not always mean that our burdens will be light. Often, the burden remains heavy, but our ability to carry it is increased.  Our Father does not simply want to protect us as we are, spiritual infants. Rather, the whole purpose of his Plan is to help us develop the talents and abilities that are latent within us.

In the furnace God may prove thee,
Thence to bring thee forth more bright,
But can never cease to love thee;
Thou art precious in his sight.
God is with thee, God is with thee;
Thou shalt triumph in his might

So when you feel like surrounded Zion, with enemy forces on every side, remember this: God is with thee, God is with thee; Thou shalt triumph in his might.

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Hymn #46: Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken

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I suspect that most of our readers are not familiar with this hymn.  Let’s start by reading the lyrics. Please don’t just skim over them; take the time to really read them. There’s something to learn here.

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He whose word cannot be broken
Chose thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake our sure repose?
With salvation’s wall surrounded,
Thou may’st smile on all thy foes.

The opening phrase of this hymn comes from Psalms 87:3, which reads simply “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” The city here mentioned is Zion, the city of God. During the millennium, Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be the seat of his government. Christ will literally “choose [Zion] for his abode.” With such power resident, who could question the stability and glory of Zion?

And yet, as with many messianic prophecies, the physical fulfillment of the prophecy is not the only one—nor perhaps even the most important one for us to consider. Most of us—in fact, the vast majority of God’s children—will never dwell in the New Jerusalem while in mortality. So while there is a physical reality that will fulfill this prophecy, that physical city is also a symbol for us, a metaphor for what our own relationship with God should be.

Just as Christ will come and abide within the city of Zion, we also invite the Holy Ghost to abide within us—and if we are faithful, that welcome may one day to Christ himself. (See John 14:23 and D&C 130:3.) Just as Christ brings stability and glory to the City of Zion, so too can his Gospel bring stability and eventual glory to our own lives.

As we continue reading the lyrics, consider the parallels between our own lives and the millennial city of Zion. “Like it unto yourself”, as Nephi would admonish.

See! the streams of living waters,
Springing from celestial love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters
And all fear of drought remove.
Round each habitation hov’ring,
See the cloud and fire appear
For a glory and a cov’ring,
Showing that the Lord is near.

The Revelation of John teaches that “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” A cloud by day and pillar of fire by night led the ancient Israelites, and is recognized as a sign of God’s presence. Zion will have God within it, and his presence will be apparent. To what extent is God’s presence apparent in your own life?

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Purchased by the Savior’s blood;
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.
While in love his Saints he raises,
With himself to reign as King,
All, as priests, his solemn praises
For thank-off’rings freely bring.

The connection to our own lives becomes more apparent here in the third verse. We are all purchased by the Savior’s blood, not just those who will live in the physical city of Zion. We all can claim the promise of becoming joint-heirs with Christ. We are all invited to be his Saints, his children. Zion is for all of us, right now.

Of course, the millennial New Jerusalem will be unique and full of a Celestial glory that may seem far distant to us right now. It provides a metaphor for our bright future, a symbol of Hope. The contrast between our present imperfect state and the perfection represented therein is stark and bright. But God’s plan of Salvation and his work of Exaltation is powerful, even to the transforming of you and I, his fallen children. Consider this statement from Spencer W. Kimball:

“When Satan is bound in a single home—when Satan is bound in a single life—the Millennium has already begun in that home, in that life.”

(The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 172).

Pause for a moment. Read that again, and consider what it means.

God is real. We are his children. He wants to bless us, and will do so in abundance just as quickly as we will allow him to do so. We all have a long way to go, no doubt. But the journey is sweet and the burden is light, so let’s pick up and carry forward, going as far as we possibly can.

Image Source: https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/kansas-city-temple-lds-912536

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 #54: Behold, the Mountain of the Lord

We are often reminded of Mormon’s admonition that we should seek Faith, Hope, and Charity. Faith and Charity are easily understood, but I’ve found that many people don’t have a solid understanding of what “Hope” means.

During my teenage years, I thought that maybe Hope referred to a stronger faith in the Gospel. If Faith is not to have a certain knowledge of things, then I thought perhaps Hope meant that not only did we believe it was true, but we really wanted it to be true. We “hoped” it was true. While it’s nice to hope that the gospel is true, this is not the Hope that the scriptures urge us to seek.

Hope is the feeling of anticipation we have for future promised blessings. Hope is the opposite of despair—it is the belief that things will be wonderful in the future, and the excitement we have for arriving at that future time. Mormon taught us to seek Hope because God has made lots of promises about the future, and some of these are conditional upon our obedience. As we gain greater understanding of the blessings to come, we will have greater strength to resist temptation and overcome difficult times.

God has promised us resurrection. He has promised us eternal life, if we will make and keep the covenants he has set out for us. He has promised guidance through the Spirit. He has promised forgiveness, and strength in overcoming our weaknesses. He has promised us peace in this life. The gospel is full of promises. This makes sense, of course; why would someone choose to follow the guidelines and restrictions imposed by a religion if there were not some promised benefit for doing so? Hope grows as we begin to understand how much God loves us, and how much he desires to bless us.

So what does all of this have to do with Behold, the Mountain of the Lord, today’s hymn?

This hymn describes the conditions that will exist during Christ’s Millennial Reign. While many people seem to be afraid of the calamity preceding the Second Coming, I’ve never felt that way. I figure that if it’s going to happen while I’m around, being afraid isn’t going to change anything. Instead, I choose to look forward with Hope at the prophesied conditions during the millennium. Here are just a few of them, mentioned in this hymn:

Behold, the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise (verse 1)

The rays that shine from Zion’s hill
Shall lighten ev’ry land (verse 2)

[Christ's] judgments truth shall guide;
His scepter shall protect the just
And quell the sinner’s pride. (verse 2)

No strife shall rage, nor hostile feuds
Disturb those peaceful years (verse 3)

They’ll hang the trumpet in the hall
And study war no more. (verse 3)

These promises give me hope—hope that the increasingly perilous conditions that exist now will not continue forever. Hope that if the destruction preceding the Second Coming does come in my lifetime, it is not the end. Hope that if it does not come in my lifetime, my descendants will someday see a time when these promises will be fulfilled. There is yet glory and peace and justice ahead, and there is reason to rejoice.

We really do believe the Christ will reign personally upon the earth. We really do believe that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory. We do not know when it will happen, but we know that “the world is being prepared for the Second Coming of the Savior in large measure because of the Lord’s work through His missionaries.” (Elder Neil L. Anderson, April 2011). Our work right now is in preparation for that exciting event, so how important for us to have Hope in that time. We are not preparing the world for destruction; we are preparing it for the peace and joy and beauty that follows.

The final verse is a fitting conclusion to this hymn. It repeats the same words twice, a reminder that gospel-oriented hope should inspire not daydreaming but action.

Come, then, O house of Jacob, come,
To worship at His shrine,
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine.

Hymn #38: Come, All Ye Saints of Zion

Come, all ye Saints of Zion,
And let us praise the Lord;
His ransomed are returning,
According to his word.
In sacred song and gladness
They walk the narrow way
And thank the Lord who brought them
To see the latter day.

Given that it was written by none other than W. W. Phelps–printer of the Book of Commandments (the earliest edition of the Doctrine & Covenants) and author of 25 other LDS hymns–it’s not surprising that the topic of this hymn would be the gathering of Israel. It was an idea dear to the hearts of the early Saints. They clung to the hope that someday they would reach Zion, a beautiful place where they could worship God in safety, prosperity, and peace. Despite all the hardships they faced, people continued to join their ever-growing ranks. They sang happy songs, praising the Lord and thanking Him for restoring the gospel. They rejoiced to see the final dispensation ushered in during the latter days.

Come, ye dispersed of Judah,
Join in the theme and sing
With harmony unceasing
The praises of our King,
Whose arm is now extended,
On which the world may gaze,
To gather up the righteous
In these the latter days.

In 1841–only a few years after this hymn was written–Orson Hyde journeyed to Jerusalem to dedicate it for the return of the Jewish people. That return soon began in earnest, as Jews everywhere began to flock to the Middle East. The idea of observing Passover in the Holy Land became a reality for many throughout the world. With the establishment of the modern nation of Israel, there was no denying that the “dispersed of Judah” were being gathered again in the latter days.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Israel,
And let your joys abound!
The voice of God shall reach you
Wherever you are found
And call you back from bondage,
That you may sing his praise
In Zion and Jerusalem,
In these the latter days.

One of the scripture references for this hymn is Isaiah 52:7:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”

Usually this verse (and any other that talks about the feet of people on mountains) is taken to be a reference to temple ordinances performed by proxy for the dead. In that context, this verse could be referring to those who have died without knowledge of the gospel. As family names are found and taken to temples all over the world, the voice of God is reaching even those beyond the veil. The dead are given the opportunity to accept the saving ordinances performed on their behalf and be released from their spiritual bondage. They, too, can join in singing praises for the blessings made available in these latter days.

Then gather up for Zion,
Ye Saints thruout the land,
And clear the way before you,
As God shall give command.
Tho wicked men and devils
Exert their pow’r, ’tis vain,
Since He who is eternal
Has said you shall obtain.

The early saints congregating in Ohio and Illinois and eventually Utah, the Jewish people thronging to the Middle East, the countless souls in spirit prison waiting for saving ordinances–none of these gatherings have been without conflict and controversy.  Bringing so many people together is hard! And let’s not forget that the ever-elusive Zion is still not a specific physical location.

Yet still we come. We purify our hearts and covenant to follow Christ and create Zion in our stakes, wards, and homes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints now has over fifteen million members throughout the world and is growing rapidly. In spite of “wicked men and devils” God’s work will be accomplished.

So let’s continue to gather up! Share the gospel, go to the temple, and clear a space for our brothers and sisters to join us in Zion, wherever we may be.

Hymn #40: Arise, O Glorious Zion

Like most of the hymns about Zion, this one is bright, strong, and uptempo. We sing brightly, and we sing with conviction. We sing with power, and it’s because when we sing about Zion, we sing about the kingdom of God. Other hymns focus on the God’s attributes, like His kindness and mercy, but this is less about Him and more about the organization of His kingdom. We’re singing less about the Master and more about the walls of His city.

It’s not surprising, then, that the hymn has a distinctly military feel to it. There’s a strong quarter time beat driving the melody, which moves quickly with cascading eighth notes. The soprano and tenor parts go all the way up to E, which is pretty high for a hymn intended for a mass audience. Those high notes give the hymn a soaring feeling, which adds to the sense of disciplined precision that comes with the quick pace. The tune is even titled “Victory.”

Military imagery abounds in this hymn. We begin by describing the Lord as our “sure defender.” He protects us from sin and death through His atonement, but here, the image is not so much a gentle shepherd as an armor-clad warrior. He is strong, and He is capable of beating back the forces of evil. He is our captain in the war against sin, and His victory (and ours, if we ally ourselves with Him) is sure.

We take part in the war too, of course. The victory is His, and it was hard-fought, but we have our skirmishes to come through as well. The third verse details our role in the struggle:

Thru painful tribulation
We walk the narrow road
And battle with temptation
To gain the blest abode.
But patient, firm endurance,
With glory in our view,
The Spirit’s bright assurance
Will bring us conq’rors through.

The gospel message of enduring to the end is just as apparent as is the imagery of military discipline. We are soldiers, trained in the duty of the Lord. Like soldiers, we are to give total loyalty and obedience to Him. We walk a narrow road, following our orders with exactness, turning neither to the right nor to the left. We do battle with temptation, and we do so not only because we have been so commanded, but because we know there is a reward in store. And as we follow those commands with “patient, firm endurance,” we help to earn the victory over evil. We don’t simply survive the struggle, as is often our sense of enduring to the end. This hymn tells us that we will be conquerors. We will be victorious, and just as there is no question who is the conqueror and who is the conquered in the aftermath of a war, there will be no question which side has won the victory in the end.

In the fourth verse, we return to the familiar theme of singing praise to our King. We join with the “hosts of heaven,” singing glory to our Redeemer. Having already sung three verses with military fervor, it’s not hard to imagine those hosts of heaven lined up in neat rows, standing at attention. We unite our voices in perfect unison, singing as one the “immortal theme” of praise.

This is the goal, and the end of our faith and devotion. We aim to arrive here, capable of making our hearts and voices one with the saints. Zion is the pure in heart. We give our hearts fully to the Lord and without reservation. That’s not to say that there’s no room for individualism in Zion, and it’s not to say that we’ll act as a hive mind, but it does imply to me that we will have purified ourselves (or, rather, have been purified through the cleansing power of the atonement) to the point where we can act and love as the Savior does. John told us that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” We will see Him through His own redeeming love. When we can do that, we will be numbered among the pure in heart.

That’s the end goal, anyway. It’s still a long way off, and we have a lot of steps yet to cover in that journey. But this fourth verse reminds us of the end we’re striving for, and gives us a glimpse of the time when we can join with the hosts of heaven and sing glory to him “whose blood did us redeem.”

Hymn #55: Lo, the Mighty God Appearing!

Even if you didn’t see the direction to sing energetically, or even if you didn’t see the exclamation points littered throughout the song (a whopping twenty of them in four verses), this is a hymn that you almost can’t help but sing with vigor. The melody almost begs to be played as a fanfare with trumpets. In other hymns, we sing praise to our Lord for His goodness, His kindness, and His mercy; here, we hail Him as our ruler and king.

Consider the words we use to describe Him in the first verse:

Lo, the mighty God appearing!
From on high Jehovah speaks!
Eastern lands the summons hearing,
O’er the west his thunder breaks.
Earth behold him! Earth behold him!
Universal nature shakes.
Earth behold him! Earth behold him!
Universal nature shakes.

He is mighty. He speaks from on high. He sends forth thunder, and all nature shakes at His presence. We feel of His power and majesty in this hymn, and the tune reflects both that power and majesty. It’s a tune befitting the announcement and arrival of a king.

It’s interesting that the response of nature is mentioned so often in this hymn. It begins by announcing His presence to us, but it goes on to mention the awed reaction of the earth and sky to that arrival. In the first verse, we hear that the land hears the summons and “universal nature shakes.” The whole earth trembles at His coming. He created the earth and all things in and on it; surely it recognizes its creator. The second verse continues, mentioning that fire, clouds, and tempests will accompany Him at His arrival.

It’s His second coming, of course. He will come in power and majesty, and there will be no mistaking the response of nature at that time. In fact, there will be only one group whose reaction won’t be sure, and that’s ours. We, as humans, have the ability to choose for ourselves how to react in any situation. That agency is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, perhaps second only to life itself. And so while the earth and skies will shake at His coming, we may not. We may choose to recognize the arrival of our King. We may not. It is given to us to choose.

The phrase “less than the dust of the earth” occasionally appears in scripture to describe the state of man. That’s not to say that mankind is somehow worth less than dust. Of God’s creations, only humans are created in His image, so surely we carry more intrinsic value than dust. But dust obeys God’s every command without question. If He commands it to move, it moves. If He commands a mountain to move, it moves, and if He commands a sea to be dry, it dries. But when He commands us, we often question Him. We ask if He really needs us to do that right now, or if it could maybe wait until this afternoon, or even just until the next commercial break. Our agency is a tremendous gift, but when it comes to pure obedience, that gift makes us less than the dust of the earth.

Of course, we will be accountable for those choices. In the fourth verse, we are reminded that His judgments are just, and that at the second coming, “God, himself the judge, is there.” He knows us, and He knows what we have done with His gift of agency. He will judge, and judge perfectly and justly. And so as we sing, we are reminded of that day. We are reminded that we will stand before Him and will answer for our actions. And as we are so reminded, hopefully we take a moment to consider those actions, and whether we could be a little quicker to heed His call now rather than waiting until the last day. Perhaps we could lend a hand to someone in need, or offer a kind word. And as we do so, we can, along with the heavens in the final verse, “adore him, and his righteousness declare.”

Hymn #47: We Will Sing of Zion

The title says it all, really. We spend three verses singing of Zion. It’s a simple sentiment, and its simplicity speaks volumes. Each line only has from five to seven syllables (6 5 7 7 6, to be precise), and not a syllable is wasted in telling us what Zion is, who makes it up, and where it will go.

So what is Zion, exactly? We find out right off the bat: Zion is the pure in heart, those who seek the Savior’s part. The phrase “the pure in heart” is a stock answer in LDS culture to define Zion, but it’s a stock answer for a reason. The pure in heart are those without any, well, impurities in their hearts. They don’t have anything that distracts them or prevents them from giving themselves fully to their Savior. They are filled with His love, and as we sing, they seek the Savior’s part. They keep Him in their hearts and minds as best as they can.

As we purify our hearts and listen to the “revelations giv’n by God to men,” we learn one of Zion’s main functions. Zion readies us to see the Savior come again. It certainly helps us to prepare to meet Him at His second coming. We learn the signs, we learn His teachings, and we learn how to become more like Him. The prophets teach us by revelation, and we can receive those revelations, too, as we follow those teachings and keep ourselves pure. But I think Zion also helps us prepare for the second coming by getting us excited to see Him when He comes again. We look forward to that day. We are directed to sing resolutely. There is nothing holding us back, no lingering doubts, no unresolved spiritual hangups, no impurities (there’s that word again) preventing us from looking forward to that day with joy. And when we see Him again, we will feel that joy together with our fellow citizens in Zion.

We don’t know when that day will come. We won’t know until it happens. But in the meantime, we can help to build a community that looks forward to it right now, where we stand. We can keep His law in truth, and when we do so, the hymn promises that “hate and war and strife will cease; men will live in love and peace.” It reminds me of the beautiful passage in Revelation where John describes, well, I’ll let him tell you what he describes:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

This is where Zion is headed. We look forward not only to the day when our Savior will come again, but to the day when we will live with Him and the Father, and when they will wipe the tears from our eyes, removing all of our sorrows and burdens, just as we are commanded to do in building Zion here. We look forward to seeing the Zion in heaven joined with our Zion on earth and made one, both in borders and in heart. And this is why at the end of the hymn, we sing (resolutely!), “Heav’nly Zion, come once more and cover all the earth,” because we want this not only for our friends, not only for our neighbors, but for everyone. We want to see everyone accept the outstretched arms and hands of our Savior, not just those we know.

We’ll get there, as we start building Zion here. And as we build it, we will sing of Zion, the kingdom of our God.