Saturday, April 7, 2012

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here;
He has risen, just as He said."
Matthew 28:5-6

Easter is the happiest and holiest of holy days in the Christian faith. It is the day we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God's promise of redemption and salvation for all men who would receive Him--the victory of Goodness and Love over Sin and Death, making possible Eternal Life with Him. Even as a youngster I was awestruck by the dramatic swings of the Easter story, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through the darkness and horror of Jesus' trial and crucifixion only a few days later, and finally His miraculous Resurrection and loving reassurance to His grieving disciples. The anguish and despair they must have been feeling in the immediate wake of the Master's death is beyond comprehension. Equally unimaginable is their joy upon seeing Him again, hearing His voice, and even touching Him. He lives still today, and forever--and so the disciples' joy is ours too!

The perfect theme for history's greatest triumph might be the beloved hymn Christ the Lord is Risen Today, with text written by Anglican minister, preacher, and co-founder of Methodism Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Considered by some the greatest hymnist of all time, Wesley wrote many thousands of hymns, far more than the only other possible candidate, Isaac Watts. Among his earliest was Christ the Lord is Risen Today, which was written to be sung at the first worship service in London's Wesleyan Chapel (the famous "Foundry Meeting House") on Easter Sunday in 1739. The hymn was then titled “Hymn for Easter-Day,” but we know it today by the first line of Wesley's text. This exuberant song is one of the most popular Easter hymns in the English language.

The hymn's appeal lies in its perfect marriage of inspiring words and soaring music. Originally comprising eleven four-line stanzas and published by John and Charles Wesley in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), the text celebrates exultantly our Savior's everlasting triumph over evil and death through His own death and resurrection, which redeems us from Hell and opens for us the door to Eternal Life.

Christ the Lord is Risen Today ("Hymn for Easter-Day"), as it appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739)

The most distinctive element of the hymn as sung today is the conclusion of each line with an extended "Alleluia," the anglicized form of a Hebrew term meaning “Praise the Lord!” Alleluia is meant to convey emphatic joy, thanksgiving, and triumph; early Christians greeted each other on Easter with the call and response: "Alleluia! He is risen!" "Alleluia! He is risen indeed!"
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is o’er, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
The tune "Easter Hymn," to which Christ the Lord is Risen Today is now commonly sung, was first published anonymously in Lyra Davidica (1708). Its sprightly rhythm and major C key give the hymn a positive, infectious, rafter-ringing quality loved by everyone who sings it!

As it turns out, however, the hymn we know as Christ the Lord is Risen Today differs significantly from the one written by Charles Wesley and sung in the Foundry Meeting House 173 years ago. First, whatever tune Wesley used with his hymn, it was not the "Easter Hymn" tune that we associate with it today. In Lyra Davidica, "Easter Hymn" is paired with the different, if quite similar, hymn Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, which was translated from a 14th Century Bohemian Latin carol. Moreover, the original Wesley hymn had no "alleluias." Someone whose name has been lost to history apparently decided to set Wesley's words to the "Easter Hymn" tune that we now use--a tune composed by still another unknown person--and since those words didn't fit that tune, he added the "alleluias" to make it fit. Thus, Christ the Lord is Risen Today is actually a hybrid of the work of several different people who lived hundreds of years apart!

Surprisingly, there seem to be few good video presentations of Christ the Lord is Risen Today. Following is one by the incomparable Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

Here is another (though it's a static, single-image video) by an unidentified full choir, and nicely orchestrated, with lyrics:

In the name of our risen Lord and Savior, I pray that each and every one of you has a joyous Easter this and every year!


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