URC Daily Devotion 5th April

Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle

Sing my tongue the glorious battle                             
Sing the ending of the fray.                                         
Now above the cross, the trophy,                               
Sound the loud triumphant lay:                                  
Tell how Christ the world’s redeemer,                       
As a victim won the day.                                             

Tell how, when at length the fullness                          
Of the appointed time was come                               
He, the Word was born of woman,                           
Left for us His Father’s home,                                    
Blazed the path of true obedience,                             
Shone as light amidst the gloom.                               

Thus, with thirty years accomplished,                       
He went forth from Nazareth,                                     
Destined, dedicated, willing,                                       
Did his work, and met His death;                               
Like a lamb he humbly yielded                                  
On the cross His dying breath.                                 

Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,                           
Be for all the noblest tree;                                         
None in foliage, none in blossom,                              
None in fruit thine equal be;                                       
Symbol of the world’s redemption,                            
For the weight that hung on thee!                              

Unto God be praise and glory:                                   
To the Father and the Son,                                       
To the eternal Spirit honour                                       
Now and evermore be done;                                     
Praise and glory, in the highest,                                
While the timeless ages run.                                   

Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-609)                            
tr. john Mason Neale (1818-1866)  
                        

Here proclaim the glorious battle
and the deadly conflict fought;
celebrate the cross, the glory,
and the noble triumph wrought,
as the world’s redeemer conquered
through the sacrifice he brought.

Since the work of our salvation
made for this necessity
that the manifold deceiver
be destroyed on Calvary,
so, from wounds the foe inflicted,
flows the certain remedy.

Cross of faith, among all others
none so noble, none so great;
not another in the forest
bears such leaves, or flowers, or fruit;
wood and nails become so precious,
bearing such a precious weight.

Towering Tree, now bend your branches,
let compassion, reaching wide,
soften all your normal hardness
as your nature is belied;
holding there the King of heaven,
gently tend him, crucified.

Praise to the eternal Father,
raise to the eternal Son,
praise to the eternal Spirit,
honour to the Three in One;
praise the love that has redeemed us;
publish all God’s grace has done.

Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-609)
tr. Alan Gaunt (1935-   )    

Reflection

Describing Christ’s mission as a battle has fallen out of favour with modern hymn writers. Previous generations had little hesitation in using military images when depicting Christ’s life and work, and the pilgrimage of the Christian. I suppose the use of such imagery was inspired by Scripture’s use of military terminology to describe God in action, as well as the apostle Paul’s analogies. The fact remains, however, that battle images in modern hymns are sparingly used.

The Passiontide hymn ‘Sing my tongue’ is a product of 6th century devotion, written (disputedly) by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus, sometime Bishop of Poitiers. Rhymed, translated and paraphrased many times over, generations have appreciated its bold imagination of the power of the cross. Surviving many cuts and amendments to suit theological objections, it has also been extensively abbreviated.- the ‘original’ Latin text had 10 stanzas. Of special note, and not just to the URC, the Alan Gaunt translation given in ‘Rejoice and Sing’ (see above) gives his selection of verses which breathe fresh insight.

Verse 1 starts triumphantly, urging Christians to extol Christ’s final victory over death and the cross; the victim turned victor, and ‘the world’s redeemer’. If this triumphalism seems out of place at sombre Passiontide ‘a striking dissonance’, it points to the forthcoming transformation of the cross as a symbol of shame and death, to one of glory. This hymn exerted such powerful influence on 13th century Thomas Aquinas that he used it as a basis for his Corpus Christi hymn ‘Now my tongue the mystery telling’.

The Neale translation selects verses which take us from our Lord’s birth to his crucifixion; his resurrection is implied rather than stated. Thus this Passiontide hymn might also be sung into the season of Easter. The 4th verse extols the life of the tree from which the wooden cross was fashioned – an unusual metaphor for 21st century minds. In bearing Christ’s body, the life of the tree is imbued with human senses, and becomes the tree of life for us. Those wanting to explore this metaphor further might consult the ‘Companion to Rejoice and Sing’.

The Gaunt translation (with his selection of verses) pursues the tree metaphor further in verse 4, appealing to the tree’s compassion, so that the naturally hard wood may hold the crucified Christ gently. Though this may be thought fanciful, it can exert a considerable emotional  pull on the reader (or singer). Both translations end the hymn with a Doxology.

Two tunes are often associated with this hymn: ‘Pange lingua’, based on a plainsong chant; and the equally haunting ‘Picardy’, based on a French carol melody. ‘Picardy’ is probably the better known of the two, but the effort of learning ‘Pange lingua’ richly rewards singers.

 

Prayer

Gracious God
let your Spirit speak to us today
in the words and music of this ancient hymn.
May it encourage us to speak boldly of our faith
when it is required of us.
When we learn that our nature
and our environment are not separate,
but one in your redeeming work,
help us to accept the breadth of your love
towards us and your world.
Thus may all come to cry ‘glory’
and worship you as we ought. Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d John Young is a retired minister in the Synod of Scotland and member of Giffnock URC.

The Rev’d John Young is a retired minister in the Synod of Scotland and member of Giffnock URC.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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