Despite knowing that Brian Wren wrote this hymn for Easter Sunday 1968, it is indelibly linked in my mind to the sight of the crosses on Brent Knoll every Easter week. Brent Knoll is an outlier hill of the Mendips lying on the north side of the M5 in Somerset; the custom of placing the crosses there dates from the 1980s.
I love the unequivocal statement: “Christ is alive!” but the real attraction, to me, is the second line “The cross stands empty to the sky”. In this country where our Christianity is so often hidden – people forbidden to wear a cross to work or mention, even in passing, faith – bold it is to climb the hill and place the crosses where they can be seen clearly silhouetted against the sky.
The Good News is contained in the simple statement “Christ is alive”. We are reminded throughout the hymn that it is for everyone, everywhere and every when; it is always “here and now” and new life follows. Christ, the firstborn of all creation, is not there, he is risen and alive.
Brian Wren altered the hymn several times. Consequently, in an ecumenical setting don’t think you can hand out copies of R&S and Hymns and Psalms or Church Hymnary 4 and expect the congregation to sing the same words. With apologies to Brian, I am rather pleased that Church Hymnary 4 retains line 2 of verse 5 as in R&S: “good news to this and every age”. In publications later than 1988 it reads “New life in … “. Without good news there can be no new life: if the Good News is not allowed to be proclaimed, how can it be heard and is it any wonder that we are short of good news?
Lord, bringer of Good News, help us to make that Good News prominent in this age as it has been down the centuries, through rejection and acceptance, through prosperity and poverty, through restriction and freedom. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.