The Strife is O’er, the Battle done Rejoice and Sing 250
The strife is o’er, the battle done; now is the Victor’s triumph won; O let the song of praise be sung: Alleluia!
Death’s mightiest powers have done their worst, but Christ their legions has dispersed; let shouts of praise and joy outburst: Alleluia!
On the third day he rose again glorious in majesty to reign; O let us swell the joyful strain: Alleluia!
He broke the ancient chains of hell; the bars from heaven’s high portals fell; let hymns of praise his triumph tell: Alleluia!
Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee, from death’s dread sting thy servants free, that we may live, and sing to thee: Alleluia!:
Latin, 17th cent. trans. Francis Pott (1832-1909)
This hymn is set to Palestrina’s tune Victory. You can hear the tune here. You can hear the Kings’ College Choir sing ithereto an alterntative tune, Vulpius which is suggested as an option in Rejoice and Sing and is the given tune in Church Hymnary 4.
Something happened at that first Easter! Something happened that changed everything.
We who, in wonder and amazement, still have living within us the gift of a mustard seed of resurrection faith, gladly shout with our Christian forebears, ‘Alleluia!’. We are the 21st century’s witnesses to the joy of Easter.
Today’s hymn was translated into English by J M Neale for his book ‘Mediaeval Hymns’ 1851. Later Francis Pott’s translation became more popular. The first firm evidence for the Latin original is 1695. In Europe the 1600’s were times of great tumult, violence and struggle. This hymn uses the imagery of battle, victory and triumph. There are also echoes of mediaeval cosmologies, as the chains of hell are broken and the gates of heaven are thrown open.
But the hymn’s fundamental theme is as contextually relevant in 2017 as it has ever been. Liberation! Freedom! Mortality is no longer an oppressive burden always on our backs ready to rob our brief span on earth of its vitality, purpose and security.
Yes, we die. Those we love die. Humanity’s inhumanity generates extra pain and anguish. And yet, something has happened that changes everything. “On the third day he rose again …”
In 2015 a ministry student died unexpectedly at the United Church in Papua New Guinea’s School of Theology and Mission. Students and staff are from many different cultural groups within this diverse nation of over 800 languages. Each of the country’s linguistic/cultural groups has developed its own custom in regard to death. Belief in Christ’s resurrection imbues traditional forms with hope and new meaning. But Christ’s resurrection does not produce uniformity.
Opinions as to how to respond appropriately to this death were varied, and strongly held. ‘We should sing and dance because Christ has overcome death’. ‘No, we should be quiet and serious because this is a very sad loss.’ ‘We should cancel all classes until after the funeral, out of respect.’ ‘No, we can be respectful and at the same time fulfil our responsibilities to teach and learn.’ Where there was inspirational unity, however, was in the practical, emotional and spiritual support the whole community gave to the student’s widow and children.
Maybe our understanding of what God in Christ did at Easter is partial and varied. Just maybe!
But the power released by Christ’s resurrection, in and through frail human beings, is real and transformational. So “let us swell the joyful strain: Alleluia!”
Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee, from death’s dread sting thy servants free, that we may live, and sing to thee: Alleluia!
As your 21st century disciples, deepen the roots of our resurrection faith; give us confidence as we face the reality of our own mortality; give us comfort as we experience the death of those we love. Help us, this day, to live as your free people, full of praise. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Gwen Collins is a retired minister and member of Avenue St Andrews URC in Southampton.
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