The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad; the Passover of gladness, the Passover of God. From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky, our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory.
Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright the Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light; and listening to his accents, may hear so calm and plain his own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.
Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth her song begin! The round world keep high triumph, and all that is therein! Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend, for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.
John of Damascus (ca. 675-749), ca. 750; trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1853
Rejoice and Sing suggests the tune Komm, Seele for this. You can hear this here. However, the tune Ellacombe is also popular and makes a good alternative. You can hear Gloucester Cathedral Choir sing the hymn to Ellacombe here.
I rather like singing hymns that have stood the test of time and this one, from the 8th Century, is certainly that. When set to the tune Ellacombe (found in Congregational Praise) one feels the joy the writer tries to convey within it.
Its author, John of Damascus, is recognised as one of the Fathers of the Church and was one of its greatest poets. He held an office under the Caliph and was not ordained a priest until quite late on his in his life. The Victorian Anglican priest J M Neale translated this hymn into English as part of his ministry to bring into the life of the contemporary Church the richness of the past.
John of Damascus links the Old Testament idea of the Passover with the Resurrection. The angel of death has not claimed us but Christ has “brought us over” into new life. We are invited to see the Risen Lord and join our praises with that of creation as we praise the One who gave him new life.
Often in churches we are rather embarrassed to get too carried away with Easter joy – we might shy away from some hymns which are joyful as we often seem to think we have to agree with every stanza (meaning there are very few hymns which are deemed theologically correct!) instead of recognising that we can appreciate how many writers experienced, and articulated, the truth of the Gospel.
I wonder how we would express the truth of the resurrection ourselves. I wonder how we would express our joy at Easter. Would we use the words of the past or maybe write our own hymns of praise – or both? How do we express the resurrection joy in our daily lives and witness to a world which sees pleasure as being more important than joy even though it’s much more transitory.
In these days of Easter it’s good to join our praises with those of the Church in the past and to know that generations still to come will also praise the Risen Lord in their own age – perhaps singing this ancient hymn and regarding some of our hymns as being venerable which had lasted the test of time. Who knows, maybe The Day of Resurrection will be sung along side In Christ Alone as the United Reformed Catholic Church of the future looks to honour its ancient past,
Christ our Passover, you have rescued and redeemed us, brought us over into new life; increase our joy, that we might sing your praises in our hearts, with our lips and through our actions, now and evermore, Amen.
Andy Braunston is a minister-elect in the Glasgow Southside Cluster and the co-ordinator of the URC Daily Devotion project.