Sunday, March 23, 2008

Savior, Teach us so to Rise!

Note to Readers: This post was started last week on Easter evening. It needed some serious editing, though, so this Sunday morning, as I am passing time in the Cincinnati airport, soon to be home, was the perfect time to clean it up and get it posted.

Go to dark Gethsemane, ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

See Him at the judgment hall, beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall! O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; learn of Christ to bear the cross.

Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom. Who has taken Him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes; Savior, teach us so to rise.

words by Pennsylvania hymn writer James Montgomery

My Dad has been studying the great hymn writers of Pennsylvania for several years now. There are more than you would think. Great hymns like "What Can Wash Away My Sin" were written right here in our own backyard. What a heritage and inheritance!

I love hymns. I love them like I love my church, the soil in my garden and the pillow I rest my head on each night. I feel like my soul has been steeped in them since I was an infant, and I can not remember a time that I did not know the most familiar of them. On the other hand, in the last few years, since my Dad has begun his studies, and since I began to listen to Indelible Grace music, (an ongoing project by Reformed University Fellowship to write contemporary music for the words of old hymns. Not because the old music isn't great, but to try to hook college kids on old, meaty, excellent, words. It worked for me!) I have discovered how much I don't know.

The above hymn is a perfect example. I first heard it after getting the new Indelible Grace CD for Christmas. This hymn is rewritten and sung by Sandra McCracken, one of my favorite musicians. The thing about this music is that it is dense. Very dense. The words and their rich, profound meanings are packed so tightly that I probably listened to this song about thirty times before I started to "get it." But once I did...I can't help but lift my hands as I drive down the road on each early morning commute.

Then I sat at my Dad's kitchen table one day, and he showed me a newsletter that he wrote for his church and was mailing out to the congregation. Easter was coming soon, so he closed the newsletter with a verse of a hymn by James Montgomery, who is one of the PA hymn writers he often talks about. As I read it, it began to click in my mind. It was the last verse of "Go to Dark Gethsemane". Looking at the words, they began to sink in a little bit more. Phrases like "his breathless clay", and "teach us so to rise" started sticking in my head.

On good Friday, I attended my church's Tenebrae service with John and opened the bulletin to found "Go to Dark Gethsemane". Very fitting for a Good Friday service, and for the first time, I heard and sang the words with their original music. It is lovely and temperate and somber. The last verse, though, wasn't there. Perhaps it was removed because it would jump ahead of the crucifixion and rush us into the resurrection. But when I looked in other hymnals, they also included only the first three verses.

This morning, Easter morning, the sanctuary was transformed. From the black drape hanging on a rugged wooden cross to a sprawling mound of lillies and golden forsythia. From dark candlelight to the sun pouring in the windows. From soft piano to trumpet and timpani, the glory, the Shekinah, of the Lord radiated through the room and through my heart and out from my eyes. And pastor Gene reminded us that all of our church, each person's involvement, and all of the care that we receive there is only, only because of what we celebrate this day, that Jesus conquered sin and death and is alive. And he is! He is alive and he is good and worthy of all the praise that we can try to give.

Last night John did a Google search for "Go to Dark Gethsemane", and he sent me the words to verse four. So, just as it says in Ephesians, that "his incomparably great power for us who like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead...", Savior, teach us so to rise!


Anonymous said...

Hi Joanna,
You must have gotten James Montgomery (one of my favorite British hymnwriters) confused with James McGranahan (one of my favority Pennsylvania hymnwriters). I'm glad you're writing on your blog again.
Love, Dad

dscharmer09 said...


So good to hear your 'voice' again! I studied the hymn, "Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow" this morning, which is by William John Sparrow-Simpson, who is responsible for the complete libretto in John Stainer's "Crucifixion". Some of these "dense" hymns, as you aptly pegged them, remind us of the intensity of faith the hymn writers exhibited. It really is an inspiration to maintain that intensity no matter what our circumstances...Christ's was far greater than ours!

"O mysterious condescending! O abandonment sublime! Very God himself is bearing all the sufferings of time!"

Since you hooked me onto Indelible Grace I've been following their stuff and playing their music.

Keep in touch! I'd love to meet your Dad some day...he seems like someone I might appreciate (not unlike his daughter!)


Anonymous said...

I like that you post on holidays.

-John k.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joanna,
Nice to read about what touches your heart. Thanks for sharing!
Heidi R