Some thoughts concerning Hymns on Christ’s Resurrection
I know this post is somewhat badly timed, but I wanted to provide a bit of help for those who are looking for good resurrection hymns, either for personal devotion, to teach to their families, or to teach to congregations.1 Sometimes I hear the lament that there aren’t that many good Easter hymns. There are probably more than you think.2 Perhaps this post will introduce you to some good, suitable hymns for your congregation’s exaltation of our Savior Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
First, a word about my recommendations. I am not interested in new, faddish gospel songs. I’m blissfully unaware of trends in contemporary Christian music. I know of some good “modern hymn” writers, but I want the sound of the hymn to sound, well, like a hymn. That is, I want the music to represent the Christian hymn tradition, even if it is a more recent composition. So if you’re looking for a list of some hip, trendy, newly written hymns on the resurrection of Christ, you’re barking up the wrong blog post. You can go to any other blog for that. If you’re looking for sound, theological, glorious, traditional-sounding hymns that you and others you know will enjoy singing to praise the risen Christ, then you should continue reading. You shouldn’t be too disappointed, even though you may already know some or even most of them.
Now Let the Vault of Heaven Resound
My first hymn, Now Let the Vault of Heaven Resound, is, ironically enough, more recently written. The text is by Paul Zeller Strodach, and it was written in 1958. I’ve sung this hymn to the tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen (you’d recognize it as the tune to All Creatures of Our God and King), and it suits this text very well. As the title suggests, the congregation with this hymn asks the myriad of angels in heaven to join them in praising Christ who “hath triumphed.” The second verse praises Christ for his gracious gifts. The third verse applies the resurrection to holy living, and the fourth verse is a Gloria Patri to the Holy Trinity. This is a very good hymn.
Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
The hymn Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands is by Martin Luther. This is a good hymn.3 The tune is not easy to learn, and so I’d only suggest this for the most patient and flexible congregations. Yet, in my judgment, this hymn is worth the effort. Luther weaves together many themes from Scripture, including memorable ruminations on Christ as the Paschal Lamb from 1 Corinthians 5. I love verse 5:
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see, / Whom God so freely gave us; / He died on the accursed tree— / So strong his love—to save us. / See, his blood now marks our door; / Faith points to it; death passes o’er, / And Satan cannot harm us. / Alleluia! Alleluia!
Jesus Lives and So Shall I
The hymn Jesus Lives and So Shall I is another hymn and tune coming out of Reformation Germany. The tune was written in 1653 by Johann Cruger and Christian Geller wrote the original German words in 1757. This hymn text is an excellent meditation on the doctrine of the resurrection, and the tune provides vigor that matches the text’s sense of exuberant joy. Consider verse 4, which is plainly patterned after Romans 8: “Jesus lives! I know full well/ Nought from him my heart can sever, / Live nor death nor pow’rs of hell, / Joy nor grief, hence forth forever. / None of all his saints is lost; / Jesus is my Hope and Trust.”
The Day of Resurrection
John of Damascus wrote the hymn text we know as The Day of Resurrection over 1200 years ago. John of Damascus too compares Christ’s resurrection to the Passover. Though it is often set to Lancashire, this hymn can be sung to several different tunes, including Ellacombe (aka “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”) or, the tune I prefer for it, Aurelia (aka, “The Church’s One Foundation”). The hymn ends, “Let all things seen and unseen / their notes in gladness blend, / for Christ the Lord has risen, / our joy that hath no end.”
Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain is another hymn by John of Damascus. In this hymn John hymns to Christ, “Neither could the gates of death, / nor the tomb’s dark portal, / nor the watchers, nor the seal, / hold you as a mortal.” It is a most jubilant text. The hymn tune it’s typically set to, St. Kevin, has several modulations and can be difficult to sing for this reason, but it is worth learning.
Some Other Hymns You May Already Know
Many hymns you already know serve well as resurrection hymns as well. For example, the hymn What Wondrous Love is This can serve as a resurrection hymn because of the the third and fourth verses. When one sings, “To God and to the Lamb, who is the great I Am, I will” and then in the next verse sings “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on,” it very much has to do with the resurrection.
Similarly, Wesley’s classical And Can It Be That I Should Gain speaks of the resurrection when we sing in the final verse, “No condemnation now I dread; / Jesus, and all in Him is mine! / Alive in Him, my living Head, / And clothed in righteousness divine, / Bold I approach th’eternal throne, / And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”
Similarly, Abide with Me is actually based on Luke 24 and the story of the risen Christ with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. In v 29 of that chapter, the disciples ask the Lord to “stay with us, for it is nearly evening.”4 It is this phrase that Henry Lyte used as the basis of this great hymn.
Thomas Kelly’s hymn Look Ye Saints, the Sight is Glorious is actually an ascension hymn, but works well for resurrection as well.
About Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).
- Churches that follow the ecclesiastical calendar should not find this post ill-timed, since they have only observed the second Sunday of Easter at this point. There are five more Sundays of Easter to go before Pentecost on May 24th! [↩]
- Indeed, I am quite confident that there are more than I think exist! [↩]
- The hymn is the basis for J. S. Bach’s cantata BWV 4. You can watch John Eliot Gardiner conduct this cantata as a part of this concert recorded on YouTube. [↩]
- Just bringing up Luke 24:29 reminds me of Egil Hovland’s superb anthem, “Stay with us.” [↩]