In the Easter season our “Alleluias” are bold. Many of the hymns and songs chosen for Easter have a majestic and joyful quality to them. Bells, brass, and drums often enhance organ, piano, or guitar. Yet we know that even though we are a resurrection people, we can’t always shout our praise or exude joy. “Christ has risen while earth slumbers,” a new hymn in All Creation Sings, announces the promise of resurrection while acknowledging the complexity of human experience. In the words of stanza three:
Christ has risen to companion former friends who fear the night,
sensing loss and limitation where their faith had once burned bright.
They bemoan what is no longer, they expect no hopeful sign
till Christ ends their conversation, breaking bread and sharing wine. (ACS #938)
Drawing on imagery from the Emmaus story in Luke’s gospel, Christ comes among us as he did to those confused, fearful, and grieving disciples. This hymn’s author, John Bell of the Iona Community, is a Scottish Presbyterian pastor who writes and leads songs that often challenge our understanding and experience. He has written several books and articles about why and how we sing in community and how song shapes our witness in the world. You might enjoy listening to this 2019 interview with Bell in which he talks about some other songs of his in both ELW and ACS as well as core beliefs that shape his ministry.
Bell’s text written in the late 1980s is paired in All Creation Sings with the tune ST.HELENA. The tune by Calvin Hampton (1938–1984) was published in 1977 without a text. It was first associated with “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” (ELW #587). The Advent hymn “Unexpected and mysterious” was written by Jeannette Lindholm especially for this tune (ELW #258). Like both of those texts, the editors of ACS sensed that the melodic spaciousness of ST.HELENA paired well with the sense of breadth and transformation in Bell’s text.
In the 2019 interview noted above, John Bell remarked: “The church at its best has a pastoral song which relates the pain of people as well as the joy of people.” “Christ has risen” includes the words “Christ has risen and forever lives to challenge and to change all whose lives are messed or mangled, all who find religion strange” (st. 4). Perhaps this is the only hymn we’ll encounter with the word “mangled,” but it is an honest, direct descriptor of so much of what we experience.
Into both our joy and our pain, into our messes and challenges, Christ’s new life flows. Especially in this Easter when the pain, grief, and isolation of this year are ever palpable, this new hymn can renew our trust in the One whose Spirit dwells among us always.
Christ is risen, Christ is present making us what he has been:
evidence of transformation in which God is known and seen. (st. 4)
To learn more about All Creation sings, visit www.augsburgfortress.org/AllCreationSings.
Christ Has Risen While Earth Slumbers
Text: John L. Bell, b. 1949
Music: Calvin Hampton, 1938–1984
Text © 1988 WGRG, Iona Community, admin. GIA Publications, Inc.
Music © 1977 GIA Publications, Inc.
Permission required for further use.
Image: Sundays and Seasons