Now that we are through Lent and Holy Week, I actually have enough time to resume writing my hymn studies. Notice that I did not say that we are through with Easter. Easter is a joyous 50 day season of the church year when we hear of the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection from the dead and rejoice in this central fact of the Christian faith.
The hymn our congregation is learning during this season is "This Joyful Eastertide" by George R. Woodward, a translator and clergyman who lived from 1848-1934 and who compiled several collections of hymnody. We will be singing the hymn to the 17th century Dutch folk tune "Vruechten", which is the tune to which Woodward intended this hymn to be sung. As an aside, let me say that this highlights the catholic (universal) nature of Christian hymnody and worship; we are singing a British hymn to a Dutch tune in a church in Texas, led by an organ built in a German style.
The hymn itself is based on 1st Corinthians chapter 15, where St. Paul lays out for us in clear terms the Christian teaching on the resurrection.
Here's stanza 1:
This joyful Eastertide
Away with sin and sorrow!
My love, the Crucified,
Has sprung to life this morrow:
The hymn starts where 1st Corinthians 15 starts, with the Gospel:
1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
The Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with Scriptures, was buried, and was raised on the third day. That the Messiah must die for our sins is clearly prophesied in Isaiah, chapter 53:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
God laid our sins on Jesus and they died and were buried with Him. When Jesus rose from the dead, he left all our sins in the grave. This is why the first stanza of the hymn says, "Away with sin and sorrow!" Our sins are gone, conquered, and forgiven, and we now live with the sure hope and joy that comes with the assurance that Christ has risen from the dead.
Every stanza includes this refrain:
Not burst His three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain:
But now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen;
But now has Christ arisen!
This is a summary of 1 Corinthians 15:12-22
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
I'm glad that this text is included as the refrain in the hymn so that we get to sing it more times. This is such a central part of the Christian faith. If Christ is not raised, then all preaching is in vain, and our faith is worthless, useless, harmful, and irresponsible. If Christ is not raised then those who proclaim the Gospel are liars. After this comes the most important conjunction in all of Scripture; BUT! But, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep! We will be made alive in Christ even after we have fallen asleep. What joyous news! What an amazing Gospel! He is risen!
Since Jesus crossed the river;
Lover of souls, from ill
My passing soul deliver.
This comes from 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, which includes a quote of Hosea 13:14:
54When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
"Death is swallowed up in victory." 55 "O death, where is your victory?
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The idea of crossing over the water of death into life runs through all of Scripture. Noah and his family survived the flood in the ark, Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and all who chased them drowned, and we who are baptized have also crossed over from death into life, as it says in 1st Peter 3:
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
We end the second stanza by praying to God that He would deliver our souls. We can pray this with confidence because our risen Lord hears our prayers.
And for a season slumber
Till trump from east to west
Shall wake the dead in number:
This comes from 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
51Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
The Christian term for the faithful dead is "sleep". This is used throughout the New Testament by Jesus and the apostles. Death is the separation of body and soul:
Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2nd Corinthians 5:8
When the believer dies, the soul goes to be "at home with the Lord", but the flesh rests in the ground until our Lord returns. At that time the dead will be raised imperishable and reunited with the soul. This is the final resurrection and the point in history to which we look forward. I know this goes against much belief today, where many Christians believe that either they are done with their bodies when they die or that God will give them a completely different body. However, the truth is that our very bodies, our flesh, will be resurrected, transformed, reunited with the body and given eternal life with Christ on the last day.
We have passed from death to life. Sin is defeated and we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Christ is risen!