Hymn of the Month #2, April 2019
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one of the many hymns of Charles Wesley. Born in England in 1707—the youngest in a family of 18 children—Charles Wesley stands out as one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time.
Together with his brother John, Charles Wesley is also remembered for his founding role in the Methodist movement. He and John were first called “methodists” during their time at Oxford University. They and some classmates had formed what they called the “Holy Club," and in time were labeled “methodists” by other students on account of their disciplined and detailed method of Bible study and life more broadly. Though meant as an insult, Charles, John, and the rest accepted the name as a badge of honor, a badge that many of them would continue to wear for the rest of their lives.
After graduation Charles followed his father and brother John into ordained ministry in the Church of England. Soon thereafter he set sail with John to the American colonies, where both of them experienced heartbreaking rejection, including being shot at. This rejection gave birth to deep soul-searching which eventually led to the aching feeling that they needed to be converted. As John famously wrote, "I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?" That period of soul-searching came to an end in 1738. On May 21, after months of praying, waiting, and laboring--most recently by reading Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians and wrestling with Galatians’ message of justification by faith in Jesus Christ--Charles joyfully recorded in his diary, "I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ."
Three days later his brother John had a similar experience during a meeting where someone was reading the preface to Luther’s commentary on Romans. As he wrote in his diary, “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Those conversion experiences gave Charles and John renewed strength for ministry and a desire to preach justification by faith in Jesus Christ and the new life in him. One way Charles did that was through hymns. By one count Charles wrote nearly 9,000 hymns in his lifetime, a number of which are sung yet today, including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”, and “Rejoice! The Lord Is King!” These hymns played a significant role in the spread of Methodism and continue to encourage believers to the present day.
The composer of the tune used is unknown. Originally published in a collection titled Lyra Davidica in 1739, it was later paired with these words by Charles Wesley and continues to be the tune most often used.
From its title to its closing words, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” focuses unmistakably on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymn leads us in rejoicing in this pivotal event in the history of redemption and praising the one at the center of it: our Lord and Savior who died on the cross but rose from the dead, never to die again.
"Christ the Lord is ris'n today," Alleluia!
sons of men and angels say; Alleluia!
raise your joys and triumphs high; Alleluia!
Sing ye heav'ns, and earth, reply. Alleluia!
In Mark 16 we read that early on the first day of the week, a handful of women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with spices. Much to their surprise, however, they met an angel there! The angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” We begin our hymn with an echo of the angel’s words to the women, together with the praise that followed. Alleluia! Praise God!
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Alleluia!
Christ has burst the gates of hell: Alleluia!
death in vain forbids his rise; Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise. Alleluia!
Matthew 27:60-66 tells us that not only was Jesus laid in a new tomb with a great stone at the entrance, but that the chief priests and the Pharisees also convinced Pilate to post guards at the tomb and seal the stone “lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Those precautions proved in vain when the first day of the week arrived. In vain also was the power of death to hold him. As Peter proclaimed on Pentecost, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” All this is good news for those who trust in him--Christ has burst the gates of hell and opened paradise! Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King; Alleluia!
where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died, our souls to save; Alleluia!
where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
As our song continues, we rejoice in the resurrected life of our King, singing Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death has no victory, because our glorious King is alive, never to die again. Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
foll'wing our exalted Head; Alleluia!
made like him, like him we rise: Alleluia!
ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!
1 Corinthians 15:22 declares, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” We live in a world corrupted by sin—indeed, we by nature are corrupted by sin throughout our being—but we live in Christ, and will into eternity! Alleluia!
Hail, the Lord of earth and heav'n! Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be giv'n; Alleluia!
thee we greet triumphant now; Alleluia!
hail, the Resurrection, thou! Alleluia!
Jesus Christ is Lord, and we profess that to him in this final verse. Calling him the Resurrection, as he referred to himself in John 11:25, we acknowledge that he is Lord of earth and heav’n, and so he is.
Is that evident in your heart and life? He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord—how will you honor and follow him here and now?