Easter Sunday was a beautiful morning where we live, much better than Good Friday, which was an awful day. I’m talking about the weather, of course, and in other places, or in other years, the weather may have been the other way around.
But for me Easter Sunday was a beautiful morning, as it is every year, in a different way. And it was also a beautiful morning for many others, with whom I met to sing:
” See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem…”
This modern hymn, by Stuart Townend, tells the story of God’s love for his people; how he gave his Son, Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sin; how he defeated death by rising from the dead; and how his resurrection gives those who believe in Him the promise of eternal life to reign with Him . The last line of each of the three verses resonates with the assertion:
“For He lives, Christ is risen from the dead.”
This line is Stuart’s modern equivalent of the first line of Charles Wesley’s hymn, written more than 200 years earlier, which we sang next:
“Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Hallelujah!”
It’s strange to be singing this as the second hymn in a service rather than the first, and perhaps because of this I paid more attention to the words in all the verses than I previously have. Or perhaps it was the memory of a very recent astronomical event that struck a chord with the last two lines of the second verse:
“Love’s redeeming work is done!
Fought the fight, the battle won:
See, our sun’s eclipse has passed;
See, the light returns at last!”
We use the ‘Praise!’ Hymn book, where there have been many changes to modernise language , some of which have not been well received. And I must admit that I am one of those who finds it hard to understand why some words have been changed in the way that they have – especially when I find myself singing the words I grew up with and know by heart! But there are some lines in some hymns that always were difficult to understand, and the original last line of the second verse of “Christ the Lord is risen today” is one of them.
“Lo! He sets in blood no more” follows the original third line,
“Lo! The sun’s eclipse is over”
Is it speaking of the blood redness of the sun in certain atmospheric conditions, especially at dawn and at dusk? Or does it speak of the completeness of Jesus’ sacrifice – shedding his blood once and for all? The compilers of Praise must have found this problematic too and have chosen to disregard it. Their third line, “See, our sun’s eclipse has passed;” is recognisable against the original, but their fourth line is completely new:
“See, the light returns at last!”
This is one of the types of change that gets critics of the Praise project hopping, but I think it is a very neat way to sidestep that impenetrable original fourth line.
With the 2015 eclipse in recent memory, even though it was only a partial eclipse across most of the UK, the loss of daylight during the eclipse and the sudden drop in temperature were seen and felt by millions, to some degree. And then the eclipse was passed: the sun was seen to shine again (except where there was heavy cloud cover) and its warmth was felt once again. This is the sense that Charles Wesley, ably assisted by today’s Praise team, intended to convey. The death of Jesus was the eclipse, and his resurrection its passing. His light was seen again and the warmth of his love was felt again but in a more complete way, the world having experienced for just a short time, what it would be like to be without him.
The total darkness of a full eclipse lasts for only a few seconds, but the death of Jesus was marked by the event that Luke records in his gospel as follows:
Luke 23:44-45 NIV
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.”
At that moment Jesus gave himself up to death and when the sun returned, three hours later there was only a feeling of emptiness and bewilderment amongst his disciples. But that discovery on the morning of the third day that he had risen from his grave must have far exceeded the brilliance and the warmth experienced by 2015 eclipse watchers.
“See, our sun’s eclipse has passed;
See, the light returns at last.