Hymn of the Week: Making the World Anew (Hymn 163)

March 27, 2015 Comments Off on Hymn of the Week: Making the World Anew (Hymn 163)

sunset (1)I thought that by choosing a date close to Holy Week for my “Hymn of the Week” reflection, I would jump right over those more familiar Lenten hymns, past the Palm Sunday hymns to those specifically designated in The Hymnal 1982 as “Holy Week” hymns. The first thing I noticed as I perused these several hymns to choose one is that they all have at least one thing in common. It seems to me that these hymns are designed to move us abruptly from the triumphalism of the Palm Sunday hymns to the solemnity and suffering of the Passion. This is appropriate; these solemn hymns will make us so ready for the glory of Easter and the return of the “Alleluias” that we’ve been missing during this long, wintry Lent.

I chose to reflect upon Hymn 163. Of note, when I Googled “Hymn 163” so I could avoid retyping the text and perhaps find a sung rendition to embed in my reflection, I learned that the number 163 is assigned in the hymnals of several other denominations to a hymn called “At the Cross,” which, as listening to it showed me, is a rousing gospel music- like hymn, pleasing to my taste but not familiar to me and perhaps not to many who follow our blog. So I decided to leave that reflection for another time and go with the hymn in the 1982 Episcopal hymnal. I found that text in a 1998 hymnal called Common Praise (according to Wikipedia, Common Praise is used by the Church of England), with the number 188 assigned. I got there after wading through several pages of Google citations that tried to lure me to songs from “Fiddler on the Roof,” one of which of course is “Sunrise, Sunset.” I report on this digression only because it actually contributed something important to my reflection. It served to point out to me the wonderful diversity that exists within humanity, a feature that seems especially relevant at his time of year when we ponder that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son for the redemption of all.

Here is the text of hymn 163, followed by the remainder of my reflection.

Sunset to sunrise changes now,

for God doth make his world anew;

on the Redeemer’s thorn-crowned brow

the wonders of that dawn we view.

2 E’en though the sun withholds its light,

lo! a more heavenly lamp shines here,

and from the cross on Calvary’s height

gleams of eternity appear.

3 Here in o’er-whelming final strife

the Lord of life hath victory,

and sin is slain, and death brings life,

and earth inherits heaven’s key.

From the very beginning of the hymn, we have a reordering of chronology, with sunset turning to sunrise, an order that is reminiscent of the Sabbath in many traditions; that is, beginning with sunset, not sunrise; an ending, not a beginning. What is ending becomes readily apparent in the second line—God has made his world anew. The new creation, bought at the cost of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, changes the world forever. The following lines remind us powerfully that with the cross come redemption and resurrection: “the wonders of that dawn we view; “ “a more heavenly lamp shines;” “gleams of eternity.” The images are all of light, though the sun is withholding its own light. Somehow it is comforting to be reminded of the light from the midst of the darkness, both literal and figurative, that I have always associated with Good Friday. The third stanza points us toward the joy of Easter, using the images of victory, life, and earth inheriting heaven’s key. It’s not a stretch to say that the last stanza points toward Easter. These same images in slightly different words appear in the Easter hymn 174.

In three short stanzas, hymn 163 bring us away from the triumphal feeling of the Palm Sunday hymns, through the sorrow of Good Friday, and back toward the light and joy of the Easter triumph. God has indeed made the world anew.

– Julia Alberino

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