Monthly Archives: May 2014

Ascension Sunday: “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!”

ascensionAlleluia! Sing to Jesus!

Hymn 144, The Presbyterian Hymnal


Ascension Sunday this year coincides with communion Sunday at Christ Presbyterian, and the lessons (as last Sunday) point to Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…”  Acts 1:8

“When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  Acts 1:9


TEXT: This hymn was written in 1866 by William Chatterton Dix for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at Ascension services.  Dix made many valuable contributions to modern hymnody, including his Epiphany hymn, “As with gladness men of old,” and his plaintive ”Come unto Me, ye weary.”

The “alleluias” that begin each stanza create a joyful tone of praise for the entire hymn. As we sing, we acclaim the glory of Christ now that the work of redemption is finished (stanza 1); we are reminded that Christ has ascended but is always present with his people by his Spirit (stanza 2); we petition Christ to hear the cry of sinners and be our Intercessor” (stanza 3); and we celebrate Christ as both human and divine in the communion bread and wine (stanza 4).

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus;  his the scepter, his the throne;
Alleluia! his the triumph, his the victory alone!
Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood:
“Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by his blood.”


Alleluia! Not as orphans are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! he is near us; faith believes nor questions how.
Though the cloud from sight received him, when the forty days were o’er,
shall our hearts forget his promise: “I am with you evermore”?


Alleluia! Bread of angels, here on earth our food, our stay;
Alleluia! here the sinful flee to you from day to day.
Intercessor, friend of sinners, earth’s redeemer, hear our plea
where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea.


Alleluia! King eternal, Lord omnipotent we own;
Alleluia! born of Mary, earth your footstool, heaven your throne.
As within the veil you entered, robed in flesh, our great high priest;
here on earth both priest and victim in the eucharistic feast.

TUNE: One of the most loved Welsh tunes,  Hyfrydol (Welsh for “tuneful” or “pleasant”) was composed by Rowland Hugh Prichard in 1830 when he was only nineteen. Prichard was a textile worker and an amateur musician. He had a good singing voice and was appointed precentor, from the Latin “cantor,” a person who helps facilitate worship.  Hyfrydol was published with about forty of his other tunes in his children’s hymnal Cyfaill y Cantorion (The Singers’ Friend) in 1844.

In The Presbyterian Hymnal, Hyfrydol is also the setting of two other hymns, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (376), and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (2).  As a testimony to its popularity, it has been published in 167 hymnals.




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Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!

knapp_ppHymn 341, The Presbyterian Hymnal

Text: Fanny CrosbyCrosby_Fanny_0
Tune: Phoebe Palmer Knapp

Blind from the age of 6, Fanny Crosby was visiting her friend Phoebe Knapp as the Knapp home was having a large pipe organ installed. Mrs. Knapp played a new melody she had just composed and asked Crosby, “What do you think the tune says?” Crosby replied, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”

The hymn, probably written in 1873, has become one of the most beloved of all time. Crosby published many other volumes of poems, but it is as a writer of Sunday-school songs and gospel hymns that she is best known. “Safe in the arms of Jesus” was her own favorite hymn. Some others you may recognize are “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “To God be the Glory,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” and “Rescue the Perishing.”

Fanny loved her work, and was happy in it. The secret of this contentment dates from her first composition at the age of 8. “It has been the motto of my life,” she said.

“O what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be;”

Phoebe Palmer Knapp was a wealthy Christian and social activist who believed that Christianity should aid the poor and foster reform. She became involved in many reform and political activities of the day, gave large sums of money for the poor, and worked diligently to enlist social and political leaders in her causes. Her other passion was music, and she wrote over 500 hymn tunes, the most familiar being ASSURANCE.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Refrain: This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight! Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love. (refrain)

Perfect submission, all is at rest! I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love. (refrain)

 Question for reflection: When you think about this hymn, is it the tune or the words that come to you first?

Related trivia: Fanny Crosby was the first woman heard publicly in the Senate; she read a poem there.



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 “His Eye is on the Sparrow”

Hymn 2146, Sing the Faith
Text: Civilla Martin
Music: Charles Gabriel

“His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” a gospel hymn written in 1905, was inspired by the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew:

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Matthew 6:26

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?…So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:29–31

Civilla Martin, who wrote the lyrics, said this about her inspiration to write the song:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience.”

The next day she mailed the poem to Charles Gabriel, who set it to music. Gabriel composed thousands of songs, edited 35 gospel song books, 8 Sunday school song books, 7 books for male choruses, 6 books for ladies, 10 children’s song books, 19 collections of anthems, 23 choir cantatas, 41 Christmas cantatas, 10 children’s cantatas, and books on musical instruction. Some of his tunes I remember from my country Methodist upbringing are “Higher Ground,” O That Will Be, Glory for Me,” and “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart.”

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

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Our Music for Good Shepherd Sunday

 “Savior, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us” (Hymn 387)



Good Shepherd Sunday is my favorite Sunday of the church year, perhaps because I collect sheep, but more likely because of the wonderful and descriptive images of the “good shepherd” in the Bible. There are 111 citations, not all of them good. Here are some of my favorites:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms. Isaiah 40:11
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:1,2
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11


“Savior, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us,” first appeared in Hymns for the Young, compiled by Dorothy Thrupp. The authorship of the words is uncertain, but there’s no doubt about the composer of the music. It was the famous William Bradbury, one of the most prolific hymnists of the 19th century. A native of Maine, William moved to Boston at age fourteen and joined Lowell Mason’s choir.


Recognizing that young William had an inborn talent, Mason, who was passionate about training children in sacred music, encouraged him at every turn. Consequently, Bradbury moved to New York City to do there what Mason had been doing in Boston – encouraging the Christian musical education of children. During his lifetime, 59 Sunday school songbooks appeared under his name, and he encouraged music in the New York school system.


Bradbury set in motion a great change in American church music. Instead of heavy, noble, and stately hymns, William wanted to write lighter melodies that children could sing. His compositions were softer and full of movement.  In writing this way, he may not have realized that adults would sing his hymns as readily as children!


Today William Bradbury is remembered for such favorites as “He Leadeth Me,” “Just as I Am,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” and this one, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”


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