Sunday, July 18, 2010

Forever and Forever Alleluia Is Outpoured

Another hymnic theme I want to explore further involves heaven, or perhaps, the Life to Come. As discussed before, the final stanza of many hymns takes us there, but there are also many hymns and songs solely about the afterlife; what we might find there and how we might find ourselves there. This blog, of course, takes its name from one of these, Jerusalem the golden, where the walls themselves are infused with the music of the praise of God (conjubilant with song). We have seen others, such as the gospel song When we all get to heaven and the collaboration between Isaac Watts and Robert Lowry (though they lived more than a century apart), Marching to Zion.

Here in the twenty-first century, in many places, death and the hoped-for nearness of heaven can seem almost metaphorical when it's encountered in church. Barring a sudden illness or accident, death mostly comes to older people who may even no longer be able to come to church regularly, so the community can sometimes avoid the reality for long periods of time. This was not the experience of churches in earlier times; death was more present for them, I think, as mortality rates were much higher. There is even an entire subcategory of hymns specifically written for the death of children that we would probably find hopelessly maudlin and sentimental today.

But I have lived in a time and a place where death was always present, where friends and colleagues and neighbors died on a weekly basis. I can tell you that hymns about heaven are just as important and meaningful and immediate in that situation as they were in the Victorian age, or any earlier time. A visiting contingent of Mennonites once came to a service where there were many men who would not be there a year later. One of their leaders memorably said "they sing like they've already been to heaven."

All this probably has something to do with my own interest in and love for these texts. I didn't know this one back then, but yes, we would have sung it like we'd already been there.

Light's abode, celestial Salem,
Vision whence true peace doth spring,
Brighter than the heart can fancy,
Mansion of the highest King;
O how glorious are the praises
Which of thee the prophets sing!

There forever and forever
Alleluia is outpoured;
For unending, for unbroken
Is the feast-day of the Lord;
All is pure and all is holy
That within thy walls is stored.

There no cloud nor passing vapor
Dims the brightness of the air;
Endless noonday, glorious noonday,
From the Sun of suns is there;
There no night brings rest from labor,
For unknown are toil and care.

O how glorious and resplendent,
Fragile body, thou shalt be,
When endued with heavenly beauty,
Full of health, and strong, and free,
Full of vigor, full of pleasure
That shall last eternally!

Now with gladness, now with courage,
Bear the burden on thee laid,
That hereafter these thy labors
May with endless gifts be paid,
And in everlasting glory
Thou with brightness be arrayed.

Thomas a Kempis, 15th cent.
tr. John Mason Neale, 1854
Welsh traditional melody

I can never, ever get through the fourth stanza.

The original Latin text, Jerusalem luminosa, is attributed to Thomas à Kempis (or perhaps one of his followers) and was subtitled Of the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem, so far as concerneth the Glorified Body. Thomas à Kempis was a medieval monk best known for the book The Imitation of Christ. Our old friend John Mason Neale first published his translation in the 1858 edition of his Hymnal Noted.

The Welsh melody RHUDDLAN (which should ideally be played just a tad slower and more majestically) comes from a battle song called Dowch i'r Frwydr and was perhaps first published in Musical Relics of the Welsh Bards (1800). From there is was arranged into a hymn tune in the English Hymnal of 1906. Some hymnals also set this text to the popular (if slightly overused) REGENT SQUARE by Henry Smart.

P.S. - The painting above is a portion of Ascent of the Blessed, also from the early fifteenth century and a concept of heaven from Hieronymous Bosch.

1 comment:

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Celebrating Grace has a new tune, Wesnate by Mark Edwards, that can stand in quite adequately when Regent Square needs a breather. We sang it successfully in Birmingham, where Monday afternoon featured an hour or so of singing from the new Mercer hymnal.