Thursday, April 21, 2011
Today we remember the final night that Jesus spent with his friends before his death and the events of their evening together as they gathered for a meal. That Last Supper has been depicted in art and poetry in many different ways (such as the painting above by Tintoretto).
Today's hymn is inspired by just one verse in the Gospel story of the day. Matthew 26:26-30 recounts the disciples' gathering, and ends with "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." This text by Frances Ridley Havergal, part of a longer poem, imagines that the hymn they sang together, the last time they would sing before Jesus died, must have been something very unique.
Within an upper room they met,
A small, yet faithful band,
On whom a deep, yet chast'ning grief
Had laid its soft'ning hand.
Disciples seated 'round have heard
Their friend and Savior tell
That he with them no longer now
As heretofore may dwell.
The hour is come, but ere they meet
Its terrors, yet once more
Their voices blend with his who sang
As none e'er sung before.
Why do they linger on that note?
Why thus the sound prolong?
Ah! 'Twas the last, 'tis ended now,
That strangely solemn song.
And forth they go, the song is past;
But like the roseleaf, still,
Whose fragrance does not die away,
Its soft, low echoes thrill.
Through many a soul, and there awake
New strains of glowing praise
To Christ who, on that fateful eve,
That last sweet hymn did raise.
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1855; alt.
Tune: PENMAENMAWR (C.M.D.)
Sarah G. Stock, 1887
It's unlikely that this hymn would find its way into a service nowadays, dealing as it does with such a small part of the Passion story, but it's the part we celebrate here, of singing hymns together.
Sarah Geraldina Stock wrote both hymn tunes and texts, as well as several popular books for children on religious subjects. PENMAENMAWR (named for the town in Wales where she lived) seems like a tune that's just as unusual as this text, so they made a good pairing.
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