Sunday, May 1, 2011

Not Faithless, But Believing Be

On the Second Sunday of Easter, many churches will hear the story of the disciple Thomas (from John 20: 24-29), who was not with the others the first time they saw Jesus after the Resurrection, and would not believe the story until he had seen his friend for himself. I like to remind people that the other disciples didn't believe the story either when Mary first told them the week before (Luke 24: 1-11), but somehow Thomas is the one who gets scolded for it and held up as a bad example.

This sixteenth century hymn, originally written in Latin by the French Franciscan monk
Jean Tisserand, takes us from the Resurrection to the story of Thomas. The translation most often sung today is by John Mason Neale which first appeared in his Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences (1851). The tune is even older, but it is the one that has always been used with this text -- it's rare that a text/tune combination lasts for more than five hundred years, as we have seen.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

O sons and daughters, let us sing!
Tis Jesus Christ, whose tale we bring,
O'er death today rose triumphing.

That Easter morn, at break of day,
The faithful women went their way
To seek the tomb where Jesus lay.

An angel clad in white they see,
Who sat, and spake unto the three,
“Your friend has gone to Galilee.”

That night th’apostles met in fear;
Amidst them came their friend most dear,
And said, “My peace be on all here.”

When Thomas first the tidings heard,
How they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word.

“My pierc├Ęd side, O Thomas, see;
My hands, my feet, I show to thee;
Not faithless, but believing be.”

No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried.

How blessed are they who have not seen,
And yet whose faith has constant been;
For they eternal life shall win.

On this most holy day of days
To God yur hearts and voices raise
In laud and jubilee and praise.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Jean Tisserand, 1525;
tr. John Mason Neale, 1851; alt.
O FILII ET FILIAE (8.8.8. with Alleluias)
French melody, 15th cent.

The original melody has not survived completely unaltered; your hymnal may well have something a but different. The triple Alleluia most often is sung at the beginning and the very end, though some arrangements over the years have inserted it between each stanza. And, of course, most hymnals today do not include all nine stanzas.

P.S. - The illustration above is from The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c. 1604 (not far from the origin of this hymn), by the Dutch painter Hendrick ter Brugghen.

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