Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

January 25 is set aside in many churches to commemorate the Conversion of St. Paul. In Acts 26:9-20, Paul (formerly Saul) relates how a blinding light from heaven changed him from a fierce persecutor of Christians t0 a follower of Jesus' teachings.

Author John Ellerton dated the writing of this hymn to February 28, 1871, and it first appeared later that year in Church Hymns.

We sing the glorious conquest,
Before Damascus’ gate,
When Saul, the church’s spoiler,
Came breathing threats and hate;
God's light shone down from heaven
And broke across the path;
God's glory pierced and blinded
The zealot in his wrath.

O Voice, that spoke within him
The calm, reproving word!
O Love, that sought and held him
A captive of his Lord!
Help us to know your presence
That we, in every hour,
In all that may confront us,
Will trust your hidden power.

Your grace by ways mysterious
The wrath of foes can bind;
And in those least expected,
A chosen saint can find.
In us you seek disciples
To share your cross and crown,
And give you final service
In glory at your throne.

John Ellerton, 1871; alt.
Neuvermehrtes Gesangbuch, 1693
harm. Felix Mendelssohn, 1847

This is an extensive revision that appeared in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982. While Ellerton's hymns are frequently sung with minimal changes, the original text of this hymn is more problematic, containing some fairly impenetrable syntax for modern worshippers. (I think it would take so much time to sort out the second half of the third verse that you'd miss singing the whole last verse!)

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