Sunday, April 26, 2009

Welcome, Happy Morning

I haven't had a hymn post for a long, long time. This morning we sang "Welcome, Happy Morning" to the catchy tune "Fortunatus" by none other than Arthur Sullivan. The text is a translation of the ancient Easter hymn by Venantius Fortunatus, which some of you may know in its incarnation as "Hail Thee, Festival Day." Call me a Philistine if you will, but I like the Sullivan version better than the Vaughan Williams one! Perhaps this is partly because "Hail Thee, Festival Day" is a stinker to play and for the congregation to sing, jumping back and forth as it does on the hymnal pages. But I also prefer the text translation that goes with the Sullivan tune. Here are the words:

“Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say:
“Hell today is vanquished, Heav’n is won today!”
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!


“Welcome, happy morning!”
Age to age shall say.

Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring,
All fresh gifts returned with her returning King:
Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough,
Speak His sorrow ended, hail His triumph now.


Months in due succession, days of lengthening light,
Hours and passing moments praise Thee in their flight.
Brightness of the morning, sky and fields and sea,
Vanquisher of darkness, bring their praise to Thee.


Maker and Redeemer, life and health of all,
Thou from heaven beholding human nature’s fall,
Of the Father’s Godhead true and only Son,
Mankind to deliver, manhood didst put on.


Thou, of life the Author, death didst undergo,
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;
Come, then True and Faithful, now fulfill Thy Word;
’Tis Thine own third morning; rise, O buried Lord!


Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;
All that now is fallen raise to life again;
Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!


I've been slow all these years: I just this morning realized that "Come, then True and Faithful, now fulfill Thy Word" refers to Jesus' predictions before His death of His own resurrection.

As you can see, this is one of those Northern Hemisphere hymns. Having a reader from New Zealand particularly brings this home to me. Christianity originated in the hemisphere where it is dark and cold at Christmas and getting to be spring at Easter. In fact, the whole dating of Easter in the Western church calendar is predicated on the connection to spring. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the first day of spring! And so many hymns reflect this, particularly during Advent, at Christmas, and at Easter, from the gorgeous "Lo, How a Rose" ("She bore to men a Savior, when half-spent was the night...") to the one above.

The incorporation of the seasons into Christian symbolism, liturgy, history, and hymnody has been incredibly enriching. But I do have to admit that it must be harder to appreciate if you have lived all your life in a country where the seasons are the opposite, where it is just getting to winter at Eastertide and is the height of summer at Christmas!

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