Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hymn of the Week- "Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending"

I've always loved to study music history; it was one of my favorite classes at the University of Illinois, where I got my degree in Music Education.

I also love to study the sources of the music we use in church, both old and new, and find out a little about what specifically inspired the composers and lyricists in each case.

I thought it might be interesting to post about music that will be used in an upcoming service, so that those attending will perhaps enjoy the piece more. If you are reading this from a distance, maybe you'll also find some of this background interesting. Even if you're not a church attender, it can be fascinating to have a peek into the historical roots of some of our most influential musicians and poets, and perhaps gain insight into what Christians are reflecting on, whether you agree with it or not. This research is really for my own benefit, but I'll just put it out there anyway. I can't promise that I'll post something weekly, but I'm going to shoot for that as a goal.

This Sunday, the topic of the sermon is The Second Coming of Christ, as it is described in Luke's Gospel, chapter 17, verses 20-37. It's a subject that is endlessly debated, and I have no intention of going into the theology of it here. However, I, and the planning committee I meet with, was responsible for coming up with the music for the service that would support that sermon.

One hymn the congregation will sing is "Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending". Though it's words are attributed to the great hymn writer Charles Wesley, it was actually based on a poem written by an eighteenth century land surveyor from Reading, England, named John Cennick. He eventually became a Moravian preacher. However, Wesley and two others, Martin Madan and a London cobbler named Thomas Olivers, adapted it for use in the Methodist movement.

Don't you love that? A surveyor, a cobbler, and one of the most famous hymn writers of that time, all contributing to this hymn! It's great poetry, too, based primarily on the first chapter of Revelation.

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train;
Halleluiah! Halleluiah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him,
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing
Shall the true Messiah see.

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture,
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! Let all adore Thee,
High on Thy eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
Halleluiah! Halleluiah!
Everlasting God come down!


C. Marie Byars said...

We (Lutherans) use that hymn during Lent or sometimes in November, as we talk about the end of the world (before Advent starts us out with another church year). Anyway, we always have it set to a rather tough "minor" hymn. How about you???

Joyce said...

In our hymnal it is set to the same tune as "Angels From the Realms of Glory".

It's interesting that the end of the world is postioned right before Advent in the liturgical calendar, tying both "comings" together!