The hymns of Easter

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“Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds” — LASST UNS ERFREUEN

The last time this blog featured a hymn study, we spent time thinking about the hymns of Christmas, and more specifically, the well-known carol “Silent Night.” Lest you think that — like certain parishioners — musicians only appear in worship (or on this blog) around Christmas and Easter, let me assure you that both festivals provide ample and extended time for singing together as God’s people. In the case of Easter, the church calendar offers Christians 50 days to sing the good news of Jesus Christ.

For centuries, Christians have gathered to hear and sing the news of our Lord’s resurrection. Whether through the reflective but triumphant words of an ancient plainsong, “Christians, to the Paschal Victim,” or the florid strains of “Alleluia” in Charles Wesley’s “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” people across continents and centuries have written hymns to proclaim Christ crucified and risen.

Despite the continual inspiration of poets and musicians to write Easter hymns, it is understandable if this extended focus on Easter strikes us as strange. Christ’s resurrection assures our resurrection and promises us victory over sin and death. After the empty tomb, an announcement of life beyond death, and perhaps a couple trumpets supporting a full sanctuary in song on Easter morning, what more is there to say or sing?

To help us answer this question, let’s take a closer look at one of the more recent additions to the Easter section of the hymnal. Written by American pastor and poet Paul Zeller Strodach, “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds” was first published in the 1958 Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal and has appeared in subsequent hymnals over the last 60 years. At first glance, the opening phrases of this hymn provide words of bold proclamation:

“Now all the vault of heav’n resounds in praise of love that still abounds: Christ has triumphed! He is living!”

Perhaps these words seem perfect for Easter Sunday, but out of place Monday morning. So often, we confine the news of our Lord’s resurrection to one celebratory moment, forgotten and swept away as soon as Easter chocolates leave the grocery store shelves. Thankfully, our hymn writer knew something different. The gift of Jesus’ resurrection was not only good news for the women at the tomb. It is good news for those who follow in faith! Christ is living now — today! — that the good news of his triumph over death might resound continually in heaven and on earth.

How is a “continual song of resurrection” possible? What does this sound like? What does this look like? If such a sentiment sounds more like a pious platitude than reality, consider the words of the third stanza:

“Oh, fill us, Lord, with dauntless love… grant grace sufficient for life’s day that by our lives we truly say: ‘Christ has triumphed! He is living!’ Alleluia!”

In stanza three, this hymn of confidence turns to words of prayer. Though Easter surrounds us with lilies and good news, our poet knows“life’s day” can quickly deliver the opposite. When despair, depression, doubt, disease or death strike, it is easy to say:“What are you going to do? That’s life!”

One day of life can teach us this difficult reality. In such moments, we stand in need of God’s grace, and pray in this hymn we might stand confident in Christ’s triumph — even as life deals us its inevitable difficulties. In this way, our Lord’s victory is a continual song, where the challenges of each day are met with a constant refrain: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!”

God knows the world stands in need of new life today. Though we may wait until the next major festival to study another hymn on this blog, Easter means there is no delay in offering Christ’s good news of resurrection. The second and fourth stanzas helps us sing of this promise today:

“Eternal is the gift he brings, therefore our heart with rapture sings: “Christ has triumphed! He is living! Now still he comes to give us life and by his presence stills all strife…”

Adoring praises now we bring and with the heav’nly blessed sing: “Christ has triumphed! Alleluia!”

These stanzas are a study in contrast. Though Christ’s victory over death is an “eternal gift” to all people, God does not wait until eternity to give us this gift of life. Instead, in words spoken and sung, the message of Easter is proclaimed today. When our risen Lord speaks, the strife of this world comes to an end, and those on earth are joined with the voices of heaven: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!”

In this good news, we sing today, across these 50 days of Easter, throughout all of life and forever around the throne of the Lamb.

Luther House of Study thanks Zachary Brockhoff, Director of Music at First Lutheran Church (Sioux Falls, SD) for sharing his talents and insight on our blog.

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