Hymns at Easter: Christ is alive let Christians sing

Fifth Sunday for Easter 10 May 2020
'Christ is alive let Christians sing' by Brian Wren (STF 297)

This Sunday is the beginning of Christian Aid Week with its theme: Love never fails; love unites us all. I have chosen Brian Wren’s Easter hymn for this week especially.

He writes theological poetry. It has little biblical imagery. It interprets the meaning of being a Christian through an encounter with the world 'where colour, scorn and wealth divide'.

Its theme is ‘Christ is alive’. Wren blends the work of the Holy Spirit, the servant Church and the face of Christ in the victims of ‘every insult, rift and war’ into this one assertion of the present reality of Jesus, the way, the life, the truth: Christ is alive. He explores this further in one of his Christmas hymns: Hidden Christ, alive for ever which includes the lines

‘We will trust and tell your purpose,
Braving evil and despair;
In your name befriending, mending,
Making peace and setting free.’

During the week in which I have been pondering this hymn my ‘bible notes’ have invited me to read Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus declares that it will be on the basis of how we have met him in people who are penniless, homeless and in prison that we will experience the love of God in judgement.

At the same time preparing for a retreat I have found this quotation from St Francis. It comes from one of the first books about his life:

You only know as much as you do.

This is the formation in theological awareness that Wren encourages. We discover the meaning of our faith as we reflect on what happens when we release Jesus from his historical roots in Palestine. Theology is contemplation on Christ-led action.

I have been aware that a hymn such as this does not fit everyone’s idea of what a hymn should be. The language is decidedly not pious or particularly scriptural. The verses are often prescriptive. They really spell out what it means to ‘feel the Spirit’. They commit the singer to actually do something about what they are singing.

So we should note why he wrote this hymn. In April 1968 he was a minister for a Congregational Church. A few days before he would preach on Easter Day Martin Luther King was shot. He knew his sermon would have to be about this shattering world event but he could find no suitable Easter hymn with which to conclude such a service. So he wrote ‘Christ is alive’.

It is very important that this hymn is set in the section of Singing the Faith Jesus Christ: Risen and Ascended rather than Justice and Peace. A Love that never fails and so unites us all arises from the work of God through the Resurrection for then Love drowned in death, shall never die.

Rev John Rackley