Hymn: “Christ the Lord is risen today”

Today is the Saturday within the Octave of Easter, so I thought it most fitting to continue my series of posts about favorite hymns with an Easter hymn—one I’ve known and loved for many, many years.

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy vict’ry, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

There are many variants of this text, especially since Charles Wesley’s original text was in at least ten verses, and most hymnals don’t include that many nowadays, but combine lines they like from different verses; this is the version that I know.

In my preparations for this post I found that what I have as the second verse above may have been the first two lines of Wesley’s second verse and the last two lines of his third verse, and in what I have as the third verse above the last line may originally have been “Where thy victory, O grave?” But I think the version I know—what I quoted above—works better than other versions I’ve seen.

In contrast, as with last month’s hymn, the alterations many modern hymns make to the opening lines to avoid talking about “men” are something that I don’t think works well. The best approach I’ve seen was to simply substitute in the second line from a later, less-well-known verse (that also begins “Christ the Lord is risen today”); that results in a weaker beginning and a weaker hymn (there’s a reason that verse usually gets dropped when a hymnal wants six or fewer verses), but it’s a reasonable way of dealing with the perceived “problem.” What’s less reasonable is a revision of the line to either refer to angels alone, or to speak of “earth and heaven” instead of “men and angels.” Speaking as a poet myself, the repetition the latter revision invariably introduces (since Wesley used the same words in the last line of the verse) is something I would go to great lengths to avoid, and dropping the reference to “men” to speak of angels alone weakens the parallelism that underlines the point of that verse.

This time of year, I often find myself particularly missing the church I attended when I was in college, because in that church the Easter Sunday liturgy is a particularly lavish, exuberant, joyous and celebratory one, beginning with a procession—which, if I remember correctly, was to the singing of this hymn the one year I was there for Easter. And this hymn is indeed well-suited to be a processional, being straightforward in meter, long enough for the procession to move slowly from the back of the church to the front without repeating verses, not particularly complicated as words go (and with repeated Alleluias that even those unfamiliar with the hymn can follow), and so on.

And one reason (among many) that I like this hymn so much is that it announces the good news it celebrates from the very first line:

Christ has risen!

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