Hymn: “Come, ye faithful”

John of Damascus, author of the original from which this hymn was translated

Eastertide is my favorite season of the Christian year. (Though that’s a hard choice to make, as I like all the others as well.) So it’s an additional pleasure to know that there are many truly excellent hymns for Easter and the Easter season. Last year in the Octave of Easter I wrote about one of my favorites, but today I’d like to continue this series with a brief discussion of another Easter hymn I like very much.

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness;
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters;
Led them with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.

‘Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ hath burst his prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From his light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright
With the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feasts,
Comes its joy to render;
Comes to glad Jerusalem,
Who with true affection
Welcomes in unwearied strains
Jesus’ resurrection.

Neither might the gates of death,
Nor the tomb’s dark portal,
Nor the watchers, nor the seal,
Hold thee as a mortal:
But today amidst thine own
Thou didst stand, bestowing
That thy peace which evermore
Passeth human knowing.

“Alleluia!” now we cry
To our King Immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars
Of the tomb’s dark portal;
“Alleluia!” with the Son,
God the Father praising;
“Alleluia!” yet again
To the Spirit raising.

The first thing that I really like about this hymn is its clear implication of a theological point that I don’t hear preached on very much: that in Christ, God was both doing something new and doing again, as the archetype that was foreshadowed by earlier types, what he has done in the past. In particular, the Resurrection is both “the spring of souls” (as this hymn puts it) and a recapitulation of the Exodus.

I like how it ends with a Trinitarian doxology that is clearly an organic part of the hymn. Most of the hymn is, properly, focused on the Son whose resurrection it describes and celebrates, but it is also proper to praise God the Father and the Holy Spirit for the redemption that this glorious event accomplished.

There are a number of other little things that I like about this hymn—turns of phrase, like how it calls Easter the “royal feast of feasts” and Eastertide “the queen of seasons” (echoing or paralleling the medieval idea of theology as “the queen of the sciences”), for example. But I don’t have time to pick out all of those.

Perhaps one reason that at one point I became interested enough in this hymn for it to become a favorite is that it’s fairly old, even as hymns go, since the original from which the English text above was translated was written by the eighth-century Church Father John of Damascus.

But yet more interesting to me at the time than that is that the tune to which this hymn is usually sung is by Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose music I know and love from his collaboration with W. S. Gilbert. And the tune is very good, both melodically and harmonically somewhat interesting but not so difficult as to distract from the words.

So, in both words and music, a favorite and a “great old hymn.”

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