Iris' Archives, April 2019
A mythical bird which at death bursts into flame but rises from its own ashes. Symbol of the Resurrection and immortal life.
Two men were walking around a graveyard when they spotted the grave of the famous composer Beethoven. To their amazement they both heard music coming from within the grave. Now it just so happened that both these men were experts in classical music.
"That's his 9th symphony I do believe ", said the first man
"Yes, and listen that's his 8th and now his 7th".
"What do you make of all that then?"
"Well", said the first man," It's obvious, isn't it. That's Beethoven decomposing"
TEMPLE, WILLIAM (tem'p'i) 1881-1944
Anglican Archbishop successively of York and of Canterbury, a theologian, and a leader in the formative period of the 20th Century Ecumenical movement. An aggressive adherent of social reform, he made the application of Christian philosophy to current problems a main task of his life. He crusaded against slums, usury, dishonesty and greed in business.
Gellert: Jesus lives, thy terrors now
CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT
Jesus lives: thy terrors now
Can, 0 Death, no more appal us;
Jesus lives: by this we know
Thou, 0 Grave, cant not enthral us.
Jesus lives: henceforth is death
But the gate of life immortal;
This shall calm our trembling breath
When we pass its gloomy portal.
Jesus lives: for us He died:
Then, alone to Jesus living,
Pure in heart may we abide,
Glory to our Saviour giving.
Jesus lives: our hearts know well
Nought from us His love shall sever;
Life, nor death, nor powers of hell
Te a r us from His keeping ever.
Jesus lives: to Him the throne
Over all the world is given:
May we go where He is gone,
Rest and reign with Him in heaven.
TUNES: St. Albinus, Lindisfarne.
OTHER HYMNS BY C. F. GELLERT:
God is My Song, His Praises I'll Repeat.
To Father, Son and Spirit Praise.
The greatest preacher in Birmingham in the last century was Dr. R. W. Dale. One morning when writing his Easter sermon the reality of the Resurrection of Christ broke upon him in a new way. "'Christ is alive,' I said to myself, 'Alive!' Then I paused, 'Alive!' Can that really be true? Living as really as I am myself? I got up and walked about, repeating 'Christ is living!' At first it hardly seemed true. But at last it came upon me as a burst of sudden glory. Then I said, 'My people shall know it! I shall preach about it again and again, until they believe it as I do now!'" For months afterwards, in every sermon, the living Christ was his one great theme.
It is lovely to recall this story as we come to Gellert's beautiful Easter hymn. It first appeared in English in Miss Cox's Hymns from the German, 1841. It was written by Gellert in 1757 when he was Professor of Philosophy at Leipzig. Thus it became known in England. It immediately sprang into prominence and no Easter service is complete without it.
Gellert was born at Hainichen in Saxony, 4th July, 1715, the son of a German pastor. He was marked out for the ministry but nervousness and inability to preach without a manuscript shut his door. But he made his way as Tutor, Lecturer and Professor, first privately and later at his own university. In 1751 he was appointed Extraordinary Professor of Philosophy at Leipzig, and in this capacity he was able to give of his best.
His attachment to his pupils was deep and affectionate. He died in 1769 after a long illness, and much suffering.
Remarkable stories are told of his sacrifices and philanthropies. Towards the end of his life when famine swept across Western Germany he gave all he possessed to succour the impoverished around him. And he did it to such a degree that he himself became destitute. When Prince Henry of Prussia passed through the neighbourhood and asked for the poet, he found him in a cold, empty room without any food, but with the manuscript of a hymn before him which he had just completed.
"I have had my days of blessing, > All the joys of life possessing, > Unnumbered they appear. > Then let faith and patience cheer me, > Now that trials gather near me, > Where is life without a tear?"
Gellert wrote many books and much sacred poetry. His best known prose work, "The Fables," published in 1846, is still ranked among the classics of German literature. Their simplicity, charm and humour ensure their literary immortality.
Perhaps an extract from the Dictionary of German Biographies will give more insight into the man and his work than anything I can say:
"As a hymn writer he also marks an epoch; and while in the revival of churchly feeling the hymns of the Rationalistic period of 1760-1820 have been ignored by many recent compilers, yet the greatest admirers of the old standard hymns have been fain to stretch their area of selection from Luther to Gellert. He prepared himself by prayer for their composition, and selected the moments when his mental horizon was most unclouded. He was distinguished by deep and sincere piety, blameless life, and regularity in attendance on the services of the Church."
Looking at the hymn itself we notice that the first two verses assure us that Christ's Resurrection has robbed death of all its terrors. It is to be feared no more, for Christ has conquered it. "0 death, where is thy sting?" "All things are yours," wrote St. Paul, "Life... death... things to come" (1 Cor. 3: 22). Death is no more an enemy but a friend because Christ transformed it. "If any man keep My saying, he shall never see death " (John 8: 51). One always feels that this being true, it is a pity that the second verse refers to "gloomy portal."
Can the portal be so gloomy when the experience is so glorious? Does not the promise, "-shall not see death," refer to the portal as well as death itself?
Verses 3 and 4 contain the challenge that as Jesus lives we are to live to Him. "Henceforth unto Him who died and rose again." We see here the claim of the risen Lord upon us. We cannot live unto ourselves any longer, there must be newness of Life, looking unto Jesus. Verse 4 recalls the glorious words at the close of Romans 8, a lovely reference to which comes in Memorials of Hedley Vicars.
"I do not think I ever told you of Craney's happy death. Shortly before he breathed his last, he asked Dr. Twining to read Romans 8 to him. As he read, the dying man's breath became shorter and his face brighter; and as the last words fell upon his ear, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,' he said, Thank you, sir, that will do,' and died."
The final verse looks on into the boundless future and to the throne where He reigns. Prayerfully the hymn closes with the request that we may go where He is gone and be with Him for ever.