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Songs for Ascension, Pentecost, and Professing Our Faith

God Has Gone Up with Shouts of Joy!

Click to listen [ melody ]

In 1994 the Baccalaureate service at New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) was to be held the day following Ascension Day. A few weeks prior, the speaker for the occasion, Renee House (librarian at NBTS), called a classmate, James Brumm, and asked for suggestions for a hymn text dealing with Jesus’ ascension and our call to ministry—and it had to be sung to a familiar tune! After searching through various hymnals, with the phrase “God has gone up with a shout” (Ps. 47:5) in his head, and failing to find something suitable, Brumm wrote “God Has Gone Up with Shouts of Joy!” overnight for this occasion. He dedicated it to Renee House and the NBTS Class of 1994.

James Hart Brumm is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church, has studied at Westminster Choir College, NBTS, and Drew University, and has written on various historical aspects of the Reformed Church in America. He has authored hymn texts since 1986 and thinks of his hymns as “metrical sermons.” Out of the Ordinary is an anthology of his hymn texts (Wayne Leupold Editions, 2002). Brumm has written articles for The Hymn, Reformed Worship, and The Church Herald and served on the committee that compiled the hymnal supplement Sing! A New Creation (CRC Publications, 2001), whose title comes from a baptism hymn also written by Brumm.

After he had written “God Has Gone Up with Shouts of Joy!,” Brumm recognized that his hymn text neatly follows the tri-part explanation of the meaning of Christ’s ascension in Q&A 49 of the Heidelberg Catechism. “That just shows how deeply our catechetical training sinks into our heads,” he admits. Based on the Ascension recounted in Acts 1:6-11, this hymn text moves from Jesus’ sharing of the human story before his Father’s throne (st. 1), through a theological confession of our identity with the suffering and triumph of Christ (st. 2), to a call for us to share the Christian story with all the world (st. 3).

The “must be familiar” tune that Brumm chose for this hymn text is the sixteenth-century melody mit freuden zart, which comes from the Bohemian Brethren hymnal Kirchengesänge (1566). That tune is one of a cluster of melodies that share many similar phrases: the Genevan tune for Psalm 68 (originally composed/adapted by Matthäus Greiter in 1525), the French chanson “Une pastourelle gentille” (1529), the Genevan tune for Psalm 138 (1551), and eventually the German Jesuit tune lasst uns erfreuen (1623). The English Hymnal of 1906 introduced this eminently singable tune to English-speaking Christianity, with the now familiar harmonization by Maurice F. Bell, which was adapted from Das Deutsche Geistliche Lied compiled by Heinrich Riemann (1895). It is certainly fitting that a tune with such illustrious ecumenical associations should be sung to a hymn text that celebrates the ascension and cosmic rule of Christ.

MIT FREUDEN ZART is an exuberant melody in a classic rounded barform shape (AABA’). Sing it joyfully and majestically (half note = 60), with forceful accompaniment on organ and/or other instruments on the outer stanzas, and possibly a cappella on the middle stanza. Add the vocal and/or trumpet descant (by Charles H. Webb, a United Methodist musician and university professor) for the last stanza.

King of Kings

Quoting biblical names of the Messiah from texts such as 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, and Isaiah 9:6, the text of this simple but profound profession of faith was originally cowritten around 1974 by Naomi Batya and Sophie Conty when they were both thirteen years old. Set to a Hebrew folk tune, this chorus made its way into many congregations by way of oral tradition, and was published initially anonymously by Maranatha! Music in 1980. The proper authorship was restored after the girls’ pastor recognized the published song and contacted Maranatha! Music.

Partly because of its musical setting, which is a canon or round, it became a popular favorite in the great wave of Scripture-based mini-songs that swept through Christianity in the last quarter of the twentieth century; it is found in many hymnals and songbooks and has been frequently recorded, including on Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out (1989).

Naomi Batya grew up in New York City and then moved to California for university studies; she lives in Berkeley and continues making music in the Jewish folk tradition. I could not find out anything about her coauthor, Sophie Conty.

“King of Kings” is suited to many occasions in Christian worship. Sing it in unison first at a lively tempo (quarter note = 92), and then sing it as a two-part round, possibly several more times, with the tempo increasing as in the manner of a Jewish hora (dance). The accompaniment is written for piano, but given the folk tradition from which this music comes, use other instruments too: guitar, clarinet, tambourine—and don’t forget the clapping! You may also want to teach children to sign this song.

While this song works fine all on its own, I also use it as a Christian “tag” after singing a psalm, similar to the early Christian tradition of adding “Glory Be to the Father” to the end of Old Testament psalms. In that vein the Leader’s Edition of Songs for LiFE (CRC Publications, 1994) suggested that “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” be paired with the Brazilian “Cantad al Señor/O Sing to the Lord” (SNC 224) or with Twila Paris’s “We Will Glorify the King of Kings” (SFL 18). Let me illustrate this “tag” practice with a generic psalmodic text, “Sing Praise to the Lord” (PsH 466, known in some other hymnals as “O Praise Ye the Lord”). This hymn is a free paraphrase of Psalms 148 and 150, and is usually sung to C. Hubert Parry’s tune laudate dominum in Bb major. Sing the four stanzas of this psalmodic hymn, then do a brief modulation as in the example (left) which leads right into the singing of “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

In Christ Alone

While it is true that the Praise & Worship movement has favored mini-songs or choruses on the one hand and the Broadway song structure (verse, refrain, bridge) on the other, there are a number of noted hymn-style songs that are also a significant part of this growing repertoire. Graham Kendrick’s hymn “Shine, Jesus, Shine” is one of well-known examples in this genre. And recent observers of contemporary church music have noted that the hymn style is regaining some of its earlier popularity, with a continued revival of older hymns and the composing of new hymns.

“In Christ Alone” is, in my humble (but occasionally inerrant!) judgment, one of the finest of these modern hymns. The Irish church musician Keith Getty “longed for hymns with a more complete expression of the Christian faith, which articulated a greater number of issues in deeper ways. With so many people learning their faith from the songs they sing, it was vital to create a clear understanding of what we believe through worship material. This could affect people’s thinking, praying, and Christian witness, and not only their praise.” He embarked on a project with the British publisher Kingsway to compose such new hymns, and in that process met Stuart Townend (see p. 28). Getty gave Townend a tune in 2001, and, impressed by its majestic character, Townend wrote the text “In Christ Alone.”

Strongly rooted in biblical texts such as Romans 8, “In Christ Alone” emphasizes Paul’s expression “in Christ . . .” But that Pauline Christology is combined with a storytelling summary of Christ’s life, and that union of theology and narrative makes for a compelling hymn text. An equally strong older example is Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which has a similar combination of narrative and Christology. “In Christ Alone” has quickly become a much-loved modern hymn, used both in traditional Christian worship and in contemporary services. It is a profound expression of the Christian faith set to a most singable tune (another rounded bar form, AABA). There are many occasions when this hymn could be used in worship: for example, in conjunction with a spoken creed, following a sermon, or during the seasons of Easter or Advent.

My most recent memorable use of “In Christ Alone” was at a funeral of an older saint, at which this hymn was sung easily with conviction and beauty by the deceased’s (largely aged) family and friends, most of whom I suspect had not heard this contemporary hymn before. I composed the organ setting provided herewith for that occasion (its trio parts could also be done by soprano-, tenor-, and bass-range instruments), but accompaniment with piano, guitar, several melody instruments, and hand percussion is stylistically certainly appropriate. Respect the difference between the dotted rhythms and the regular eighth-note rhythms in the tune, enjoy the spiritual vigor of the octave leap in the third phrase, and sing this hymn with energy in a majestic tempo (q = 80).

Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow

Thomas H. Troeger, professor of preaching at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, was inspired by the Pentecost story in Acts 2 to write this hymn text to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit. But he also credits his Native American seminary students “who have helped me to appreciate in fresh ways how the Ruach (Hebrew for “wind” and “Spirit”) is such a vital part of the materiality of our existence, breathing life into us, energizing our cells and very being. My intention is to help renew our sense of the primal origins of the sense of the Spirit which the ancient Hebrews and Native Americans knew through wind and fire.”

Those two vibrant images for the Holy Spirit, wind and fire, dominate this hymn text: the Spirit is the wind who stirs up the church (st. 1), the fire whose light leads and empowers the church (st. 2), and whose breath and flame inspire us to Christian mission and ministry (st 3).

Troeger originally wrote this text for Fr. Sebastian Falcone, Dean of the St. Bernard Institute in Rochester, New York, for a mass celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was published in The Christian Ministry (May 1983), and then in New Hymns for the Liturgy (Oxford, 1986), which is one of several lectionary-based hymn anthologies for which Troeger wrote texts and Carol Doran provided tunes. In fact, Doran wrote a tune for “Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow” and named it falcone—see United Methodist Hymnal 538.

Sing! A New Creation (169) followed The Presbyterian Hymnal (131) in setting Troeger’s text to the Welsh tune aberystwyth, composed by Joseph Parry in 1876 and named after the seaside town where he was teaching at the time. With its minor tonality and rounded barform design (AABA’), it has become hallowed through its association with Charles Wesley’s text “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” but it is also a wonderful fit for Troeger’s Pentecost text. Sing it in unison for stanza 1, in harmony for stanza 2, and use adult or children’s choral voices to sing stanza 3 in canon with the congregation—with Donald Busarow’s setting as found in the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation as well as in Psalter Hymnal 18. Use solid organ accompaniment throughout, sing with a majestic tempo (quarter note = 84), and use additional melody instruments and hand percussion to accompany the singing, including your children’s recorder ensemble or trumpets to play the descant, which I composed to suit the Busarow canonic setting (also found in SNC 169, Leader’s Edition).