I begin with a program note:
Hymn by Hymn at General Assembly begins tomorrow! I’ll be having breakfast with some of you, singing our hymn of the day, talking about it, and then reflecting on the experience. Because of the schedule at General Assembly, the posts this week will be later than normal, probably by noon Eastern.
Now, on to our hymn:
It may be that I am sleep-deprived, or that the humidity has already gotten to me (even though I slept well and am in a gloriously well air conditioned room), but I do not get this one.
I mean, these lyrics by John Howland Lathrop, a longtime minister at First U Brooklyn in the mid-20th century, just do not make sense to me. Who are the foolish peasants? Are they foolish because they believe Jesus is the messiah? And is verse two knocking the two millennia of Christians who think revelation is sealed? Are the courts of power going to crucify modern prophets? The third verse is pretty good, but I’m inclined to take offense at the first two, and I don’t even identify as Christian.
Hosanna in the highest! Our eager hearts acclaim
the prophet of the kingdom, who bears Messiah’s name.
O bold, O foolish peasants, to deem that he should reign!
The temple and the palace look down in high disdain.
Long ages dim the message, and custom has sufficed
for merchants and for princes to bow, and own him Christ.
But when another spirit arises from the plain,
the courts of power tremble, and crucify again.
O first of many prophets who come of simple folk
to free us from our bondage, to break oppression’s yoke:
restore our minds to wisdom, make known the life, the way
that leads through love and justice unto the peace-crowned day.
What am I missing here?
I will say that the tune, Ellecombe, is a solid 19th century German tune that is used with similar, but less (to me) offensive Palm Sunday lyrics. It’s your basic German hymn tune, with your basic hymn tune patterns and that one line with the high notes and then resolves in a familiar way. Nothing remarkable, but definitely serviceable and tinged with joyfulness and perhaps a bit of triumph.
These lyrics, though…
I really am not getting this one today, and your help in comments would be greatly appreciated.