History of Hymns: 'Christian People, Raise Your Song'
By Anneli Loepp Thiessen
“Christian People, Raise Your Song”
by Colin Peter Thompson
The United Methodist Hymnal, 636
(For text see: http://ehymnbook.org/CMMS/hymnSong.php?id=pd03577.)
“Christian People, Raise Your Song” (1975) is a Communion hymn written by Colin Peter Thompson (b. 1945) that first appeared in the United Reformed Church hymnal, New Church Praise (1975). Thompson observed a lack of hymns for Communion — particularly ones that acknowledged the gifts of creation — and wrote this hymn after his ordination in the United Reformed Church in 1972. Since its first publication in 1975, the hymn has been published in nine hymnals, including most recently The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and the Canadian Anglican hymnal Common Praise (2000).
In the first stanza, Thompson explores Communion through the lens of new life in Christ. The text draws, first, on 1 Corinthians 15:22 and describes an Easter faith: that Christ who rose from the dead can raise to new life all who belong to him. This is not just a matter of human beings resurrected through Christ, but all of creation rising to new life in him. In fact, it is the very gifts of the earth that find expression the life in Christ, manifested in the body and the blood — the bread and the wine (“Nature’s gifts of wheat and vine / now are set before us”). This resonates with post-Vatican II (1962-1965) theology that draws references to “wheat” from an early Christian document, Didache, a first-century document also known as The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.
Naming wheat directly in the hymn indicates human participation in the Communion elements—given and blessed by God but nurtured by human hands. The second stanza of the hymn affirms the new life in the celebration of Communion, whereupon congregations are transformed as in the movement from winter to spring (“as with joy we greet the spring / out of winter rising”). Christ’s resurrection is the “new creation,” the completion of the original natural created order described in the creation accounts in Genesis.
The gifts of new life in Communion offer a powerful narrative for the church in the midst of unrest. Thompson’s prose is a reminder that despite the starkness of winter, Christ’s resurrection heralds a tangible transformation; Christ’s body and blood strengthen the church through the challenging seasons of winter (“Sing your joy and be made strong, / our Lord’s life receiving”). This is particularly true in an era of environmental instability. When creation is withering, the promise of new life in a Creator that makes all things new (Revelation 21) holds more meaning than Thompson might have originally imagined. “Christian People, Raise your song” is an example of one of the gifts of hymnody: texts that prophesy and encourage in eras beyond the time of writing.
In The United Methodist Hymnal, “Christian People, Raise Your Song” is brought to life with the tune AVE VIRGO VIRGINUM. The tune, from J. Horn's Gesangbuch Ein Gesangbuch der Bruder im Behemen und Merrhern, was written in 1544, with harmonization from The English Hymnal (1906). Thompson wrote this text with the tune in mind, as its energy and vigor bring the vivid text to life.
Thompson completed his early education at the Royal Grammar School in Colchester and received his Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at Trinity College, Oxford. He served as a lecturer at the School of European Studies and University Chaplain at the University of Sussex and became a fellow and tutor of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, in 1989. He served on the editorial committee of the United Reformed Church hymnal, Rejoice and Sing (1991), in which seven of his hymns and translations are included.
Thompson is an expert on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish literature, as well as its literary theory and poetry. His other research interests include the drama of Calderon, the prose fiction of Cervantes, and the relationship between literature and painting in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish art. In addition to numerous publications on Spanish art and literature, Thompson most recently published a book on the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross: Songs in the Night (2003).
J. Richard Watson, “Christian People, Raise Your Song,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/christian-people,-raise-your-song. Accessed February 24, 2020.
_____, “Colin Thompson, “The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/colin-thompson. Accessed February 24, 2020.
Carlton R. Young, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Anneli Loepp Thiessen lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where she is pursuing her Master of Music in piano performance at the University of Ottawa. She received her Bachelor of Music degree from Canadian Mennonite University (Winnipeg, Manitoba). She was awarded the Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Piano Performance (Royal Conservatory of Music) and a graduate diploma in Arts Management (Queens University). She is a member of the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee for the forthcoming Mennonite hymnal Voices Together (September 2020) and is a member of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.