History of Hymns: 'See the Morning Sun Ascended'
By Anneli Loepp Thiessen
“See the Morning Sun Ascending”
by Charles Parkin
The United Methodist Hymnal, 674
See the morning sun ascending,
radiant in the eastern sky;
hear the angel voices blending
in their praise to God on high!
Glory be to God on high! (Public Domain)
“See the Morning Sun Ascending” (1953) was written by Methodist minister Charles Parkin (1894-1994) and is paired with UNSER HERRSCHER (1680), a tune written by German Reformed hymnist Joachim Neander (1650-1680). The text appeared first as one of the new “Hymns of Adoration” in the Methodist The Book of Hymns (1966). It was retained in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and also appears in the Canadian United Church hymnal Voices United (1996).
This morning hymn offers a reflection on the sunrise — a daily reminder of God’s enduring presence. The sunrise as a call to praise is evident throughout the biblical witness. For example, Psalm 113 calls us to praise God “from sunrise to sunset.” Jeremiah describes God’s love in Lamentations 3:22–23: “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise” (GNT) As such, the sunrise is a significant reminder of God’s love and faithfulness, as is reflected in some of the most significant hymns of the Christian tradition. In “Holy, Holy, Holy” (1826) by Anglican bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826), we sing “Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.” “When Morning Gilds the Skies,” Edward Caswall’s (1814-1878) translation (1854) of a German hymn, and “Morning Has Broken” (1931) by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), known for her children’s literature, are favorite morning hymns. In “God of the Bible / God of the Gospel” (1996), New Zealander Shirley Erena Murray (1931-2020) offers this refrain, “Fresh as the morning, / sure as the sunrise, / God always faithful, / you never change.” Parkin’s hymn is in line with the above hymns and images, testifying to the presence of God in the sunrise of morning worship.
Neander’s tune brings the text to life by outlining the ascending melody, a parallel to the ascending sun. When this text and tune were first paired together in the Methodist The Book of Hymns (1966), it is clear that thought was given to how the melody reflects the text. Each of the four stanzas ends with a refrain but with slight variations:
Glory be to God on high!
. . .
Glory be to God above!
. . .
Glory be to God alway!
. . .
Glory be to God on high!
This repetition of the refrain offers an opportunity for the congregation to join their voices with the angels in adoration of the creator.
The first stanza of this hymn is a call for the congregation to see the ascending sun and to hear the angels blending their voices in praise to God. Stanza 2 invites the congregation to join their earthly voices with the angels. The cosmic dialogue begun by the angel voices in stanza 1 and joined by earthly voices of the congregation in stanza 2 is a theme found in hymnody throughout history. In the third stanza, Parkin describes the reasons for this adoration: God’s “lovingkindness,” unceasing mercy, and daily blessing. The final stanza of this hymn paints a picture of humans and angels joining together to sing: “Wisdom, honour, power, and blessing!” around the throne of God, a portion of Revelation 5:12, echoed again in Revelation 7:11-12.
Charles Parkin was born in 1894 and died in 1994. He studied at Oxford University and served in the British Army from 1916–1919. In 1923, Parkin moved to the United States and was ordained a minister in the Maine Conference of the Methodist Church. From 1950–1952, Parkin was the superintendent of the Portland District of the Maine Conference, and then from 1952-64, he served as an administrator of the predecessor of the current General Board of Global Ministries, formed in 1972 following the merger of the Methodist Church and the United Brethren in 1968.
Parkin wrote many hymns, poems, and articles on the topic of mission and missionary work. Another of his hymn texts was published by the Hymn Society of America (now the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada) in Seven New Hymns of Hope: “Lord, When the Way We Cannot See” (1971).
Joachim Neander was born in Bremen in 1650 and is remembered as a rebellious student who prioritized having fun in questionable ways. According to legend, Neander entered a church in 1670 with the intention of making a mockery of the service. Instead, he was so moved by the preacher’s words that he dedicated himself to a spiritual life, eventually becoming an assistant to the preacher at St. Martin’s Church.
Neander’s career, while influential, was not free of conflict. He began holding private prayer meetings and refused to receive Communion, saying that he could not share Communion with the unconverted. After being banished from his post, Neander found consolation with God through nature. Despite an early death at the age of 30, Neander remains one of the major hymn writers of the German Reformed Church. Two of his famous hymns are known to English-language singers in translations by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), “Lobe den Herren,” (“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”) and “Himmel, Erde, Luft und Meer” (“Heaven and Earth, Sea and air”).
J. Richard Watson, “Joachim Neander,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology.
Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/j/joachim-neander. accessed March 4, 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.