Article

History of Hymns: “Baptized in Water”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Baptized in Water"
Michael Saward
The Faith We Sing, No. 2248

Michael Saward

“Baptized in water,
sealed by the Spirit,
cleansed by the blood of Christ, our King;
heirs of salvation,
Trusting his promise,
faithfully now God’s praises we sing.”*


Canon Michael Saward (pronounced “say-word”) has been a leader in the revival of English-language hymnody for over 40 years. Through Jubilate Hymns, an organization devoted to revising older hymns and composing newer texts that reflect the language and concerns of contemporary life, he has made a significant contribution to recent hymnody, moving beyond the notion of Victorian hymns as normative. 

The Web site for the Jubilate Group, www.jubilate.co.uk, discusses the organization’s founding “in the early 1960s by Michael Baughen (at one time rector of All Soul’s, Langham Place, London, and then Anglican Bishop of Chester) and his friends who were closely involved in work among young people. 

The group pooled its talents to meet the challenge of a new generation in the UK, a generation which wished to extend its singing beyond the foursquare ways of metrical hymnody.” Canon Saward serves as the current director of Jubilate Hymns, Ltd. 

Born in 1932 at Blackheath in South East London, Canon Saward grew up in Petts Wood and was educated at Eltham. He was ordained a priest at Canterbury Cathedral and served as a curate in two London suburbs, Croydon and Edgware. 

His varied career in the Anglican Church includes secretary of Liverpool Council of Churches, radio and television officer to the Archbishop, and vicar of St. Matthew’s, Fulham, (1972-78) and Ealing (1978-91). 

Canon Saward served as the chairman of the Billy Graham London Mission 1989 media task group and was a judge of the London Times “Preacher of the Year” competition in 2000. 

The author of a dozen books, he served as canon treasurer of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London at the time of his retirement in 2000. This post led to meeting most of the royal family and many other national and international dignitaries. It was Canon Saward who announced the passing of Princess Diana from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral within hours of her death. 

Canon Saward has written nearly 100 hymns and has been text editor of three hymnbooks, including the British hymnals, Hymns for Today’s Church and Sing Glory. His hymns appear in over 80 hymnals worldwide. His best-known hymn worldwide is “Christ Triumphant,” a text that draws upon images of Christ that are most effective in a monarchial political context. 

“Baptized in Water” is rich in baptismal images and scriptural allusions. The opening stanza cited above draws upon several passages including Hebrews 1:14: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (KJV) 

Romans 6:3-5 provides the central biblical grounding for stanza two: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” 

Stanza two reflects the image of dying and rising with Christ. We are “dead in the tomb with Christ, our King.” Then we are “one in his rising, freed and forgiven....” 

Ephesians 4:4-6 provides the basis for stanza three: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” This Scripture appears in the poetry of the hymn as “born of one Father, we are his children.” 

Canon Saward and his wife, Jackie, have four children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson. Known for his sense of humor, Canon Saward’s commentary on his life notes, “He has twice preached in the Tower of London and, amazingly, they let him out on both occasions. As the Church of England newspaper once said of him, “He is never, but never, boring.”
 

*© 1982 Jubilate Hymns, admin. by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns