History of Hymns: “Christ is Risen”
"Christ is Risen"
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 307
“Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna!
Celebrate this day of days.
Christ is risen! Hush in wonder;
all creation is amazed.
In the desert all surrounding,
see, a spreading tree has grown.
Healing leaves of grace abounding
bring a taste of love unknown.”*
This is a relatively new hymn to The United Methodist Hymnal, written in 1984 by Dr. Brian Wren (b. 1936). Because of its recent addition to Christian hymnody, it can only be found in the current United Methodist and Presbyterian hymnals.
Dr. Wren, who is ordained in Britain’s United Reform Church, categorizes his hymns by their topic. He puts this hymn in his category of God’s covenant in history and also the revelation of Jesus Christ. When he writes hymns, Dr. Wren tries to use inclusive language and metaphors, and this hymn succeeds in doing so because its message applies to everyone. Though the hymn reflects on the past, it also applies to the present and looks to the future.
“Christ is Risen” is an ideal hymn for Easter Sunday because it discusses the resurrection of Christ and the promise and changes that this powerful act will bring. Dr. Wren says that “Easter joy” is an “action for justice.” We, as Christians, can find peace in Christ’s resurrection, and can overcome evil.
Dr. Wren also writes theologically; this hymn addresses all the aspects of God and God’s powers.
The first stanza is about Christ coming into our sinner’s world to save us through his death and resurrection. The primary theological reference is Revelation 22:2.
The second stanza discusses the fact that even though Jesus is divine, he is our friend who has saved us from the “caverns of despair.” This stanza is based on John 15:15.
Rhythms and melody
Revelation 22:13 provides the scriptural basis for the final stanza. Dr. Wren states that through Christ’s resurrection we have the strength to resist evil since he is always with us.
More simply put, the first stanza is about Christ giving us new life, the next discusses Christ as our friend who gives us strength and the last is about Christ coming to change the world.
The tune for this hymn in The United Methodist Hymnal is a familiar one. It is the same as “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” W ZLOBIE LEZY. Another tune by composer William P. Rowan served as the musical inspiration for the text. A resurrection text by Frank von Christierson suggested the meter.
Dr. Wren noted, “In writing, the rhythms and melody line of the music shaped the flow of the words, which then had to be looked at and finalized as a text.”
A changing tune
When the text was approved by the hymns subcommittee for The UM Hymnal, the suggestion was made that Beethoven’s HYMN TO JOY be used for the tune. But when Dr. Wren heard this suggestion from hymnal editor Carlton R. Young, he resisted firmly: “Not my text with that tune!”
Dr. Wren suggested instead the tune usually sung with the Polish carol, “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.” The choice of this tune provides the possibility of a lyrical link between the season of the Incarnation and the celebration of the Resurrection as congregations sing the same tune to both texts.
Interestingly, The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990) came out the next year with this text to Beethoven’s HYMN TO JOY.
This hymn is most appropriate for Easter Sunday. He came to save the world even though we were still sinners. The earth will not be the same now that Christ came, died and rose again. The text is direct and powerful. “Christ is Risen” describes how the world will now be different and how Jesus is our friend now, and always.