Home History of Hymns: "Christ the Lord is Risen"

History of Hymns: "Christ the Lord is Risen"

"Christ the Lord is Risen"
Tom Colvin
The Faith We Sing, No. 2116

Tom Colvin

Christ the Lord is risen!
Christ the Lord is risen!
Yesu!*


Following the African independence movements of the 1960s and 1970s, a number of Western missionaries encouraged the composition of Christian songs in African idioms. Thomas S. Colvin (1925-2000) was one of them.

Colvin was a pastoral missionary for the Church of Scotland in Ghana from 1958-1964 and in Nyasaland (now Malawi) from 1954-1958 and 1964-1974. Trained as an engineer before studying theology at Trinity College in Glasgow, he was an active member of the Iona Community for nearly 50 years.

In concert with his commitment to the rule of Iona Community members, Colvin’s missionary ministry was characterized by justice issues including Christian service, refugee resettlement and community development projects.

He participated in community development training in parts of southern Africa and aided refugees from Mozambique seeking sanctuary in neighboring Malawi. These areas of service were the focus of Colvin’s ministry rather than the development of indigenous congregational song.

The songs collected by Colvin have been spread by members of the Iona Community around the world. Several of his texts set to African melodies have found a home in Western hymnals.

Colvin nurtured new African congregational songs by adapting local melodies and writing new texts appropriate for African Christians, and as it turns out, for Christians around the world. He introduced his hymns first to the Iona Community and then beyond in two collections, Free to Serve (1969) and Leap My Soul (1976). These collections were brought together in a single volume, Fill Us with Your Love (1983).

A last volume, Come, Let Us Walk This Road Together, was added in 1997. “Jesu, Jesu” (UM Hymnal, No. 432) is Colvin’s most popular hymn.

“Christ the Lord is risen” borrows a melody from a war song at Garu in the Upper Region of Ghana. Colvin’s words turn this traditional war song into a victory song celebrating the Resurrection.

In its original form, it is a call-response song where a solo singer initiates each stanza and the people respond. The energy created in call-response singing is appropriate to Colvin’s text. Imagine a soloist singing exuberantly, “Christ the Lord is risen!” and the people responding in kind, “Christ the Lord is risen, Yesu!”

Colvin suggests several additional stanzas that the soloist would initiate such phrases as: “He has conquered death,” “Sin has done its worst” and “He is King of kings.”

In using this song, I have employed improvisation that is characteristic of African music. Borrowing from 1 Corinthians 15:55, I have used, “Death, where is thy sting?” and “Grave thy victory?” as calls.

This hymn may be sung without a hymnal in this manner. Without a hymnal, the people are free to process while singing and clapping. With the addition of drums and shakers, the spirit of the Resurrection spreads quickly throughout the people.

* Words, adaptation and arrangement © 1969 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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