Home History of Hymns: "Christ's Own Bidding" marks Transfiguration

History of Hymns: "Christ's Own Bidding" marks Transfiguration

“We Have Come at Christ’s Own Bidding”
Carl P. Daw Jr.
The Faith We Sing, No. 2103

Carl Daw

We have come at Christ’s own bidding
to this high and holy place,
where we wait with hope and longing
for some token of God’s grace.

Here we pray for new assurance
that our faith is not in vain,
searching like those first disciples
for a sign both clear and plain. *

“We Have Come at Christ’s Own Bidding” was commissioned by the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, Texas, in 1988. The late Howard E. “Buddy” Ross (1937-2005), commissioned the text as part of a series of Transfiguration-themed works. Ross was then serving as the parish’s music director.

This text by the Rev. Carl P. Daw Jr. (b. 1944) also appears in its poetic form in the Epiphany portion of his hymn collection, A Year of Grace (1990, Hope Publishing Company). The book is designed to follow the church year, beginning with Advent and moving through Easter and Pentecost.

Appropriately this hymn appears as the last text in the Epiphany section. It is an appropriate placement because the Transfiguration serves as a hinge between the Incarnation cycle (Advent, Christmas and Epiphany) and the Paschal cycle (Lent, Easter and Pentecost).
The text was composed with the idea in mind that a tune would also be commissioned for it. Dr. Daw, thinking practically, followed a commonly used metric pattern, 87.87.D, so that it would work well with several well-known tunes that follow that pattern. For a while it was sung primarily to the Welsh tune HYFRYDOL.

Joel Martinson (b. 1960), now director of music and organist at the Church of the Transfiguration, wrote a new tune for the text in 1991. The tune is appropriately named TRANSFIGURATION.

Stanza one focuses on the parallels between the disciples on the Mount of the Transfiguration and present-day Christians as they worship. Dr. Daw says that their attitudes and assumptions parallel our expectation as we gather for worship.

In stanza two, according to Dr. Daw, the Transfiguration narrative is treated as a form of anamnesis—remembering and reliving the past. The images of being bathed in light and “brightness” are parallel to Christ’s baptismal narrative. Dr. Daw credits the Rev. Thomas Talley for pointing out that these two narratives represent the first and last Sundays after the Epiphany and both were events when God spoke of his approval of Christ to the people gathered.

Though Dr. Daw does not mention it, the image of light breaking in on darkness seems to suggest Christ being the light that “breaks in upon our darkness.” He mentions the “flesh-joined Word,” a direct reference to the incarnation in John 1 (“the Word became flesh”).

Stanza three turns its focus from Christ, Moses, Isaiah and the Transfiguration to the church. He uses Peter as a representation of God’s people, calling him “the spiritual ancestor of everyone who has been granted some special religious experience and then hopes to recreate it by going back to the same place or reading another book by the same author or singing the same hymn again.”

The text appears in hymnals across denominations from United Church of Christ to Baptist and United Methodist, those with a strong lectionary tradition and those with thematically driven Sundays.

Though the text commonly appears set to the tune HYFRYDOL, it has also been set to ABBOT’S LEIGH and PLEADING SAVIOR. It can also be sung to a number of other well-known tunes, making it easier to introduce to congregations. Whatever tune is selected, the text is highly accessible and its “compact theology” makes it a quality choice for a Transfiguration Sunday hymn.

Dr. Daw is the son of a Baptist preacher and was born in Louisville, Ky. An Episcopal priest, he was educated at Rice University, the University of Virginia and the University of the South. He recently retired as executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He is now curator of hymnological collections and adjunct professor of hymnology at UM-affiliated Boston University School of Theology.

* © 1988 Hope Publishing Company; Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Ms. Sanders is a candidate for the master of sacred music degree, Perkins School of Theology, and studies hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.