Home History of Hymns: Composer bases hymn on Luke's Emmaus account

History of Hymns: Composer bases hymn on Luke's Emmaus account

“On the Day of Resurrection”
Michael Peterson
UM Hymnal, No. 309

On the day of resurrection
to Emmaus we return;
while confused, amazed, and frightened,
Jesus comes to us, unknown.*


I composed the text for “On the Day of Resurrection” in 1985, as part of a class taught by hymn writer Gracia Grindal at Luther Northwestern (now Luther) Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. Mark Sedio, a well-known Lutheran composer and organist, immediately set the text to music.

The hymn begins by exploring Luke 24:13-35, the post-resurrection narrative on the road to Emmaus. The Risen Christ, unrecognized, joins Cleopas and another follower and asks them what they are discussing. Cleopas responds, “Are you the only person who doesn’t know what happened in Jerusalem recently?” They offer a brief account of Christ’s encounter with the chief priests and rulers, his crucifixion and the report of the women at the tomb.

Christ’s appearance on the road to Emmaus, depicted in an 1837 painting by Joseph von Führich, inspired the hymn, “On the Day of Resurrection.”
Image Courtesy Of Wikimedia Commons

Christ responds, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Christ continues to explain all that the Scriptures had to say about him.

As they approach a village, the followers invite Jesus to join them for the evening since it is so late. Then follows one of the most poignant passages in the New Testament: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

These were the same actions—taking the bread, giving thanks (blessing), breaking it and giving it to others at the table—that Christ’s followers had seen before. The feeding narratives of the 4,000 and 5,000 found in Mark 6:39-41, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-14 also record those actions. Of course, the “Last Supper” narratives found in the Gospels of Matthew (26:26-29), Mark (14:22-25) and Luke (22:14-20), as well as Paul’s account in I Corinthians 11:23-26, also cite the ritual.

The hymn places us in the middle of this narrative: “Jesus comes to us, unknown.” In four short stanzas we are pulled closer and closer to the action. Stanza two ends: “Jesus walks with us, unknown.” Stanza three: “Jesus speaks to us, unknown.” Stanza four: “Jesus stays with us, unknown.”

In stanza five, the action changes as “the guest becomes the host” and “Jesus is himself made known.” The final stanza assumes that we, like those earlier followers, will want to share the news of the risen Christ: “Jesus is through us made known.”

Mr. Peterson is a native of New Auburn, Wis. He received degrees in voice, music education, and theater arts from Winona State University, Winona, Minn., and then continued his study at Luther Seminary. He has served congregations in Shawana and Menomonie, Wis.

* © 1987, United Methodist Publishing House. Administrated by The Copyright Co., Nashville, Tenn. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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