Home History of Hymns: ““Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise”

History of Hymns: ““Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise”

""Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise"
Charles Wesley
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 312

Charles Wesley

Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!
To his throne above the skies, Alleluia!
Christ, awhile to mortals given, Alleluia!
Reascends his native heaven, Alleluia!

"Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise" by Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was published in 1739 in Hymns and Sacred Poems under the title "Hymn for Ascension-Day." The original poem comprised 10 stanzas, of which the first, second, fourth (highly altered), and fifth are preserved in The UM Hymnal.

The first and second stanzas employ apostrophe, a rhetorical device in which the poet addresses an absent or inanimate object. The first addresses the day of Jesus' ascension, the second the gates of heaven which accept Christ in glory. The third stanza describes Christ reigning amid the angelic beings, ending with an exhortation to the heavenly hosts to receive Christ, in words borrowed from the previous stanza.

The fourth emphasizes the true humanity of Jesus and his continued investment in the lives of those on earth, in comparison to his heavenly inheritance described in the previous lines. The fifth stanza, among the most provocative in the hymn, vividly describes Christ stretching forth his arms in terrible majesty.

The final stanzas present Christ as the continuous intercessor for humankind, imploring his assistance in the efforts of all to follow him in the ascent to the presence of God, leading finally to the beatific vision and eternal union with God.

Some minor textual alterations were made by Thomas Cotterill for the 1820 publication, Selection of Psalms and Hymns. The addition of "Alleluia!" at the end of each line was instigated by E.G. White for the 1852 publication of Hymns and Introits.

The next significant textual change, however, is less justified. In the first stanza, the original "Ravish'd from our wishful Eyes" is altered to "To his throne above the skies," avoiding the pejorative or scatological implications of "ravish'd." While this goal is met, it is at grave disservice to the evocative tone of the original text. Similarly, in the second stanza, the word "pompous" is replaced with "glorious," again avoiding a negative meaning, but again spoiling the true meaning of the text.

One of the most careless 'corrections' is the replacement of "Wide unfold the radiant scene" with "Christ hath conquered death and sin," a change found in The UM Hymnal that is not shared by most other hymnals. Not only is the meaning of the line entirely changed, but the masterfully crafted apostrophe to the heavenly gates is abruptly broken. Moreover, one can detect no reasonable motivation for this change, as the original text poses little concern on grounds of theology or accessibility.

Finally and most dramatically, the third stanza appearing in The UM Hymnal is almost completely rewritten, apparently to avoid the politically incorrect "Mankind." Though the avoidance of this word is consistent with the policy of the hymnal as a whole, the rearrangement of the entire stanza is an overreaction, in my opinion.

The tune now associated with this text is Robert Williams' melody LLANFAIR, which first appeared in John Parry's collection, Peroriaeth Hyfryd (Sweet Music), in 1837. The tune name is an anglicized form of the author's hometown in Wales, Llanfechell. The first pairing of this text and tune is found in The English Hymnal of 1906. The harmonization found in the contemporary UM Hymnal was prepared in 1927 by David Evans. The 1941 Lutheran Hymnal presents the text to the 12th-century French tune ORIENTIS PARTIBUS and Hymns Ancient and Modern presents two alternative tunes by Wm. H. Monk and S.H. Nicholson.

The ideal union of text and tune, the gently rising lines of the melody delicately mirroring the subject of the text and the evocative poetry of Wesley's masterpiece unite to make "Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise" one of the most successful hymns in the Christian repertoire.

John Hammond is a master of sacred music candidate at Perkins School of Theology and a student of Dr. C. Michael Hawn.

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