Article

History of Hymns: “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love"
Tom Colvin
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 432

Tom Colvin

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.*


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

Colvin was a pastoral missionary for the Church of Scotland in Ghana from 1958-1964 and Nyasaland (now Malawi) from 1954-'58 and 1964-'74. Trained as an engineer before studying theology at Trinity College in Glasgow, he was an active member of the ecumenical 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 such as Christian service committees, refugee resettlement and community development projects. Among his many activities, Colvin 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, 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" is Colvin's most popular hymn. The melody is adapted from a Ghanaian folk song he heard during his years of service in that country. The tune name CHEREPONI comes from a town in northern Ghana, where the hymn was written. The harmonization written for the UM Hymnal does not reflect an African musical style. 

Because of the reference to foot washing in stanza 1 (John 13:1-17), this hymn may be used successfully during Holy Week. However, the general theme of service makes the hymn appropriate for any time of the year. The dominant theme is the equality of all peoples in Christ (John 13:16). All people -- "rich and poor" and "black and white" -- are our neighbors. 

The focus on our neighbors recalls Luke 10:27 where, following a conversation with a lawyer who tempted him in a discussion of the law, Christ responds, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself." 

One might also see this hymn as a model for a new relationship between the former colonizers and those who were colonized. A "one-way" mission approach characterized the 19th and much of the 20th centuries where missionaries brought the Gospel to a foreign land. Now that the gospel has taken root around much of the world, this hymn suggests that relationships among all peoples should be as equals, where our love for each other through Christ "puts us on our knees, serving as though we were slaves." (stanza 4) 

The composition of the hymn itself is symbolic of collaboration between two cultures. The text comes from a European Christian inspired by his service in Ghana. The melody comes from a West African country. In this composition, even the act of hymn singing may become a metaphor for neighborly relationships that are possible in Christ.
 

Dr. Hawn is director of the sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology. 

*(c)1969 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Categories: History of Hymns