Article

History of Hymns: “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days”

by C Michael Hawn

"Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days"
by Claudia Hernaman,
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 269

 

C. Michael Hawn

Lord, who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with thee to mourn our sins
And close by thee to stay.

Unlike Christmas and Epiphany, which take place on the same dates every year, Easter is a moveable feast based on the lunar calendar. Therefore, all other observances dependent upon Easter, including Lent and Pentecost, shift in relation to the timing of Easter Sunday. Because Easter Sunday is April 5 in 2015, Ash Wednesday is on February 18 -- forty days before Easter minus Sundays.

Claudia Frances Ibotson Hernaman’s hymn, “Lord, who throughout these forty days,” signals the beginning of Lent and is often sung during Ash Wednesday services or throughout the season of Lent. Forty is a number with special biblical significance. It rained for forty days and nights when the earth was overtaken by floodwaters, and Noah waited another forty days before opening the window of the Ark. Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. Jesus was seen on earth following the resurrection for forty days. In this case, Christ’s forty days in the wilderness provides the primary paradigm for the forty days of Lent.

Claudia Hernaman (1838-1898) was born in Surrey, England, and died in Brussels, Belgium. She was the daughter of an Anglican minister, and she married a minister who also served as a school inspector. Like so many other women hymn writers of the nineteenth century, she was devoted to the religious education of children. Toward this end, she wrote 150 hymns in several collections, some original and some translated from Latin.

"Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days" appeared first in her Child’s Book of Praise; A Manual for Devotion in Simple Verse (1873). It was not included in hymnals, however, until the mid-twentieth century, when it appeared in the Irish Church Hymnal (1960) and Hymns for Church and School (1964). By the 1970s, “Lord, who throughout these forty days” was a standard hymn in most hymnals in the United States. It is based on the account of the temptation of Jesus found in three Gospels -- Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13.

As is the case with many hymns, Christ’s life becomes a model for how his followers should confront temptation. The first two lines of the stanzas focus on a response of Christ when he faced temptation; the last two lines encourage Christians to model their behavior on Christ’s example. This is a familiar pattern for children’s hymns from the days of Isaac Watts. It obviously strikes a chord with adult believers as well.

The classic themes of the Lenten season are presented in the stanzas of this hymn:

Fasting and prayer (stanza one);
Struggle with Satan and sin (stanza two);
Dying to self, meditation on scripture (stanza three);
Penitence (stanza four);
Looking toward the joy of Easter (stanza five).

According to British hymnologist J.R. Watson, the final stanza may be rooted in the social situation of its day:

Abide with us, that so, this life
of suffering over past,
an Easter of unending joy
we may attain at last.

Although included in The United Methodist Hymnal, this -- Dr. Watson notes -- was often omitted in British hymnals: “This verse makes the suffering and temptations of Lent into a metaphor for human life, with heaven as the Easter reward at the end. It was probably too close to the ‘sore distrest’ school of Victorian hymnody to be useful to 20th-century editors.”

LAND OF REST, an American folk tune with roots in northern England and Scotland, has become an increasingly popular companion with this text in recent years. The lilting nature of this melody rather than the most common historical pairing of ST. FLAVIAN gives a stronger sense of a journey with energy and hope. ST. FLAVIAN, by contrast, is more solemn and perhaps even plodding.

An active writer, Hernaman had among her publications the Anglo-Catholic Altar Hymnal: A Book of Song for Use at the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist , 1884 (co-editor), The Crown of Life: Verses for Holy Seasons (1886), The Conversion and Martyrdom of St. Alban: A Sacred Drama (1891). She edited the anthology, Lyra Consolationis: From the Poets of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1890).

“Lord, who throughout these forty days” is the only hymn by Hernaman that is commonly sung today. Because there are very few hymns that encompass the entire period of Lent and take us to Easter, it fills a needed gap in the hymn repertoire and starts us off on the journey toward Holy Week and Easter.

 

 

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Categories: History of Hymns, History of Hymns/Hymn Studies Related to Lent and Easter