History of Hymns: "O Jesus, My King, and My Sovereign"
By C. Michael Hawn
O Jesus, My King, and My Sovereign
by Vicente Mendoza; trans. by Esther Frances and George Lockward,
The United Methodist Hymnal, 180
O Jesus, my King and my Sovereign,
My joy is to sing him my praise.
He’s king, yet he treats me like family,
He’s king, yet he shares all his love.
He left all his glory in heaven
To come lift my life from the ashes.
I’m happy today,
Life’s joy came to stay through him.*
*Trans. © 1982, 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House (Administered by The Copyright Company, Nashville, TN) All rights reserved. Used by permission.
“Jesús es mi Rey Soberano” (“O Jesus, My King, and My Sovereign”) is one of the most important hymns in the Latino community.
The hymn writer Vicente Mendoza was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1875. He died in Mexico City in 1955. Any conversation on the history of Methodism in Mexico soon turns to the pioneering work of Mendoza.
Beginning at age eleven as a laborer in a Protestant print shop in Mexico City that produced El Evangelista Mexicano (The Mexican Evangelist) for the Methodist Church of the South, Mendoza was eventually promoted to the position of director of the publication, a role in which he served for seventeen years.
Sensing a call to preach, Mendoza entered the Seminario Presbiteriano in Mexico City. When the seminary closed temporarily, Mendoza continued his studies at the Instituto Metodista in Puebla, where he finished the course in theology. He then taught at the Seminario Centro Evangélico Unido in Mexico City. In 1898, he became a member of the Annual Conference of the Mexican Methodist Church. From 1915 to 1921, Mendoza served congregations in the Southern Methodist Conference of California. He then returned to Mexico and served Methodist churches until his death.
Carlton Young notes that Mendoza began writing and translating hymns in 1901. These were included in Himnos Selectos, a collection now in its tenth edition. Several of his 300 hymns and translations from English into Spanish are staples of many current Spanish-language hymnals. For example, The United Methodist Spanish-language hymnal, Mil Voces para Celebrar (1996), edited by Raquel Mora Martínez, includes sixteen of Mendoza’s translations and two original hymns.
“Jesús es mi Rey Soberano,” undoubtedly his most famous original composition, was first sung in 1921 in El Gante Metodista Iglesia, a large Methodist church in central Mexico City, and was published soon afterward in Himnos Selectos. It was written in California. Gertrude Suppe (1911-2007), one of the most devoted translators of Spanish hymns into English in the last century, notes: “While waiting for a rain storm to slow he began to play the piano, resulting in the melody we now have. He wrote the stanzas that same day. The final stanza was composed under a street light as he waited for his daughter’s train.”
Mendoza commented, “This was the easiest and most natural song that has come to my heart and mind, making me think with humble reverence that it was truly inspired from above.”
The music reflects the gospel song style of its era, employing the 6/8 musical meter commonly used in this style. The meter contributes to a warm engagement with the text. The text includes images that resonate with Latinos, especially the paradoxical idea that such a powerful and sovereign (soberano) king (Rey) would also be my brother (hermano) in stanza one. In stanza two, Jesus is a friend (amigo) who is also patient and humble (paciente y humilde). That Christ would be a part of the family (familia) is an essential aspect of Latino theology. For a people who have often felt powerless, this understanding of Christ—the one who “lift[s] my life from the ashes”—is empowering and indeed a most joyful (feliz) reality. This joy leads to a total commitment through service in the final stanza.
Esther Frances translated this hymn for the Supplement to the Book of Hymns in 1982. Portions of her text were included in George Lockward’s translation for The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). The relationship to Christ expressed in this hymn is one that all Christians can embrace.
C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.
The author is indebted to Carlton R. Young and the Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1993), 438-439, 797-798, for quotations and much of the background information on this hymn. Additional information concerning Mendoza including a list of his hymns is available at http://www.hymnary.org/person/Mendoza_V.