Home History of Hymns: "We Know that Christ Is Raised"

History of Hymns: "We Know that Christ Is Raised"

"We Know that Christ Is Raised"
John Brownlow Geyer
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 610

We know that Christ is raised and dies no more.
Embraced by death, he broke its fearful hold,
and our despair he turned to blazing joy. Alleluia!*

Born in 1932, the Rev. John Brownlow Geyer grew up through the end of the Great Depression and witnessed the Second World War. After attending Queen’s College (1953-56) and Mansfield College (1956-59), he was ordained by the Congregational Union of Scotland.

He has served as chaplain at both the University of St. Andrews and the University of Birmingham and has served churches in Fife, Glasgow and Little Baddow.

Mr. Geyer has held the position of tutor at the colleges of Cambridge College and Westminster and Cheshunt College. He is also a theologian and the author of many articles and a commentary, The Wisdom of Solomon.

Based on Romans 6:3-11, the first line of this hymn draws heavily upon Romans 6:9, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”

The hymn was first published in New Songs for the Church (1969) with four stanzas. The original third stanza, omitted in The UM Hymnal, focused on the Trinity, the structure of the historic baptismal formula spoken by the minister at the time of the administration of the water.

In the history of the church, baptism and Easter are inexorably linked. The catechumens—those studying the doctrines of the church during Lent—enter into the mystery of baptism during the Easter Vigil.

Besides the primary themes of baptism and the Resurrection, Mr. Geyer wrote “We know that Christ is raised” in 1969 as a statement of defiance against the continued research and experimentation of “test-tube babies” coming into prominence at that time.

“The hymn attempted to illustrate the Christian doctrine of baptism in relation to those experiments,” he wrote later.

Though originally intended as a hymn for the sacrament of baptism, it has become popular as an Easter hymn. Its popularity has increased because of the text changes to the second stanza of the hymn. The original version of this stanza clearly argues against the scientific advancement of in vitro fertilization:

We share by water in his saving death.
This union brings to being one new cell,
a living and organic part of Christ.

Later he changed the words of the second and third lines of this stanza: “Reborn, we share with him an Easter life /as living members of a living Christ.” This small difference refocuses the meaning of the hymn from an ethical agenda to a celebratory declaration of the Resurrection of Christ.

Mr. Geyer’s hymn was written for the tune ENGELBERG by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924). Composed in 1904, this tune had fallen out of use until Mr. Geyer wrote this hymn for it. The pairing of ENGELBERG with Mr. Geyer’s hymn results in a perfect hymn for an uplifting Easter celebration.

The tune SINE NOMINE written by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 -1958) is also this same meter. Best-known for its pairing with the text “For all the saints,” SINE NOMINE also provides a possible setting for Mr. Geyer’s text.

One feature that stands out about this hymn is the absence of rhyme; however, Mr. Geyer wrote it so well that the rhyme is not missed.

Several poetic devices are used in this hymn. One particular poetic device used is antithesis, sharply contrasting ideas set in balance. This can be seen in such phrases as “We know that Christ is raised and dies no more” and “our despair he turned to blazing joy.”

“We know that Christ is raised and dies no more” is a 20th-century hymn with rich meaning for the celebrations of baptism and the Resurrection.

The final line of the hymn proclaims the singular result of the Resurrection—“The universe restored and whole will sing: Alleluia!”—bringing the hymn to a cosmic climax.

Brent Kern studies church music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU, and is a hymnology student of Dr. Michael Hawn.

*Words by permission of John Brownlow Geyer.

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