Celebrate The Risen Lord

Reflections from our Assistant Music Minister, Bethany Worrell, on a poem
the UCW choir will sing this Sunday

Dear UCW friends,

As Holy Week continues and we draw closer to celebrating Christ’s resurrection, I invite you to reflect with me on the poem that the UCW Choir will be singing on Sunday to bless and uplift the congregation. I like to start reflecting by simply reading the poem once or twice and noticing what grabs my attention, spurs my imagination, or causes an emotional response. I invite you to join me.

Celebrate the Risen Lord

(Based on a versification of Psalm 150 by Charles Wesley, 1743.)
Celebrate the risen Lord, who keeps his courts below;
Celebrate this Easter morn, and all its glory show;
Celebrate his victory, celebrate his matchless power;
Praise him from whom all good proceeds,
Let earth and heaven adore!
Celebrate the eternal God with psaltery;
Celebrate with a choral sound of praise,
Praise in high praise agree.
Celebrate with brass and pipe and organ strong;
Celebrate for the victory is won!
Celebrate with the triumph now begun!
Celebrate the risen Lord, let every creature sing;
Celebrate this Easter morn, bring homage to our King.
Celebrate his victory, as in heaven on earth below;
Christ Jesus, crucified, restored,
Christ Jesus, true and living Lord.
With “Alleluia,” let us sing,
With “Alleluia,” praise the King!

Celebrate!

What jumps out at you? Does anything in the poetry bring up memories or ignite imagination in your spirit? Do any questions arise when you read the text? Any and all of these ideas are jumping off points for reflection. I’d like to share my initial reflection on the text with you, in hopes that it is uplifting and might continue to inspire your own creative meditation on the poem.

Celebrate the risen Lord, who keeps his courts below;
Celebrate this Easter morn, and all its glory show;
Celebrate his victory, celebrate his matchless power;
Praise him from whom all good proceeds,
Let earth and heaven adore!

In the modern world, we don’t typically encounter words like “courts” that hearken back to times of palaces, kings and queens, and even court jesters! (We do, however, encounter “courts” in the justice and legal systems. But, I don’t think that this is what Charles Wesley was aiming at.) Until I looked up this word, I thought it meant the physical rooms in a palace where royalty received guests and had royal balls. It can mean that, but the word also “is a term for the extended household and all those who regularly attended on the ruler or central figure.” So, when the “risen Lord” “keeps his courts below,” the poet may be referring to believers and worshipers of Christ. He is referring to us – that God doesn’t only keep company with the angels, but he wants us in his intimate friend group!

I like the tense of the word “celebrate” in this song. It functions as a directive, a command, an encouragement, a joyful affirmation, and an invitation. Also, notice in the first stanza of poetry how the emotional stakes get higher and higher. The first line describes the fact that all are invited to take their place in God’s family (“courts”), the second encourages us to share the “glory” of the resurrection with one another, and then the third line brings to mind the “victory” and “matchless power” of Christ. Jesus has overcome the greatest obstacle the world sets forth. He has overcome death, sin, and shame. So, what can we do? The fourth line tells us: we can “Praise Him from whom all good proceeds.” The “good” is the gracious gift of his Son atoning for our sins and “making the crooked path straight.” The fifth line continues in the same vein: “Adore” Him after we “praise” Him. When I read this first stanza, I feel excitement and expectation growing for the days ahead – the Easter morning where we remember the life-giving resurrection.

Celebrate the eternal God with psaltery;

Celebrate with a choral sound of praise,
Praise in high praise agree.
Celebrate with brass and pipe and organ strong;
Celebrate for the victory is won!
Celebrate with the triumph now begun!

What is a “psaltery?” Check this out! I initially thought that the poet was talking about using psalms to praise and celebrate Christ (and I still think that is true.) But, a psaltery is actually an ancient stringed instrument (akin to the harp) that would have been used in Biblical times; even King David’s courts used it to praise God. “And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.” – 2 Samuel 6:5.

This whole stanza refers to music as a big part of the celebration – what a gift that we, the church, have to opportunity to celebrate together in a musical way each and every Sunday! The third line, “Praise, in high praise, agree” packs a big punch for such a quick line. We should praise God, and we should increase our praise until it is at the level of HIGH praise! And, instead of just doing all that praising on our own, the poet tacks on the word “agree.” We should come together with our praise and “agree”, so it is all one huge bundle of praise that becomes a joyous gift to God and to each other. This is the kind of worship that unites and makes us part of one Christian body. It draws us together and strengthens us all in our separate walks with God. It is praise that is encouraging to the family of God. I think that “victory is won” and “triumph [has] now begun” of course point to Christ’s triumph, but also to the victory and triumph we experience when we come together and mindfully choose unity as the family of God.

Celebrate the risen Lord, let every creature sing;
Celebrate this Easter morn, bring homage to our King.
Celebrate his victory, as in heaven on earth below;
Christ Jesus, crucified, restored,
Christ Jesus, true and living Lord.
With “Alleluia,” let us sing,
With “Alleluia,” praise the King!
Celebrate!

The third stanza continues with the theme of unity (“let every creature sing”). What about the word, “homage“? This is another one that I thought I knew, meaning something akin to “praise” in my mind. But, it actually means something more. In feudal times, paying homage meant taking an oath of reverence, submission, and allegiance to the Lord of your choice. In exchange, you received a symbolic title of your new position. Is this definition of “paying homage” not unlike the Christian tradition of the prayer of salvation? We pledge reverence to God, we consciously submit to the Bible’s teachings, and we choose to give allegiance to our Redeemer. When we receive salvation from God, we don’t only receive a “symbolic” title; we receive the Holy Spirit (so that God lives within us) and are invited to put on the “new man” and be reshaped by the Potter. So, when the poet writes, “Celebrate this Easter morn, bring homage to our King,” we can see it as “Celebrate your redemption and salvation, think back to your vow to God and the new person he has made you through this love and grace.”

The two lines “Christ Jesus, crucified, restored,” and “Christ Jesus, true and living Lord,” always get me when we are singing the anthem. Jesus suffered the most painful death in the ancient world because of His great love for us. This was the full, final sacrifice: made so that we could be “restored”, just as He was on Easter morning. “True and Living Lord” is so profound, because it is affirming that all we have heard from the Bible and our tradition of the Easter celebration is True! And, “Living Lord” affirms that God is not dead, he is surely alive and is doing great works in each and every one of us. So, why would we not sing, “Alleluia” and “praise the King”?

God invites us all to partake of his goodness every day, every hour, every minute, and every second. We are ALL invited to the table for the bread of life and cup of salvation in unity, in love, in compassion, and in grace. To that, I say, “Alleluia!”

Prayer – I like to end my reflections with prayer, and you will find my personal prayer below. I invite you to join me, or to pray your own personal prayer that is inspired by this reflection.

Dear Jesus, Thank you for coming to Earth and sacrificing yourself so that I might be redeemed and purified. Thank you for freely giving me life and salvation through your victory and matchless power.  Thank you for making me a member of your “court” and giving me the opportunity to come and pay “homage” over and over again: renewing my oath of love, allegiance to your mighty purpose, and submission to your righteous ways. In return, you give me the new name of “Bethany, daughter of the Most High, child of God, friend of Jesus.” I praise you for the restoration you are doing every day in my heart, and I pray that you will continue molding my life into one that reflects you. In your holy name, I cry both “Hosanna” (“save us”) and “Alleluia!” (“Praise the Lord!”) Amen.

 Blessings to you all this Holy Week,

Bethany