Saturday, March 22, 2008

An Easter Message | John of Damascus | Easter Hymns

The LCMS have a great on-line resource for preaching hymns. Here's a quote on the hymn of John of Damascus:

Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain (LW 141, TLH 204)
This hymn was written in the eighth century by one of the greatest hymn writers of the Greek church-John of Damascus (c. 696 - c. 754). "The hymn is based on the first ode of the canon for St. Thomas Sunday (second Sunday after Easter) an ode based on the song of Moses in Exodus 15" (Lutheran Worship: Hymnal Companion, ed. Fred Precht, p. 158).
John of Damascus' hymn confesses two biblical realities: Israel's freedom from Egyptian bondage through the Red Sea waters and the Christian's freedom from the bondage of sin and death through Christ's resurrection. From John of Damascus' hymn the pastor can show how we take the same journey as the children of Israel did, for we have passed through the waters of Holy Baptism and are led by Jesus with unmoistened foot to salvation in the ark of the Holy Christian Church.

"Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain" is certainly appropriate at any of the Divine Services for Easter, but perhaps the most significant time to weave it into preaching would be at the great Easter Vigil when the focus is specifically on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

A few preaching themes that could spring from this hymn include the following: "The Christians' Life-Death to Life," "The Prefiguring of Holy Baptism," and "The Unwearied Strains of God's Baptized Children!"

There are actually two of the Damascene's hymns in our hymnal, the other one is The Day of Resurrection. Since the western church has a feast day for John of Damascus on March 27th, it is especially appropriate this Easter and week to celebrate and sing his hymns!

Both are translated by John Mason Neale, originally in a volume of "hymns from the East." Although the Easter Vigil service has gone out of use many places, it's good to know that this hymn was traditionally sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil as candles were lit.

As I have been preparing my Easter sermon, I have been pondering the words of this hymn:

Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain
By: John of Damascus

Come, you faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness!
God has brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness,
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.

This the spring of souls today:
Christ has burst his prison
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun has risen;
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From his light, to whom is given
Laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright
With the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feasts
Comes its joy to render;
Comes to gladden faithful hearts
Which with true affection
Welcome in unwearied strain
Jesus’ resurrection!

For today among his own
Christ appeared, bestowing
His deep peace, which evermore
Passes human knowing.
Neither could the gates of death
Nor the tomb’s dark portal
Nor the watchers nor the seal
Hold him as a mortal.

Alleluia! Now we cry
To our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars
Of the tomb’s dark portal
Come, you faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness!
God has brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness!

I appreciate John's ability to relate the Exodus to the Resurrection in such a forthright way, his rich celebration of resurrection imagery and new life, and maybe especially his concept that the resurrection news simply bursts forth in song amongst God's people. He moves from the past event of the Exodus, to the living event of Christ's resurrection, to the "today" of our own seeing Christ, to the "now we cry" of the active worship of God that arises by faith in those who celebrate the resurrection.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said somewhere in his writings that at a certain point, when trying to explain "why" a flower is beautiful, language breaks down, and the best you can do is say, "Just look at it." The resurrection of Christ is like this--we might try to explain the wonder of it for a while, but after a bit, the best we can do as Christians is simply wonder at the wonder of it, stand in awe of it, and then maybe sing it.

Like this:

"Halleluia, Christ is risen, alleluia." He is risen indeed! Alleluia.


  1. Glenn Borreson9:04 PM

    A blessed Easter to you, Clint. Thanks for posting this wonderful hymn with your comments. I just came across an older posting of yours on baptismal spirituality and Lutheranism. I want to say "Amen" to your thoughts and let you know I just wrote a book on that theme, WATER FOR YOUR SOUL: Living in Baptism Every Day (Infinity Publishing, 2008). Fits in this holy time of death and resurrection, too. Thought you might be interested.

    - Glenn L. Borreson

  2. Glenn, thanks for pointing me to your book. Looks like Infinity is a self-publishing enterprise- what's the best way to get a copy of your book?

  3. Glenn Borreson1:53 PM

    For my book, Water for Your Soul, go to the Infinity Publishing sales site,, or go to