Monday, July 19, 2010

"When we all get to Heaven"

Conjubilant With Song posts on hymns about Heaven ("Heaven" and "Hell" really should be capitalized - they are proper names for places, after all). He notes that death and what happens afterward are easy to ignore most of the time for most of us.
.... Here in the twenty-first century, in many places, death and the hoped-for nearness of heaven can seem almost metaphorical when it's encountered in church. Barring a sudden illness or accident, death mostly comes to older people who may even no longer be able to come to church regularly, so the community can sometimes avoid the reality for long periods of time. This was not the experience of churches in earlier times; death was more present for them, I think, as mortality rates were much higher. ....

But I have lived in a time and a place where death was always present, where friends and colleagues and neighbors died on a weekly basis. I can tell you that hymns about heaven are just as important and meaningful and immediate in that situation as they were in the Victorian age, or any earlier time. A visiting contingent of Mennonites once came to a service where there were many men who would not be there a year later. One of their leaders memorably said "they sing like they've already been to heaven."

All this probably has something to do with my own interest in and love for these texts. I didn't know this one back then, but yes, we would have sung it like we'd already been there.
Light's abode, celestial Salem,
Vision whence true peace doth spring,
Brighter than the heart can fancy,
Mansion of the highest King;
O how glorious are the praises
Which of thee the prophets sing!

There forever and forever
Alleluia is outpoured;
For unending, for unbroken
Is the feast-day of the Lord;
All is pure and all is holy
That within thy walls is stored.

There no cloud nor passing vapor
Dims the brightness of the air;
Endless noonday, glorious noonday,
From the Sun of suns is there;
There no night brings rest from labor,
For unknown are toil and care.

O how glorious and resplendent,
Fragile body, thou shalt be,
When endued with heavenly beauty,
Full of health, and strong, and free,
Full of vigor, full of pleasure

Now with gladness, now with courage,
Bear the burden on thee laid,
That hereafter these thy labors
May with endless gifts be paid,
And in everlasting glory
Thou with brightness be arrayed.
Thomas a Kempis, 15th cent., tr. John Mason Neale, 1854, Tune: RHUDDLAN (, Welsh traditional melody

Cyberhymnal provides an additional verse:
Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three, and ever One,
Consubstantial, Co-eternal,
While unending ages run.
Conjubilant With Song: Forever and Forever Alleluia Is Outpoured