Ellsworth Kalas ~ Singing As If It Were Easter
I think it can fairly be said that Charles Wesley has given the world its best and most popular songs for both Christmas and Easter. The Christmas competition is substantial, because we all love so much of the music of the season. I dare to make the case for “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” not only because it is so exuberant and so easy to sing, but also because it is so packed full of basic Christian doctrine. There’s enough there to summarize the whole plan of salvation and to set your soul to rejoicing while you do so.
But Wesley’s Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” stands alone in the music of Easter. There’s a vigorous “Alleluia!” at the end of each line, as if Brother Charles knew that he’d better write it into the poem because each lead-in line insisted on it – if Charles didn’t provide an “Alleluia,” the singers would interrupt the hymn to shout it. Besides, as the late Robert McCutchan noted, it was an early Christian custom for Christians to salute one another on Easter morning with “Hallelujah!”
Wesley wrote this hymn in 1739, which makes it one of his earliest hymns. As originally written, it had eleven stanzas. This means that there were forty-four declarations to which the people sang their “Alleluia.” There’s no question but that the first line ought to be the first line – “Christ the Lord is risen today” – because all else follows from that premise. If you accept that fact (and God have mercy on you if you don’t), it’s easy to “raise your joys and triumphs high,” and to know as you do so that the “heavens and earth reply.”
And if you know that He is risen, of course “Love’s redeeming work is done,” and the battle has been fought, and won, and you know that “Christ has opened paradise.” And you have reason to affirm Paul’s statement in melody: “Where, O death, is now thy sting? Where’s thy victory, boasting grave?” And you’re very sure that we can now, by grace, expect to “soar … where Christ has led, Following our exalted Head,” because “Made like him, like him we rise.”
It’s all very easy to sing if we believe the first line, that Christ is risen. And you’re glad that you can sing “Alleluia!” at the conclusion of each line because without that exclamation something inside you might burst. It’s a song that makes one sing like it’s Easter, because it is. And that’s the whole, holy fact of the matter.