Sing, Choirs of New Jerusalem

Fulbert of Chartres, c. 1000; translated by Robert Campbell, 1850
Addressed to one another
Sing, choirs of new Jerusalem,Neh. 12:27; Gal. 4:26–27; Heb. 13:14–15
   your sweetest notes employPs. 81:2
the paschal victory to hymn2 Chron. 30:21
   in songs of holy joy!
For Judah’s Lion burst his chainsActs 2:24; Rev. 5:5
   and crushed the serpent’s head;Gen. 3:15; Ps. 91:13
Christ cries aloud through death’s domainsHos. 11:10; John 5:25; 11:43
   to wake th’imprisoned dead.Is. 26:19; Eph. 2:5; 5:14
Triumphant in his glory now—Col. 2:15
   to him all pow’r is giv’n;Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:21
to him in one communion bowJohn 5:23
   all saints in earth and heav’n.1 Cor. 1:2
All glory to the Father be,
   all glory to the Son,
all glory to the Spirit be
   while endless ages run.Jude 25

The significance of the resurrection of Christ for our faith, destiny, race, and universe is so rich that a congregation needs many hymns to cover the topic satisfactorily. “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” describes our deliverance from sin and sadness, as well as the exalted Christ’s bestowal of peace, the fruit of his redemptive work. “The Day of Resurrection” emphasizes the permanence of the resurrection and the importance of our seeing it aright. “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” celebrates Christ’s defeat of death and our union with him in his resurrection.

The hymn printed above, “Sing, Choirs of New Jerusalem,” rounds out such a collection by celebrating not just the defeat of death but the destruction of the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (stanza 2, see Heb. 2:14). By doing so in the language of the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, the poem interprets the resurrection according to the covenantal framework of the whole Bible: the Second Adam has triumphed over our first enemy, the penalty for sin has been paid, and all the conditions for life have been met. We have been made citizens of the new Jerusalem (stanza 1, see Rev. 21–22).

Furthermore, Christ’s resurrection proclaims something—evidence that demands a verdict, as Josh McDowell put it—to every member of the human race past, present, and future: to the ungodly, doom (1 Pet. 3:19), to believers, life (Rom. 8:11), and to all for whom it is not yet too late, a call to repentance (Acts 2:24–38; 17:30–31). “Christ cries aloud through death’s domains / to wake th’imprisoned dead.” The consonant clusters of “Christ cries” connect this proclamation to the previous line’s crushing of the serpent’s head. (Note the symmetrical placement of the subsequent d sounds: as the consonants of the first accented syllable of line 2 return in the first two words of line 3, so the initial consonant of the last two words of line 3 returns in the last accented syllable of line 4.) Although the Latin poet had in mind the medieval idea of the harrowing of Hell (limbo), a doctrine not commonly held by Protestants, the English translation expresses the thoroughly biblical idea of the proclamatory significance of the resurrection.

The other stanzas (1 and 3–4) incite us to worship, something all good Easter hymns do. The poetry is efficient and helpful. “Paschal victory” in stanza 1 provides a surprising twist on the more common phrase “paschal victim” (victimae paschali) encountered in other hymns, such as “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing.” The end of the victory is the worship of the communion of saints (communio sanctorum). In stanza 3 they worship Christ, and in stanza 4, through a recasting of the Gloria Patri into common meter, they worship all three Persons of the Godhead for the part each played in the divine paschal victory.

The first word of the hymn is an imperative to sing. Those doing the singing are “choirs” who employ their “sweetest notes.” Therefore, if any hymn warrants a quasi-choral style rather than the simple chordal texture developed over the centuries in Protestant churches for congregational singing, this is it; an elaborate style, which in another hymn would distract congregants from the message, actually strengthens the message here because the text itself directs our attention to the music. And, since poetry has said so much in so few words, music has room to contribute more than its usual share. J. R. Watson called the polyphony of LYNGHAM “astonishing (and invigorating),” yet most congregations, with a little practice, almost intuitively find their voices in it just fine.[1] The part writing is much easier than that in other insistently polyphonic tunes (compare with “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”). Occurring in the fourth line, the polyphony coincides with appropriate words in all stanzas. The “songs of holy joy” are plural. A cry “to wake the imprisoned dead” should astonish. “All saints in earth and heaven” bow. Finally, there’s nothing in corporate worship quite like contemplating, together with those whom one loves, a glory to be enjoyed “while endless ages run” and singing the line seven times—the tenors and basses four times, the sopranos and altos three times, in overlapping statements—especially on a Resurrection Sunday morning. There’s nothing like it in the world.


[1] To many reformed people, LYNGHAM (DESERT) may be familiar from its use with a travesty of Psalm 98 published by the RPCNA as “O Sing a New Song to the LORD” and adopted by the OPC and URC in their Trinity Psalter Hymnal as “Sing to the LORD, O Sing a New Song.” This text turns the clarity of, for example, verse 2—“The LORD has made known his salvation; / he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations” (ESV)—into something vague and repetitive: “God’s great salvation is revealed / for he has made it known. / He in the sight of nations all / His righteousness has shown.” In places, the text defies metrical scansion. Most stanzas lack the kind of words in their fourth line that would justify the polyphony occurring there in the tune. And, above all, LYNGHAM is too taxing to be sung seven times in a row. Something is wrong if it takes us six minutes to sing Psalm 98. We would do better to sing hymns like “Joy to the World,” which treats the psalm with respect.