We Are Forgiven
On Easter Sunday (April 5th), as worship began at Hope Church, I opened my mouth to sing Christ the Lord Is Risen Today but no sound came out. I was too overcome with emotion. Tears streaked my cheeks as the words of this great hymn washed over me. The power and hope of the resurrection had fallen upon me. As the English hymn writer Charles Wesley puts it, I was “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
It is the same Charles Wesley who wrote Christ the Lord Is Risen Today in 1739, not long after he had experienced a powerful awakening of faith, one of 8,989 (!) hymn texts he would write. What is it about this text that took such hold of me, as it has done for countless others?
There is something deeply satisfying about the hymn structure. In each verse, short declarations of Easter faith are followed by “Alleluia” – praise God! As we sing the four verses, we sing alleluia sixteen times. The repetition is powerful, but was not part of Wesley’s intention. As Richard Niell Donovan writes:
The original hymn had no Alleluias. It seems as if the hand of God directed what came next. Someone whose name has been lost in time decided to set the words to the tune that we now use – a tune by a composer whose name has also been lost in time. But the words didn’t fit the tune, so he added the Alleluias to make it fit. The perfect Easter hymn, then, came into being through the work of three different people who probably never met. It is unlikely that any of the three had any idea how much their hymn would add to our celebration of Easter.*
What resonates most deeply with me, however, are the first two lines of the second stanza: “Love’s redeeming work is done (alleluia!), fought the fight, the battle won (alleluia!).” The redeeming work of Jesus is done. He has won the battle against sin and death (sin’s consequence). We are forgiven! Our sin, not some abstract idea of sin but our very real, very personal sin is washed away! Can we ever hear this enough?
If you have ever seen me teach or lead a meeting you know that I like to express my thoughts on a white board. At one recent meeting, in the exuberance of my writing I got green dry erase marker on my khaki pants. My pants lay crumpled in the laundry far too long. Eventually I got hold of some stain remover, sprayed it on the pants, vigorously scrubbed it in, and washed the pants. I was disappointed to see the stain still showing through. Then I had an inspiration. I turned the pants inside out and found that there, hidden from sight, the green marker had not been affected at all. So I repeated the scrubbing and washing process to much better result.
Easter is the joyful recognition that Jesus, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, has scrubbed us from the inside out. Even the hidden parts are washed clean. We are forgiven! No wonder we get choked up.
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise. Alleluia!
(Charles Wesley, 1739)
David Lenz, Lead Pastor
*www.lectionary.org/HymnStories/ChristtheLordIsRisenToday.htm, accessed 04-14-2015