As I have written at greater length before, one of the best things about the new hymnal, Book of Common Praise 2017, is that it includes several contemporary songs of substance. It is all too easy for fans of classic hymns to get caught up with hand-wringing over the lack of quality of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and miss the gems amidst the mire. Yet it is the duty of good hymnals to act as filters, gathering up the best of each generation for preservation for its successors.
One such hymn of praise to Jesus is #470 in the new hymnal. You can listen to a version of it on YouTube, if you’re not familiar with it. This recording is fine, although a bit fast for my personal take on it. It begins with the refrain that will also be repeated between each verse:
Alleluia, alleluia, Give thanks to the risen Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia, Give praise to his name.
Very simple, short, and succinct. It could be an antiphon for a psalm. In fact, that’s exactly how it’s functioning in this song – a short refrain is an antiphon. The close repetition of ideas – give thanks to the risen Lord and give praise to his name – is also very psalm-like. This is an example of synonymous parallelism, in which the the two lines of a verse express the same idea with different words.
The verses, if you look at them in sequence, also follow some simple-but-significant patterns reminiscent of the liturgy.
- Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
He is the King of creation.
- Spread the good news o’er all the earth:
Jesus has died and has risen.
- We have been crucified with Christ.
Now we shall live forever.
- Come, let us praise the living God,
Joyfully sing to our Savior.
Verses 1 & 2, and then 3 & 4, each form a sort of call and response pair. Verse 1 is theological statement: Jesus is Lord and King. Verse 2 responds: spread the good news. Then verse 3 gives another theological statement: we have been crucified with him and shall live forever. Verse 4 responds: let us praise and sing. This call-and-response movement is a pattern that shows up all over the liturgy. We hear opening sentences of scripture and a bid to confess our sins, and then we respond with actual confession. We hear a lesson from the Scriptures and we respond with a Psalm or other music. He hear the saving work of Christ on the Cross rehearsed in the beginning of the Prayers of Consecration, and then we respond by offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice.
So this little song from the 1970’s is nicely influenced by the liturgical tradition of worship and meshes well within a worship service. I don’t know the denominational affiliation of the writer-composer, Donald Fishel, but the widespread adoption of this song across many traditional boundaries is testament to its tenacity as a quality song of praise.