Thine Be the Glory


THERE can be no greater example than the Easter narrative of bitter anguish turning into triumph and joy.

On Friday Jesus was crucified, dying after six hours in agony. His body was placed in a tomb with a massive rock at the entrance, sealed and guarded on the orders of Judea’s Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

The next day was the Sabbath or day of rest. So it is just after sunrise on Sunday that two of Jesus’s women followers, Mary Magdalene and another Mary, set out for the tomb with spices to anoint his body for final burial, hoping that someone will be able to help them move the rock.

Before they arrive, there is an earthquake, and an angel dressed in pure white descends from heaven and rolls away the stone. The Roman guards are terrified and flee.

When the women get to the tomb they find the stone moved from the entrance, the guards gone, and no sign of Jesus’s body.

Mary Magdalene runs to find the disciples John and Peter. While she is gone two angels appear. One says to the other Mary:

‘Don’t be afraid. We know you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified.

‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but he is risen, just like he said he would.

‘Don’t you remember what he told you when he was in Galilee? The Son of man was going to be delivered up into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and rise again on the third day.’

John arrives at the tomb first and finds the linen cloth in which the body was wrapped lying on the floor. Peter runs into the tomb and sees the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head rolled separately.

After the disciples leave to think about the meaning of what they have seen, Mary Magdalene returns to the garden where Jesus was buried.

She is crying outside the empty tomb when a man whom she takes to be a gardener comes up and says: ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’

Mary replies: ‘They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’

Suddenly she realises that the man is Jesus and says in Hebrew: ‘Rabboni’ (Teacher).

Jesus says: ‘Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’

Meanwhile, the soldiers who were guarding the tomb go to the chief priests and tell them what has happened. The priests discuss the development and offer the soldiers money to say that Jesus’s disciples stole the body while they were asleep. They take the money and do as they were told. The false report spreads rapidly.

The resurrection is crucial to Christianity. In I Corinthians 15:14 Paul says: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ No resurrection, no faith. And Paul means an actual physical resurrection, not a mythical resurrection or hallucination as some believe. The stone was rolled away and there was no body.

The tune of the Easter Day hymn Thine Be the Glory was written by Handel in 1747 as a chorus called See the Conq’ring Hero Comes for the oratorio Joshua, which he composed in a month between 19 July and 19 August. However it was so popular that he added it retrospectively to his opera Judas Maccabaeus which had premiered the previous year, and so it appears in both works. When a friend kindly informed Handel that he had written better things than See the Conq’ring Hero Comes, Handel replied: ‘You will live to see it a greater favourite with the people than my other fine things.’

Here it is in Judas Maccabeus:

In 1796, Beethoven composed twelve variations on it for piano and cello.

Here is a lovely arrangement for trumpets.

A YouTube commenter has written: In January 1806 The Times newspaper reported: ‘The funeral procession of the late Admiral Lord Nelson ascended Ludgate Hill towards St Paul’s Cathedral, to the sound of Herr Handel’s music See the Conquering Hero Comes which could not be heard for the sound of universal weeping.’

The tune was traditionally played by brass bands at the opening of railway lines and stations in Britain during the 19th century, and Sir Henry Wood used it as a movement in his Fantasia on British Sea Songs, often played at the Proms (starts at about 15’ 40”).

In 1884, Swiss pastor Edmond Louis Budry (1854-1932) wrote words to Handel’s tune, with the first line À toi la gloire Ô Ressuscité (‘ To you the glory, O Risen’), which was published in the French hymn book Chants Evangéliques.

In 1923 the World Student Christian Federation obtained permission from Budry to translate his hymn into English. The commission was given to a Baptist minister and theologian, Richard Birch Hoyle (1875-1939).

Hoyle was born in Cloughfold, a hamlet near Rawtenstall in Lancashire. Despite having a hearing problem he was a gifted linguist, fluent in 12 languages. He translated about 30 French hymns into English.

So, here are a few versions of the hymn.

This is by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Here it is given a resounding performance by the First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

For sheer power this has got to be my favourite. It’s by an unidentified player at the Wellington Town Hall organ in New Zealand. There may be one or two duff notes, but it’s joyful!

Thanks to Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack who helped me with the theology.

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