Where have all the sad hymns gone?

Now all the earth is bright and glad
With the fresh morn;
But all my heart is cold, and dark and sad:
Sun of the soul, let me behold Thy dawn!
Come, Jesus, Lord,
O quickly come, according to Thy word.

Christian Friedrich Richter (1704), Trans., Catherine Winkworth (1855)

I read this quote from a hymn in Spurgeon’s ‘Morning & Evening’ (6th August) and I was just smacked in the face by the sadness, the realism and the hope. All three in one chorus. When have you ever heard (let alone sung) a hymn like that?!

I’ve just spent a week recording songs for ‘When There Are No Words‘, an album seeking to delve deep into the sadness and hurt of grief, and see the slivers of hope where they break through. I’m struck by the fact that often, as Christians, we don’t like to sit in that space for very long. We like to skip to the end, get to the good stuff, focus on the good gifts God gives us. And living this side of the cross, surely we are in a time of celebrating the grace given to us through Jesus, the life that is ours – life to the full. ‘All my life you have been so, so good!’ we sing… but listen to where Richter goes next:

Do we not live in those blest days
So long foretold,
When Thou shouldst come to bring us light and grace?
And yet I sit in darkness as of old,
Pining to see
Thy glory; but Thou still art far from me.

The thing is, we’re waiting for the bride to come. Yes, God is so, so good. But his goodness can sometimes seem veiled. Is the cry that there is something missing, something not quite right, a cry of disbelief?

Long since Thou camest for the light
Of all men here;
And still in me is nought but blackest night,
Yet I am thine, Oh hasten to appear.
Shine forth and bless
My soul with vision of Thy righteousness!

No – this is the very cry of faith. The question cried out in the night is a very Christian question. It is because we believe that God is good, that he has come to redeem, that he loves us and that he has defeated sin and death that we cry to him while we still feel the deep effects of that sin and death. And this is something that is common throughout the Bible, from the Psalms to Jesus himself. And yet…

Where have all the sad hymns gone?

We’re uncomfortable sitting in this space on a Sunday, though many of us are mired in it the rest of the week. When we lose someone we feel that pang each day, especially if we’re living in the house that we once shared. The empty chair stares back at us each meal time, reminding us of so much good that is now so glaringly absent. And all the time we go to church on Sunday and sing as if everything is wonderful and amazing, the disconnect makes the pain even sharper.

The crazy thing is that we of all people have the story to give balm to the soul. Not by trite words that ‘it’ll all be fine’ but by being honest about the brokenness of this world, the utter wrong-ness of death. And when we do this not only will those who are in pain find a home but we will all feel the hope of the new creation to be that much sweeter. We will long together to be there, to enjoy the place of no more tears and death. This will drive our compassion, our love for our neighbour, our evangelism, our care for the sick and hurting… it will make us more like Jesus.

Where have all the sad hymns gone?

Maybe it’s time to get them back.

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