This page was created by Donal Hegarty.  The last update was by Alisa Clapp-Itnyre .

Sounding Childhood

Christ the Lord is risen today

Charles Wesley wrote “Christ the Lord is risen to-day” in 1739 and published it Hymns and Sacred Poems, not, notably, his 1763 Hymns for Children and Others of Riper Years. Nonetheless, it was especially embraced by children’s hymn-book editors, found in 22% of children’s hymn books of the century. Charles Wesley’s text is majestic and appropriate for Easter morning as it reflects upon the resurrection of Christ (“once he died, our souls to save”), His triumph over death (“Where’s thy victory, boasting grave?”), and the human response (“Raise your joys and triumphs high / Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply”). Wesleyan doctrine prevails, doctrine that might be confusing, if not off-putting, to children: “Lo! The sun’s eclipse is o’er / Lo! He sets in blood no more!” (v. 2), dark allusions to Good Friday and the crucifixion. Consider, especially, verse 3, the first two lines not often found in late-twentieth-century hymnals: “Vain the stone, the watch, the seal,/Christ hath burst the gates of hell.”  The explanation for the popularity among children of this complex hymn probably lies instead in its tune, “Easter Hymn,” equally exultant as the text, and popular enough to be found in 13 of 30 children’s tune books of the century. Misattributed to J. W. Worgan, Henry Carey, and even Handel (McCutchan 191), the tune first appeared in Lyra Davidica (1708) to “Jesus Christ is Risen today.”  John Wesley then used it in setting his brother’s text “Christ the Lord is risen to-day” as published in his Foundery Collection (1742). Employing challenging melismas (a syllable set to multiple notes, typically five or more) in the triumphant “alleluias” after each verse, it is somewhat like a call and response.   Significantly, the well-known, lush harmonization was given by Victorians, in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), where it was used with “Jesus Christ is risen to-day.”  Wrote turn-of-the-twentieth-century author James T. Lightwood, “there is probably no tune in Christendom so universally sung on any festal day as is the Easter hymn, with its rolling ‘Hallelujah,’ on Easter morning” (qtd. in McCutchan 191). It is highly probable that many Victorian children eagerly anticipated singing this yet-popular Easter favorite.

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