Today the recessional hymn, after the first Sunday service in Lent, turned out to be totally incongruous to Christian faith. It has almost no connection to Christian teaching with only one token verse tagged on at the end to make it appear Christian when it is actually Zionist. It begins:
Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest,
Beneath your contemplation
Sink heart and voice oppressed.
I know not, oh, I know not
What social joys lie there.
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.
It pays homage to the apartheid city of Jerusalem. This was the city from where Jesus was put to death on the cross outside of the city walls. Today thousands of Palestinians have been murdered in a genocide of mammoth proportion perpetrated by Israel. Jerusalem today is the city from where Palestinians have had their land and property stolen and their lives made unbearable.
As well as the unknown “social joys” of the first verse there is further tribute to the “. . . shout of those who triumph, the song of those who feast.” In reminding fellow-Christians that Lent has just started, a time of abstinence and fasting, this seems particularly out of place. How such hymns get on to our hymn-sheets is beyond my comprehension. But it does not stand alone.
It is said the Devil has all the best tunes. While that is only partly true it cannot be gainsaid that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a rip-roaring tune. Here Whitney Houston waves the flag. It was allegedly written to support the Unionists in the American Civil War. Again it has a token Christian verse encouraging Christians to fight against and kill, or be killed by, fellow Americans. Quite clearly this has no place in Christianity and its title tells us why. Jesus is not on the side of any army. His message is one of peace and one of blessing the peacemakers. Nevertheless songs like this keep making their way into Christian services.
Another ‘hymn’ that disturbs me has a great tune too – Jerusalem. This gets touted out in church quite regularly and is another Zionist contribution that asks if a new Jerusalem can be built on England’s green and pleasant land. Although written by William Blake there is no excuse for bringing me a “bow of burning gold”, “arrows of desire”, “spear” or a “chariot of fire”. I realise it is based somewhat on Revelation and thus as symbolic as the story of the Garden of Eden. Nevertheless the nearest it gets in a series of unanswered questions to mentioning the name of Jesus is in the couplet:
“And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?”
Nationalism, and the glorification of war and warriors never seem to be very far away from the lyrics of these rousing ‘hymns’. We see them ever more present in “I vow to thee my country” and who better to raise the heart and spirit than in putting lyrics to stirring music from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. Soldiers and other sufferers of war are asked to be so patriotic that the “final sacrifice” is not too big a price to pay. This hymn does try to redeem itself in the final verse which describes another country “where all the paths are peace.” But here again there is no direct mention of Jesus.
So do these hymns belong in a Christian service?