The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
HISTORY OF HYMNS: Temptation of Jesus inspires Lenten hymn C. Michael Hawn, Feb 15, 2012
IMAGE COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
An 1872 painting by Russian artist Ivan Kramskoi depicts Christ’s temptation in the desert.
By C. Michael Hawn UMR Columnist
“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” Claudia Hernaman UM Hymnal, No. 269
Lord, who throughout these forty days For us did fast and pray, Teach us with thee to mourn our sins And close by thee to stay.
Unlike Christmas and Epiphany, which take place on the same dates every year, Easter is a moveable feast based on the lunar calendar. Therefore all other observances dependent upon Easter, including Lent and Pentecost, shift in relation to the timing of Easter Sunday. Because Easter Sunday is April 8 in 2012, Ash Wednesday is on Feb. 22—40 days before Easter, minus Sundays.
Claudia Frances Ibotson Hernaman’s hymn, “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” signals the beginning of Lent and is often sung during Ash Wednesday services or throughout the season of Lent.
Forty is a number with special biblical significance. It rained for 40 days and nights when the earth was overtaken by flood waters, and Noah waited another 40 days before opening the window of the ark. Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years. Jesus was seen on earth following the resurrection for 40 days. In this case, Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness provides the primary paradigm for the 40 days of Lent.
Claudia Hernaman (1838-1898) was born in Surrey, England, and died in Brussels, Belgium. She was the daughter of an Anglican minister and married a minister who also served as a school inspector.
Like so many other women hymn writers of the 19th century, Hernaman was devoted to the religious education of children. Toward this end she wrote 150 hymns in several collections, some original and some translated from Latin.
This hymn appeared first in her Child’s Book of Praise; A Manual for Devotion in Simple Verse (1873). It is based on the account of the temptation of Jesus found in three Gospels—Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13.
As is the case with many hymns, Christ’s life becomes a model for how his followers should confront temptation. The first two lines of the stanzas focus on a response of Christ when he faced temptation; the last two lines encourage Christians to model their behavior on Christ’s example. This is a familiar pattern for children’s hymns from the days of Isaac Watts; it obviously strikes a chord with adult believers as well.
The classic themes of the Lenten season are presented in the stanzas of this hymn:
• Fasting and prayer (stanza one); • Struggle with Satan and sin (stanza two); • Dying to self, meditation on Scripture (stanza three); • Penitence (stanza four); • Looking toward the joy of Easter (stanza five).
“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” is the only hymn by Hernaman that is commonly sung today. Because there are very few hymns that encompass the entire period of Lent and take us to Easter, it fills a needed gap in the hymn repertoire.
Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.