HYMN 221 I'm Just a Poor, Wayfaring Stranger
Text: Anonymous Spiritual folk song Tune: Anonymous from Christian Songster 1858
1. I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger, I’m trav’ling through this world below; There is no sickness, toil, nor danger, In that bright world to which I go. I’m going there to see my father, I’m going there no more to roam; I’m just a going over Jordan, I’m just a going over home.
2. I know dark clouds will gather o’er me, I know my pathway’s rough and steep; But golden fields lie out before me, Where weary eyes no more shall weep. I’m going there to see my mother, She said she’d meet me when I come; I’m just a going over Jordan, I’m just a going over home.
3. I want to sing salvation’s story, In concert with the blood-washed band; I want to wear a crown of glory, When I get home to that good land. I’m going there to see my brothers, They passed before me one by one; I’m just a going over Jordan, I’m just a going over home.
4. I’ll soon be free from every trial, This form will rest beneath the sod; I’ll drop the cross of self-denial, And enter in my home with God. I’m going there to see my Savior, Who shed for me His precious blood; I’m just a going over Jordan, I’m just a going over home.
MEDITATION Its plaintive longing for release from this world makes this song perfect for many who are anxious and worried about the future. This world weariness is not uncommon. Many popular hymns speak of this life as a pilgrimage through a dark and troubled land. The notion of pilgrimage and the journey home is deep in Scripture, no place more clearly than Hebrews 11-12. We are longing for a better home. As we have noted before, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the classic describing this journey from this world to the world to come, over Jordan, home.
We have referred to several pilgrim hymns through the year, from “I’m a Pilgrim,” to "He who would valiant be." This song arose just before the Civil War from somewhere. Some scholars suggest it may have been some kind of English riff on Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, “Ich bin ein Gast auf Erden/I am a guest on earth,” which he wrote as he was leaving Berlin for his last parish in Lübben, with only his son, and without his dear wife and other children, each of whom had died. .
There is no denying people are anxious, depressed and afraid—of the virus, the election, unclear results, violence, their financial futures, their safety. One can feel like a stranger in the midst of all this and long for home. I went to the drugstore today to pick up some things and was met by a shelf of self-medications for anxiety and depression. If those were not strong enough, the doctors have prescription medicines to write. They help the symptoms, but the root cause is life.
Life goes up and down. Sometimes we can view with joy and pleasure the world we have been given; and sometimes long for it to end. We might agree with the old saint some of us knew, Oletta Wold, fully alive, still driving her car into her late nineties; when she heard of some new awful thing happening in the world, she would say, "The Lord better come again and soon!"
As we get older, the world seems to get stranger. To be a stranger is to be unknown, with no place to lay our head. All of us have some experience of being in a new place and not quite sure where we will be sleeping that evening. It makes us long for our home, or a home.
Christians are to be strangers to the world, rather than wedded to it. Worldlings is what Bunyan calls those who are utterly wedded to this world without any idea of that other world. St. Augustine, the great theologian of the early church, made the distinction that God gave us means to live, and they are to be enjoyed, but they are not to be made into ends. Then they become idols and wed us to this world. No matter what our state in this world, we can find comfort in the knowledge God has created another place, one this song sings of so beautifully, and with such poignant longing, a bright world, where there is no sickness, toil, nor danger--an eternal home.
HYMN INFO The song developed through the early part of the 19th century and was printed first in Bever’s Christian Songster (1858). There are many versions of it, with the first and last lines always the same. Some attributed the song to a dying Civil War soldier but that could not be true, since it was published some years before. It became a popular song for soldiers to sing by the campfire as they were facing their deaths in battle, from infected wounds, starvation as prisoners in brutal places like Andersonville. At one time, in fact, the song was known as Libby’s Prison Hymn because it had been sung there. But, like all folk hymns, who knows? It was deemed appropriate for the movie 1917 which you can listen to below. No matter where it came from, it remains one of the most popular songs of its kind, a balm to the spirit when people are world weary and suffering. It gives them words to describe their situation and hope for release.
LINKS Johnny Cash https://youtu.be/gIlbZAP8ASQ
The Swingle Singers https://youtu.be/GaJ3adMgsbY
From the movie 1917 https://youtu.be/fp7mdSMNQB0
Dan Damon Quintet https://youtu.be/-nftBSfeE_0
Harvard Krokodiloes https://youtu.be/j5phlA7FmAg