Text: Cecil F. Alexander (1818-1895) Tune: William Herbert Jude (1851-1922)
1. Jesus calls us over the tumult Of our life’s wild, restless, sea; Day by day His sweet voice soundeth, Saying, Christian, follow Me! 2. As of old Saint Andrew heard it By the Galilean lake, Turned from home and toil and kindred, Leaving all for Jesus’ sake. 3. Jesus calls us from the worship Of the vain world’s golden store, From each idol that would keep us, Saying, Christian, love Me more! 4. In our joys and in our sorrows, Days of toil and hours of ease, Still He calls, in cares and pleasures, Christian, love Me more than these! 5. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies, Savior may we hear Thy call, Give our hearts to Thine obedience, Serve and love Thee best of all.
This is frequently called St. Andrew’s hymn because of the first line in the second stanza. There are various editings of that line that take away the specific reference to St. Andrew and substitute something like “As of old Apostles heard it.” I can hear the conversations in the hymn committee now. Not liking the specific reference because then it cannot be used for the calling of other disciples. This misses what the poets call synecdoche, in which a part stands for the whole. As in the pen that signed the papers, rather than the person that signed the paper. This is the kind of literalism that kills poetry if not hymnody. Sort of like changing the Paul Gerhard line from “All the world is sleeping “to “Half the world is sleeping“ because… Don’t get me started.
Cecil Francis Alexander, who was Irish, had strong affections for her native land and culture. She was among those attracted to the Oxford Movement and wrote many hymns for children. Her most famous without doubt, “Once in David’s Royal City “ which begins the Christmas Eve program from Kings’ College in Cambridge. Probably next is “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” followed by “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
The story goes that in 1852 Alexander’s husband was about to preach a sermon for St. Andrew’ s Sunday and wanted a hymn to go with the text. She wrote this with the mention of St. Andrew in it and it was read after the sermon to great acclaim.
It has become the theme song of those who are connected with Scotland since Andrew is its patron saint--thus the X shaped cross on its flag. This Sunday's lessons features the story of Jesus calling Andrew and Peter from their boat to be fishers of men. In the Gospel of John 1:41 Andrew first hears Jesus calling and goes to his brother Peter and tells him “We have found the Messiah.” From that exchange we know Andrew to be the first missionary and one who first said that Jesus was the Messiah.
For that Andrew has a cherished spot in the work of the church. All of us are to extend Jesus’ call to others. In doing so we may land even bigger fish than we imagined. Peter turned out to be much more important than Andrew—becoming the first head of the church. This does nothing to diminish the calling of Andrew and maybe gives us some comfort—while we may not be able to do great things, in being faithful we could be used to do greater things than we thought possible. For that reason we remain in prayer that we can do the Lord’s work faithfully, always waiting for the surprises God has in store for us.
Cecil Francis Alexander, born in Dublin, and raised in County Wicklow, Ireland, married William Alexander who later became Anglican Primate of Ireland. She began writing as a young school girl and kept at it until her death. She was very much taken with the Oxford Movement which was interested in returning the Anglican church to its more Catholic and liturgical roots. Many of its leaders, as we have seen, were finding and writing hymns for the church year. She followed suit, however, writing a collection of hymns for children Verses for Holy Seasons, (1846) that followed the church year in a similar fashion. She continued writing hymns and left behind many collections over the years. She was an exemplary bishop’s wife. Ireland was just recovering from the potato famine when she married. She was known for traveling around the diocese bringing food, clothes and comfort to the poor.
There are several tunes for the text. The one Lutherans know in this country is Galilee by the Englishman William Jude. Jude was a musical prodigy. An organist considered among the most brilliant of his day, he "opened" (was the first to play) over 1000 organs in England, Ireland and Australia. This is a typical 19th century Victorian hymn with barbershop harmonies people love to sing. When the LBW came out it, because of its antipathy to the Victorian sound, it was reharmonized so it sounded like something out of Rite of Spring. I spoke once at a congregation's anniversary where it was used and the organist did not play the familiar harmony. The leader of the festivities was in tears after the congregation tried to sing it. No one could and thought it a completely different song.
Organ accompaniment to Jude’s tune
Robert Morehead/Organ with introduction to hymn by Morehead
Theodore Mickel Guerrant playing Dale Wood's Organ version of Galilee
A Scottish Congregation singing another tune
Episcopal Church virtual choir singing text to Southern Harmony tune
NB: Lent is less than a month away. A wonderful Lenten discipline is reading the Passion hymns, one for every day of Lent, by Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson. Follow the link to buy it and receive it in time.