Updated: Apr 24
Text: F.B.P. Tune: Scotch/American
1. Jerusalem, my happy home, When shall I come to thee? When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see? 2. O happy harbor of the saints, O sweet and pleasant soil! In thee no sorrow may be found, No grief, no care, no toil 3. Thy gardens and thy gallant walks Continually are green; There grow such sweet and pleasant flow’rs As nowhere else are seen. 4. There trees forevermore bear fruit And evermore do spring; There evermore the angels sit And evermore do sing! 5. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, God grant that I may see Thy endless joy, and of the same Partaker ever be!
“Grindal,” he boomed, “have you ever had a moment?” Leland B. Sateren, the Augsburg choral director, wanted to know. He explained: Once he had been at an abbey for a festival worship service and he was so taken with the music and the sanctuary that while he was looking around in awe he tripped over the monk genuflecting in front of him.( Low church meet high church!) A moment.
I knew exactly what he meant. I had had such a moment when I first heard this song. It was at the Augsburg Freshmen banquet; we were favored with a solo by the star baritone of the choir. He sang “Jerusalem, My Happy Home.” It stopped me. A moment.
The one thing about musical moments is that they return when you hear the music again. The Augsburg Choir sang this on our six-week tour through Norway, Denmark and Germany in 1965. All of those people and places flood back over me subliminally when the music begins.
This hymn has an unclear origin. Scholars think it comes from 16th century English poets versifying The Meditations of St. Augustine, but they are not quite sure who and when. There are many stanzas, and at least two versions, one Catholic, which includes verses to Mary, and one Protestant. Not only is the music beautiful, the text is worthy of the best of the English Renaissance, which is high praise indeed. For good reason the producers in the television series,The Tudors, had a version of it composed as soundtrack music.
The images for Jerusalem--heaven--are concrete and rapturous. The singer is filled with longing for this place beyond compare. After we see these pictures of the new Jerusalem, we long to go there as well. We really do not have any idea what eternity will be like, but these pictures try to express for us, in terms of what we know, something we cannot know in this life. As Paul says, now we see in part, but then we will know fully. (1 Corinthians 13:12.)
Heaven is like what we love most: eternal springtime, a fresh garden where one can walk on gallant (stately) paths. Just saying “Thy gardens and thy gallant walks/Continually are green” moves one toward the inexpressible.
The past year I have written 366 sonnets on Jesus. Toward the middle of the year, I became overwhelmed with the presence of Christ all around me, living in another dimension, one I could only catch glimpses of now and then.
When people scoff at the notion of heaven because they cannot see it, I am always mystified. We cannot see it because it is beyond our senses. Faith is the evidence of things unseen. But occasionally you glimpse a ray of its glory. It draws you forward into endless light where all will be understood and known. As William Cowper once wrote, "Sometimes a light surprises a Christian when he/she sings." Amen!
The English text has been attributed to B.F.P. whom nobody knows, quite, but assumes he lived in 16th century England.
The tune is by anonymous. A Scotch folk tune, it was brought to America where it became the sound of American folk music. It was used in the most American of traditions: the shape note singing books, or the fasola books, in which people would learn to read music by learning which shape meant which interval. (see above) They would sit in their sections, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, in a square and sing first the intervals and then the words. They gathered for huge revival meetings in the piney woods of the south. Peter Cartwright, the Methodist circuit rider, upon nearing these events, said it sounded like thousands of bees buzzing. They at first may sound harsh. But after your ear gets used to it, you may thrill to the rough sounds and think of how the faith was passed down from generation to generation as children sat with their parents and grandparents beating out these tunes which seem to rise out of the ground up to heaven. For a wonderful documentary on the Sacred Harp tradition see Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp.
Concordia Publishing House
Augsburg Choir/the soloist I heard/a bit scratchy and old monophonic
The way it sounded in the shape note tradition/bad recording
Catholic congregation/Proulx arrangement
The Tudors movie soundtrack