HYMN FOR EASTER 5 Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life/Let not your Hearts be Troubled
Text: George Herbert (1593-1633) Tune: Ralph Vaughan William (1872-1958)
1. Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: Such a way as gives us breath; Such a truth as ends all strife; Such a life as killeth death.
2. Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength: Such a light as shows a feast; Such a feast as mends in length; Such a strength as makes a guest.
3. Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart: Such a joy as none can move: Such a love as none can part; Such a heart as joys in love.
This elegant hymn is all joy and praise. It treats the end of Jesus' sermon which begins “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Jesus knows his disciples are anxious and fearful as they move, unknowingly, toward his death. He knows it is about to happen and has warned them, but they can’t fathom it. They are naturally fearful. If they can’t say what is going to happen, they sense it and are troubled. Jesus begins with that and speaks directly to it.
Fear is primal. People who are fearful will revert to their animal instincts and crouch down, away from human contact, they will betray each other, deny others, and flee, all the things we will see the disciples do in the days around these farewell discourses of Jesus.
Historians tell us that Stalin and Mao knew how to use fear with a cunning that was demonic. They would have their minions call on a person in the middle of the night, knock on the doors, roust them from bed and bring them to the dictator at two or three in the morning for interrogation. It bred a kind of constant fear that was physical and terrifying. It kept people in check. Shostokovitch, the Russian composer, used the sound of that knocking in one of his greatest string quartets. Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. Terror spurts from the piece.
In the face of what we know about fear, it is not surprising that the first thing Jesus says many time is Fear not! It is what the angels say on greeting those whom they are visiting—Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, etc. Jesus says it many times. They know the human condition. They know that fearful people cannot act freely. So the very gospel we preach is one of victory over the great fears of all human beings: isolation, illness, failure, ultimately all the things that threaten death, the final enemy. "Such a love as killeth death."
One can see how fear made a coward of Peter, until his baptism in the Holy Spirit gave him courage. That is the kind of change salvation works in us because God in Jesus has defeated death, sin and the power of Satan. So we see the fearful, young disciples baptized into eternal life, taking courage and going to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel of life to all, most suffering terrible martyrdoms. Wherever Jesus is, and he is with us wherever we meet in his name, there can be no death, because he is life and our journey to him is the way and the truth and the life.
St. Augustine in his great book On Christian Doctrine says Jesus is both the way to and the country where we belong. Because he is always with us. To know Jesus, then, is to already be in heaven—as Paul Gerhardt ends one of his greatest hymns, “If Christ himself be for me, I may a host defy— "The sun which always cheers me is Jesus Christ alone./To have him always near me/Is heav’n itself begun.” Fear not!
Ralph Vaughn Williams and Percy Dearmer, the editors of the English Hymnal, 1906 did not like Victorian sentimentality,. They wanted the music and poetry of the hymnal to be in good taste, a concept that had become prevalent in church music from Lowell Mason on. They much preferred English composers from the Renaissance, like Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and others. Ralph Vaughan Williams found the English folk tune to be more appropriate for English hymnody so he returned to it and refashioned English hymnody. Since that time, he has come to be regarded as one of the greatest composers of England.
The poem by Herbert is from his collection of poems, The Temple. This music was first printed in a collection of art songs, Five Mystical Songs, by Vaughan Williams around the time of the English hymnal of 1906 where it first appeared as a hymn. Beloved by people who care about Herbert and Vaughan Williams, it keeps appearing in subsequent hymnals.
King's College Choir Cambridge
Canterbury Cathedral Choir
Chet Valley Choir
BlackFriar Music/interesting video
NB This is a favorite hymn of mine on John 14 set by Daniel Charles Damon, a good friend and colleague.