Text: Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). Tune: John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876)
1 O Jesus, King most wonderful, O Majesty renowned, O Conqueror invincible, in whom all joys are found.
2 When once you visit darkened hearts, then truth begins to shine, then earthly vanity departs, then kindles love divine.
3 O Jesus, light of all below, O Fount of life and fire, surpassing all the joys we know, all that we can desire,
4 May ev'ry heart confess your name, forever you adore, enkindled with the Spirit's flame to love you more and more.
5 Oh, may our tongues forever bless and honor you alone, and may we in our lives express the image of your own!
Bernard of Clairvaux’ Jesu dulcis memoria is the source of this hymn. A long medieval poem, pieces of it have been translated into English and made into English hymns. One can find at least three popular hymns in English which have this source—Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee; the Name of Jesus, Oh How Sweet; Jesus, thou Joy of Loving Hearts. It is an expansive and tedious poem for those who hate sermons longer than 8 minutes. But it has gems sparkling in it which poets have come to love.
There have been Jesus movements in the church sinced the beginning. Suddenly there is a thirst for the heart of the matter and people cry "Give me Jesus." Bernard spoke of that yearning for Jesus in his time. The 17th century also had a Jesus movement with great Jesus hymns that are still in the repertoire of our hymnody. Amazing to have a hymn last over a thousand or five hundred years! The words and tunes still speak directly to the people who are hungering and thirsting for the Lord.
This particular version is recommended for the Sunday when the Emmaus story is the text. The imagery of Jesus as light and fire fits well with the Emmaus text..
When one of the couple asks, “Did not our hearts burn within us?” he or she is describing a memory of an encounter that they are rushing to report. It is very true of life that we seldom know the significance of an event until afterwards. We can see that throughout the entire passion story. The disciples know something big is going on, but fall asleep as Jesus struggles in prayer with his Father; the soldiers gambling beneath the cross are missing the whole cosmic drama going on around them. The story is told of the old pastor, presiding at a funeral. He was reading the obituary of a saint in the congregation. He had not looked at the piece before he started reading it and when he got to the end, he kept on reading about the arrangements for the funeral, it would be a this church at 2:00—he stopped, looked up and said, to everyone’s amusement, Why, we’re having it now!
The Emmaus moment is like that. Here they are, speaking with and eating with the risen Lord and they miss it until he vanishes in the breaking of the bread. We’re having it now is maybe the phrase of wonder we could remember to say to ourselves many times a day. Christ has broken into our humdrum world and we are missing it because of some ordinary duties or routine. It isn’t that he comes to interrupt and stop everything, he comes to enjoy with us the good things of life that he has made possible through his victory on the cross.
This hymn is a prayer that we will realize that because of Christ’s presence in our lives, all of life is holy, a walk in the park, a blessing, an evening repast, among the deepest kinds of fellowship that flesh can know! “And may we in our lives express/the image of your own!”
HYMN INFO Bernard of Clairvoux was one of the central religious figures in the Middle Ages. He came from a rich family, was endowed with many gifts, rhetorical, spiritual, and political. He led the Cistercian order of monks, helped build many monasteries, participated in the time of the three popes, encouraged the disastrous Second Crusade, fought Abelard, wrote great poetry. Dante chose him to guide him through the last circles of Paradise. Bernard was named a Doctor of the Church in 1830. Pope Pius XII celebrated his 800th anniversary with an encyclical titled Doctor Melifluus, in which he named him "The Last of the Fathers". The most popular tune is by John Bacchus Dykes, one of the great hymn composers of the Victorian era.
Concordia Publishing House https://youtu.be/v2RKlHSInVw
Sheffield Cathedral Choir https://youtu.be/ERSz7EMMjtY
Dale Wood’s arrangement of the tune https://youtu.be/zcR2FcEn0fA
John Keys on Organ