Hymn of the Week: February 28
by Robert W. Lehman,
Organist and Choirmaster
The Episcopal Church of St. Michael & St. George, Clayton
For many of us, the loss of congregational singing is a regrettable consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. So that we may continue to be enriched by our hymnody, this weekly column will examine a hymn which is appropriate for the Sunday following its publication.
Lent 2B – February 28, 2021
Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said
Words: Charles William Everest (1814-1877) alt.
Music: Bourbon; melody att. Freeman Lewis (1780-1859); harm, John Leon Hooker (b. 1944)
The author of this hymn text, who would become an Episcopal priest in Connecticut, penned these words when he was just nineteen. While it is a profound expatiation on Jesus’ exhortation to the multitude and his disciples (Mark 8:34) about the necessity of taking up one’s cross and following him, it is such only through the work of several revisions by poets of greater maturity. The hymn describes the costliness of true discipleship in the fully committed Christian life: self-denial, renunciation of the world, bearing the shame of the cross, facing all dangers, and following Christ to the uttermost. The great English cleric, Percy Dearmer, commented, “This is one of those hymns of poor quality which have to be always changed in order to make them possible for use.” The text is particularly notable, however, for the fact that it was an American text included in English hymnals by 1858.
The sturdy, pentatonic (five notes per octave) tune, Bourbon, first appeared in a lesser-known collection of nineteenth-century rural American tunes called Beauties of Harmony. Published in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1814, this is a collection of shape-note tunes, (shape-notes are a form of musical notation created to assist in sight reading), several of which are included in our hymnal. The compiler of the collection, Freeman Lewis, was a surveyor of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The name Bourbon is possibly from an association with Bourbon County, Kentucky, home of the Cane Ridge Revival (1801) which marked the beginning of the Second Great Awakening in America. A variant of the tune appeared in 1820 in Allen Carden’s Missouri Harmony.
This hymn (text and tune) appears for the first time in an Episcopal hymnal in The Hymnal 1982.