Hymn of the Week: January 23
by Nick Bideler,
Acting Organist, Choirmaster and Music Director
The Episcopal Church of St. Michael & St. John
January 23: O Zion, Haste
A hymn which uses the figure of Zion to represent the church and encourages it to spread the good tidings of salvation in Christ is "O Zion, Haste" to the tune TIDINGS. The text was written by Mary Ann Faulkner Thomson, who was born in 1834, in London, England. Its first appearance in a hymnbook was in the 1892 Protestant Episcopal Church Hymnal.
She composed over 40 hymns and described herself in the following no-nonsense manner: “I am an English woman and was born, baptized, and confirmed in London, and I am, and for many years have been, a member of the Church of the Annunciation, Philadelphia. I am the wife of John Thompson, the librarian of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and he is the Accounting Warden of the Church of the Annunciation.”
This hymn urges the church to fulfill its mission of telling the message of salvation to the world. The chorus emphasizes the importance of spreading the gospel: "Publish glad tiding, tidings of peace; Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release."
The church is addressed as “Zion,” a reference originally applied to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 5:7. According to hymnologist Albert Bailey, this “metaphor is transferred to the Christian Church on earth.” There is much less of a sense that the church of the West has a message for the rest of the world. The metaphor of “Zion” places the body as the church at large. Zion or Jerusalem becomes home base for the mission of the church to the world.
The final stanza invites us to go out into the world and spread the Word of God: “Give of thine own to bear the message glorious; Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way; Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious...”
Mrs. Thomson wrote about her hymn:
“I wrote the greater part of the hymn, “O Zion, haste,” in the year 1868. I had written many hymns before, and one night, while I was sitting up with one of my children who was ill of typhoid fever, I thought I should like to write a missionary hymn to the tune of the hymn beginning “Hark, hark, my soul, angelic songs are swelling,” as I was fond of that tune; but as I could not then get a refrain I liked, I left the hymn unfinished, and about three years later I finished it by writing the refrain which now forms part of it. By some mistake 1891 is given instead of 1871 as the date of the hymn in the Episcopal Hymnal. I do not think it is ever sung to the tune for which I wrote it. Rev. John Anketell told me, and I am sure he is right, that it is better for a hymn to have a tune of its own, and I feel much indebted to the composer of the tune “Tidings” for writing so inspiring a tune to my words.
Listen to the hymn here: