Sunday, March 13, 2005
One remarkable event of note: one of the songs that they selected was the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I have heard this song hundreds of times, in movies, documentaries, and I don't think I've ever noted its unusual characteristics.
Julia Ward Howe wrote the words as inspired by union soldiers singing the American Camp Meeting tune "John Brown's Body." (Camp Meetings were early American revival meetings, characterized by hymn singing, Christian salvation messages, and often river-edge baptisms.) The song rapidly grew associated with union forces and the union cause.
Written in a Christian vernacular that today is almost entirely absent from the public sphere but was very common in 1862, the Hymn is a powerful witness to how strongly some felt that the War against slavery was divinely led, and how religious fervor attached to the causes on both sides of the war:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.
Howe in part drew her inspiration from Jeremiah 25:30:
30"Therefore prophesy against them all these words, and say to them:
"The LORD will roar from on high,
And utter His voice from His holy habitation;
He will roar mightily against His fold.
He will give a shout, as those who tread the grapes,
Against all the inhabitants of the earth.
But as a witness to some of the carnage of that terrible war, it must surely be that Howe may have believed she was witnessing the dire warnings of Revelation come to pass. Revelation 14:17-20:
Reaping the Grapes of Wrath
The graphic and horrifying images of Revelation may have been the only possible comparison that an observer in 1862 could make. Surely the battles that raged, the reports of death, maiming an destruction must have been unlike anything in memory at that time. Surely this would have been a time that called for repentance, as even Abraham Lincoln called for in his 2nd Inaugural.
17Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe." 19So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.
And, as each generation goes through what it sees as its unique travails, that the call for repentance will always be urgent for each generation. Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:6:
6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.As it was in the bloody days of the civil war, so it was in the bleak days of World War II, when victory did not look at all certain. For most Americans, 9/11/01 was another of those dark days that demand reflection and pause. And perhaps they call, too, for repentance.
Follow the link for the entire text of the Hymn, along with musical accompaniment. Thanks to the folks at www.cyberhymnal.org.)
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