Of the thousands of churches across the world, you would only be able to walk past a few during the Easter season and not hear the congregation boisterously singing this tune. It was written by a man who wrote so many hymns that he himself would not be able to name half, and it sat as just another of his many works for many years. It wasn’t until one significant change to the hymn caused it to explode in popularity and become an essential pick for the celebration of the risen Savior.
Charles Wesley was born in 1707 as the eighteenth child of Samuel and Susannah Wesley’s overall nineteen. He was born premature, and was at first thought to be dead. But God had much in store for little Charles, and wouldn’t allow death to take him just yet. It took a few unsure weeks, but baby Charles finally became healthy. It’s a good thing too, because Charles Wesley went on to become the most successful hymn writer to ever live.
Wesley’s hymn writing can most accurately be described as an obsession. The number of hymns he completed varies from account to account, but most agree the number to be greater than 6,500, and some state as high as 8,989. A majority of his hymns were for the members of his Methodist church, and those members soon became known for their exuberant singing of the hymns Wesley brought to them. His most popular works at that time were Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, And Can It Be, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, Jesus, Lover of My Soul, Rejoice! the Lord Is King! and Soldiers of Christ, Arise. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today was not an immediate hit, and it took the help of an unknown editor to lift the hymn to its full potential.
Originally, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today was sung to a different tune, and without any of the ‘alleluias.’ Being an Easter song, it was only logical to add ‘alleluia’ to the end of each line, for the word means ‘Praise to the Lord.’ Early Christians used it as a greeting on Easter with the now-familiar call and response: ‘Alleluia! He is risen!’ ‘Alleluia! He is risen indeed!’ After the change had been made to the lyrics, the tune was modified to accommodate, and thus was born the version we all know and sing today.
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