In 2006 the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod published a new hymnal: the Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO). As many of my readers are already aware, this marvelous resource includes several compositions by my very own husband, including the music for the hymn "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" (LSB #486). Not too long ago I was reminded of the back-story to this composition, which if known I think only heightens one's appreciation for a wonderful wedding of words and music. So below, in my husband's own words, is that story. (I think it will eventually be included in the LSB hymnal companion, but because you are smart enough to frequent this blog, you don't have to wait!)
"In November of 2003 I was musing over about a dozen texts that had been sent to me by the Hymnody Committee for the LSB. These were texts of hymns which had been identified as desirable by the Commission on Worship for inclusion in the LSB but that needed tunes appropriate for Lutheran worship. During that time my paternal grandmother died, so I traveled to Tennessee to attend her funeral. My father's side of the family is mostly Baptist, but my grandmother had for some time been attending an Assembly of God church. Because my Baptist relatives didn't want the funeral at her church, and because her pastor didn't want to do the service at the Baptist church, they compromised by having the funeral at a funeral home with a nice chapel in Union City, Tennessee. The location made it possible for both pastors to officiate. The funeral itself went fine until my grandmother's pastor got up to speak. As I listened to his words, my heart sank because his message emphasized my grandmother's good works, assuring us that she was going to heaven because she was "TRULY A GOOD WOMAN!" As a confessional Lutheran, I trust not in works but in Christ crucified to save me from my sin, and I was dismayed to think of those in attendance who were missing the opportunity to hear this Gospel message. But then the second pastor, a Baptist and a member of the family, got up to speak. He too related several stories about my grandmother's good qualities and Christian character, but concluded by saying, "But I'm here to tell you that Etta Marie would be the first person in this room to say that she wouldn't be kickin' up her heels right now at the Throne of the Lamb if it weren't for the BLOOD OF JESUS!" He then pulled out his Bible, read from 1 Corinthians 15, and preached the Gospel. When I returned home from Tennessee, the first hymn tune I started working on for LSB was "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" by Christopher Idle, the text of which, amazingly enough, was inspired by 1 Corinthians 15. So after the title I had originally chosen for the tune was found to be taken (CHRISTUS VICTOR), I could think of no better choice than UNION CITY, the place where my grandmother made her home and was laid to rest. With the LSB now in use throughout synod, this hymn is being sung in Lutheran churches throughout North America and will also be included in the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) hymnal supplement due out later this year. But it is also sung in a little Baptist church outside of Union City, Tennessee. My Baptist relatives love the story behind the hymn--and several of them now have their own copies of LSB."
If you have not sung or heard "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" now's your chance: it was sung this week for the Morning Office in Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary. To hear it, click on the first link in the previous sentence and select Monday's broadcast. (If possible, treat yourself to the full service, but if time is of the essence you can fast forward about 10 minutes to hear the hymn.) I can't imagine a more glorious setting or inspiring sound than the voices of our seminarians at Kramer Chapel for Morning Prayer, can you?
*Hymns and tunes are two different things, with the word "hymn" referring to the poetry and the word "tune" referring to the music. Because a hymn can sometimes be sung to more than one tune and a tune may be used for more than one hymn, a distinction is made between the two, and tunes are given their own titles separate from the hymns that are sung to them. The tune is traditionally written in all capital letters to identify it as such. The text for "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" was written by hymnist Christopher Idle (b. 1938) and is copyrighted by Jubilate Hymns Ltd. (1987). Mr. Idle and my husband have never met. Here is the full text of the hymn:
If Christ had not been raised from death Our faith would be in vain,
Our preaching but a waste of breath, Our sin and guilt remain.
But now the Lord is ris'n indeed; he rules in earth and heav'n:
His Gospel meets a world of need--In Christ we are forgiv'n.
If Christ still lay within the tomb Then death would be the end,
And we should face our final doom With neither guide nor friend.
But now the Savior is raised up, So when a Christian dies
We mourn, yet look to God in hope--In Christ the saints arise!
If Christ had not been truly raised His Church would live a lie;
His name should nevermore be praised, His words deserve to die.
But now our great Redeemer lives; Through Him we are restored;
His Word endures, His Church revives In Christ, our risen Lord.